How to Become A Successful Keynote Speaker In 9 Steps

It’s Friday. You’ve just given your last pep talk to a colleague, and you sit back and ask yourself why you haven’t considered becoming a keynote speaker before. You love talking, helping others, and the idea of getting paid to speak enlightens you.

If any of the above describes you, you’ve come to the right place. To learn more about what keynote speaking is, and how you can become a great guest speaker keep reading. Our goal is is to accompany you on your journey of becoming a successful keynote speaker.

What Is A Keynote Speaker

A keynote speaker is someone who gives a speech during an event to keep an audience engaged. Great keynote speakers manage to captivate their audiences while driving home an event’s central message or theme. These individuals are industry experts, business executives, motivational speakers, thought leaders, influencers, politicians, and educators. Think Steve Jobs and Brene Browns of the world.

The term keynote speaker derives from musical practices. A keynote is a leading note in a musical key. In orchestras, quartets, and acapella groups, it’s common practice to play a single note before a performance. That note establishes the correct key of the piece.

What Does A Keynote Speaker Do?

Like a keynote played at a musical event, a keynote speaker’s role is to introduce an event’s tone, mood, and central message. A keynote address often entails opening and closing speakers. Opening keynote speakers set the tone for the occasion and encourage audiences to get excited about the rest of the event. Closing keynote speakers round out the end of an event, encouraging audiences to leave feeling happy and euphoric.

Much like motivational speeches, keynote speeches are often optimistic, encouraging, and engaging. This motivational component is because keynote speakers need to interact with an audience and capture the essence of an event within a short timeframe. Therefore, it’s essential to choose a keynote speaker who is an expert in their field, or well-renown, as this usually raises interest among event attendees.

How to Become A Keynote Speaker

Become a professional keynote speaker is a process that involves self-discovery as much as it does practicing and honing your skills. If you’re preparing to become a professional speaker, you also need to plan around speaking fees, event organizers, agents, and marketing tactics. We know all of that sounds complex, so here are the 9 steps we put together to help you on your path to speaking career success:


1. Find Your Why

When working with new clients, we often ask them, “What is your why for doing what you do?”. This question prompts several topics of discussion and usually leads to a larger self-discovery. The purpose behind why you do what you do is essential because it is the motivator that will drive you to reach your goals and become successful.

So, what is your why for wanting to become a keynote speaker? Do you like helping others? Do you have a message you want to share with the world? Is public speaking something that gives you energy? Whatever your why is, it must be purpose-driven. Having a clear and defined mission helps you through moments of doubt.

If you’re struggling to find your purpose, our article 6 Steps To Find Your Passion and Make An Impact In the World can help.

identify your niche

2. Identify Your Niche

The most significant hindrance on your path to keynote-speaking success is trying to be everything for everyone. While helping others is important, helping everyone isn’t an attainable goal. But, utilizing your skillset to help a select group of individuals is something you can accomplish.

Finding your niche is a critical component of business success. Imagine if Steve Jobs decided he wanted to develop technology for cars, airplanes, and phones. Because that technology category is so broad, he might have never created Apple. As a result, we might have never had smartphones, and the world as we know it might be very different.

To identify your niche, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What problem will my talks solve for others?
  • What industry does my skillset fall under?
  • Who is my target audience?
  • If I asked my friends or family to give them a presentation on one thing, what would they want to learn from me?

For example, a few topics we’ve heard different keynote speakers discuss were satisfaction in the client experience, scaling your marketing, and motivation as the workforce driver. Because each speaker focused on one category, there were more individuals available to present at the conference. Having a niche means more opportunities and less competition.


3. Hone In On Your Uniqueness

While there may be other speakers in the world, there’s no one quite like you. Therefore, it’s essential to show your audience your perspective. Bringing your personal experiences to a talk helps the audience connect and stay engaged with you.

Our client, Farrah Smith, does a great job of this in her TEDx talk: The Power In Embracing Rejection. In the talk, Farrah paints a picture of what it was like to pursue her dreams during her dad’s cancer treatments. Then, she uses this experience to relate to her audience’s struggles and hone in on her message of overcoming obstacles.

Most keynote speakers have faced obstacles or done something unique to get where they are; and, it’s that story of perseverance that people pay to hear.


4. Perfect Your Presentation Skills

To become a successful keynote speaker, you also need to be a great presenter. Having a unique story and a skillset can help you land a gig, but those items alone won’t set you apart. To become successful as a keynote speaker, you need to hone your presentation skills and develop speeches that engage with your audience.

So, how do you develop presentations that resonate with your audience? We already discussed the impact personal stories have in a speech. Once you’ve thought about some stories specific to your niche, consider layering these additional elements into your presentation:



Who doesn’t love a good laugh? Getting humorous with your audience makes you more relatable, as it shows you don’t take yourself too seriously to have fun. Just remember not to force this component of your talk. Instead, consider observations you made where someone else was doing something funny and relate that back to your topic and audience.


Rhetorical Questions

Questions are a great way to grab your audience’s attention. When you ask a question, the inflection of your voice changes causing variance in your speech. Questions also cause audiences to stop and think, drawing attention to specific points in your discussion.


Steps, Tips, or Take-home Points

Your tips, steps, or take-home points are what bring your central message together. These key points are what you leave an audience with to remember your speech. Think about how many articles you’ve read because they listed steps you could take to accomplish something. This article, for example, lists the steps you can take to become a successful keynote speaker, and you clicked on it and read it.


5. Practice Public Speaking

Once you’ve developed a well-rounded speech, it’s time to practice. One interesting way you can practice speaking is to mentally connect pieces of your presentation to different areas of your home. How? In the heat of the pandemic, several of our clients couldn’t go out in public. So to practice, they taped pieces of their speeches to furniture. Anytime they opened a cabinet and found a taped line from their speech, they started practicing.

This process created a mental connection between our clients’ speeches and something familiar to them. So, when they finally gave their speeches, they mentally pictured the different written lines taped across their homes and presented their talks flawlessly.

free speaking gig

6. Take Free Speaking Gigs

Another way you can practice public speaking is to take up any talking gig you can get your hands on, regardless of whether or not you get paid for it. The more you speak, the better your presentations become. Free speaking opportunities are also a chance for you to get your name out there and build your credibility.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is an excellent example of practicing your way to the top. If you haven’t watched the show, comedian Marge starts out giving talks at friends’ parties. From there, she moves to bars and eventually gets paid to do stand-up comedy.

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Not sure where to find local speaking gigs? Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask local business groups or associations.
  • Join a local Public Relations Association
  • Find speakers bureaus
  • Ask a local college or university as they often have to figure out how to get guest speakers for classes and events
networking opportunities

7. Create Networking Opportunities

So what if you’ve practiced your presentation skills and given countless talks to your dog Fluffy, but you still lack the opportunities to give keynote speeches. The next thing you can do to become a successful keynote speaker is create networking opportunities for yourself.

Aside from local business groups and colleges, there are several other ways you can network yourself to become a keynote speaker. For example, you can hire a coaching company to give you feedback or help develop your storytelling skills.

Another way to create networking opportunities for yourself is to join a speaking group. Toastmasters is a community where you can practice speaking during in-person group meetings. Another networking group is our own Thought-Leader Mastermind Community, where individuals meet virtually every week for coaching calls with former TEDx speakers. Community members also have a weekly Talk Practice where they give their speeches live and receive feedback from members within our community. These groups and programs are beneficial because they give you access to a network of like-minded individuals while also helping you grow as a professional speaker.

Finally, you can network yourself is by leveraging the power of social media. For example, you can give Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin live talks. You can even connect with others and offer to co-host a life together, as this will expand your reach.

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8. Give A TEDx Talk

If you’ve uncovered your why, identified your niche, honed your uniqueness, practiced your presentation skills, and created networking opportunities for yourself, consider stepping up your speaker game by giving a TEDx talk. TEDx talks are one of the best avenues for becoming a paid speaker. Why? The TEDx platform reaches a large number of individuals, so you get noticed quicker.

Farrah Smith who we mentioned previously landed her dream keynote gig after giving her TEDx talk. In the talk, Farrah discussed her relentless pursual of getting into The University of California Los Angeles. After seeing the talk, The University of California Los Angeles asked Farrah to come and give a keynote speech to their youth. With TEDx talks, the possibilities are endless.

Now you might be reading this wondering how you could land a TEDx talk in the first place. You’re probably asking yourself if your message is unique enough for the TEDx stage. But, we wouldn’t be writing this article if we didn’t think it was possible for you. We get these questions so often that we even decided to write a blog answering them. Read How to Land a TEDx Talk in 7 Easy Steps to start your TEDx success path today.

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9. Market Yourself

Becoming a successful keynote speaker doesn’t happen overnight. However, with the proper marketing, you can start getting paid to speak sooner than later. So what does marketing look like for a prospective speaker? Here are a few tips we’ve gathered after reviewing other successful keynote speakers:

1. Create a Digital Footprint for Yourself

If someone Googles you, what do they find? Is there a photo of a cute dog or a website with your name on it?

2. Share Relevant Content on Social Media

Post about topics related to your speeches. Show your expertise and create content around that subject area.

3. Create a Value Proposition for Your Target Audience

Consider creating whitepapers, blogs, courses, and other valuable assets your audience can download directly from you. When you provide value to someone, their likeliness of recommending you increases.

4. Build A Media Kit

A media kit is something you can use to promote your speaking business to event organizers. This one-page document is helpful because it showcases your success, credentials, and background to prospects.

When you’ve marketed yourself properly it’s easier for organizations to find you. Companies looking to hire a keynote speaker can reach out to any of your marketing avenues to book you for a gig.

Qualities of a Good Keynote Speaker

Now that you know what it takes to become a successful keynote speaker let’s recap by listing a few qualities that some of today’s best speakers have in common. Once you’ve checked out these common traits, think about which skills you might need to sharpen up on, and get to it!

1. Passionate: Tony Robbins does an exceptional job of speaking passionately about what he believes. He even gives a TEDx talk that coincides with our first step in this article: finding your why.

2. Relatable: Speaker Kevin Breel understands relatability better than most. In his famous Why We Need To Talk About Depression speech, he talks about inward and outward appearances we can all relate to.

3. Credible: Cynthia Furlow is a nurse practitioner who has taken step two of this article (honing your niche) to the next level. In her viral TEDx talk on Intermediate Fasting, Cynthia uses her own research to establish credibility with her audience.

4. Witty: Brene Brown takes step 4: perfecting your presentation skills to the next level. She often uses humor as an icebreaker when starting her talks, which immediately grabs the audience’s attention, helps them loosen up with a laugh, and then gets down to business.

How Thought-Leader Can Help You Become A Keynote Speaker

At Thought-Leader, our mission is to help individuals clarify their stories and spread their message to millions. We’ve dedicated our lives to helping purpose-driven experts like yourself grow your audience and monetize your speech. How? We have a systematic process that helps you get a TEDx talk so you can leverage the world’s largest stage to your advantage.

Day in and out, we’re working with aspiring speakers like yourself to help them make an impact on the world around them. We’ve worked with Cynthia Thurlow, Kevin Breel, and 400 other clients, who have landed TEDx talks and become impactful keynote speakers. Collectively, we’ve reached over 11 million lives.


Joelle Cullimore
Marketing Content Manager

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