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  • Writer's pictureGreg Bennick

Choosing the Right Keynote Speaker (or Emcee!) for Your Event

Perhaps you're an experienced event planning professional and the idea of organizing a complicated event seems easy. Or perhaps you’re new to this, and the thought of arranging an event or picking a keynote speaker or professional event emcee has you speed dialing your therapist for support. Either is entirely ok. I’ve got you covered.

Whether you like sticking with tried-and-true methodologies and simply want to check off the boxes to get through the event, or you need help setting up your event so that you don’t get fired or pass out from stress, these tips on how to choose a keynote speaker and emcee will be helpful. Just in case your boss is in the hallway demanding, "I need an update on the event by today before lunch…" just politely ignore them, close the door to your office, and take a few minutes to read this article.

Alignment and Reassurance from your Keynote Speaker

Regardless of what stage you find yourself as an event planner there are some important things to consider when it comes to picking the right presenter for your audience. Ultimately, you’re looking for alignment and reassurance. Alignment refers to a presenter who will be a team mate for you. They will work with you to make your event a success. Reassurance is the feeling that you’ve made the right choice and the realization that you have far less to worry about than you thought.

You need a keynote speaker or professional emcee who aligns with your core values, and who will share ideas from a perspective that upholds those values. Hopefully, ideally, you want someone who does all of that in a way which is engaging and entertaining for the audience as well. We are going to look at two onstage presenters, the professional emcee and the keynote speaker, who can each propel your event with the alignment and reassurance you need.

Hiring a Professional Emcee

Before we say anything else: why do I keep saying “professional emcee” rather than just “emcee” on its own? It’s because you need a professional. Far too often, people think that Susan from accounting or Jim from sales will get the event to where it needs to be. And nothing could be further from the truth. An emcee is far more than just a master of ceremonies. Think of your emcee as an experiential guide for your audience. A master of experience, a master of entertainment, and a master of listening to the event moment by moment. They keep the event on time, the show flow going, and an experienced professional event emcee has an entire career of providing reassurance to back that up.

Keep an Event Flowing Perfectly

These are presenters who, if seasoned and well experienced, will be the reason you have nothing to worry about once the lights are on and it’s “go” time. Keeping the energy high, and making sure that everything you planned flows smoothly, the emcee insures everything onstage is in order. The right emcee will maintain interaction to make sure the audience feels engaged from the stage throughout the event.

Do any of these situations sound familiar? A presenter runs over time. There’s a sudden issue with A/V. An important executive decides they’d like to speak after all. The emcee is the one you turn to in any of these situations to keep the event running smoothly. They make proper introductions, they open and close your event, they capture people’s attention and they can deal with anything that might go wrong.

The Ability to Read The Room

But let’s not focus too much on doom and worry. What if the event has all the promise of going well? How do you keep it going well and improve it to going great? Being able to read the room is an essential emcee skill that involves really listening to the flow of the event, knowing its goals and sensing when to boost energy levels or get an uplifting laugh when it's most needed. These skills make the difference between good and great. Event planners who prioritize saving a bit of money by having someone in-house seem to think that an event without a professional event emcee is an acceptable route.

But let’s not be thinking that acceptable is enough. The value of having a professional and seasoned emcee far outweighs any savings. The benefits in terms of audience retention of information, overall enjoyment of your event, and impact throughout and afterwards are priceless. When you have a professional event emcee who is committed to the success of your event, this is the alignment we have been hoping for.

Hiring a Keynote speaker

Offering ideas that inspire, with a style that’s interactive, and an overall approach that is entertaining, the keynote speaker transforms your event. The feeling in the room before the keynote, when that speaker hasn’t yet hit the stage, should feel entirely different than the time once they’ve left it. The keynote speaker, through dynamically sharing their ideas, experience, and perspectives, feeds into the “why” of your event and engages your audience and ideally, completely entertains the room.

We’ve all been in events when a dull speaker opens their mouth for the first time. They can literally deflate an event, and their uncanny ability to sap the energy out of the room is like a magical superpower. This is why it's important when looking for the right professional keynote speaker that you find someone with multiple strengths besides simply being the best in their field. Dynamic is important. Funny is important. And alignment is important.

From the moment they are booked, the best keynote speaker will plant the seeds of co-operation, and over the course of the months leading up to the event, will utilize their talent and experience to help those seeds continually grow.

When considering a keynote speaker for your event, think in terms of these traditional models and then find someone who encompasses all of them:

·   The motivational speaker will engage your audience, working to inspire and elevate the audience to new levels of thinking and enthusiasm. You don’t need Tony Robbins level motivation, but someone who embodies even a bit of that approach. They will offer both insights and energy to a group who are ready and willing to learn and grow.

·   The business leader empowers the room with perspectives and knowledge relevant to your organization’s mission and goals. They have sufficient life and industry experience from which to draw, and just the right amount of clever. These will make those experiences relatable and engaging while sharing ideas that matter.

·   The comedian will entertain, keeping the room laughing, and will know how to deliver ideas uplifting the event's theme amidst humor. The best comedic speakers stay in the moment, and ensure alignment with the right perspectives on experiences that keep people engaged throughout their time on stage.

Combining All of These is a Winning Formula

A presentation offering a combination of the elements mentioned above will bring an incredibly well-rounded experience to your audience. This is more of that alignment we mentioned earlier: where an audience member feels a real connection with the speaker. The best keynote speech will have a blend of the right message, continual engagement, valuable information, entertainment, and integration into the theme of the event overall.

That’s an important subtlety. A keynote speaker needs a great theme of their own, which then fits into your event theme. They shouldn’t be 100% adaptable to your event and have no basis of their own upon which to stand. Look for someone with a solid theme of their own, and then work with them to weave that into what you hope to do with your event.

If you find all of this, mixed with a deep degree of listening, you will have a winning combination in a keynote presenter. The ability to shift tone and approach between the styles we’ve discussed, and to do so in the moment, is an earned listening skill which experienced professionals gain over time. This helps the audience experience a journey rather than simply a speech. A complete package is what event planners need to find in a keynote speaker. That will lead to reassurance.

Let’s explore some other elements your keynote speaker might bring to the table

While all a speaker really needs to do is show up, talk, and leave, the one you want is the keynote speaker who will go far beyond that. You are looking for a keynote speaker will work to be integrated into your event. Through multiple pre-planning meetings with you, and an emotional and professional buy-in to your goals for the event, they are on your team to ensure your success. Again, this is the reassurance we discussed before. The keynote speaker is a teammate and the keynote itself is a framework through which that partnership manifests.

It is a presentation that can be sculpted to include not only its own message but to incorporate aspects of your event theme, business goals, or industry focus as well. When the speaker sounds good, you look good. A good topic is one that is relevant and necessary to your audience. Not just that but also adaptable to serve your event so that the keynote speech doesn’t stand alone. The keynote should be integrated into the greater impact your event will bring to attendees. All of this is a team effort with team impact.

People want a keynote speaker they can relate to

Above all else, audiences want a keynote speaker who exudes authenticity. That's a key focal point these days as mistrust seems to be at an all-time high. There are so many elements in society which leave us questioning what is authentic and what is presentational. Those who can share with a degree of authenticity and without massive ego inflation will connect strongly with audiences.

Audiences want to feel not talked at, not spoken down to, but related to and as though they are on the level of the presenter. Audiences need a sense of connection and community. A feeling like the presenter and audience member were sharing a cup of coffee together. Amidst feeling unsure, words have the potential to unite, to heal, and to make people feel seen and heard. When combined with a topic that matters, the results and impact can be profound. We might never perfect language and its use, we can certainly do our best to try.

Audiences want to laugh and learn

Maybe it is part of a residual memory from having to sit quietly in school for years on end. Maybe it is just because laughing feels great, but the combination of laughing while learning is incredibly effective. Studies have shown that retention of information increases in direct connection to the brain’s dopamine reward system being triggered by laughter (

A 2004 study found that dopamine dramatically increases learning and motivation ( The science supports this blog’s central idea. That is a professional keynote speaker who is comedic, or for that matter a funny emcee, at your event will substantially increase your audience’s attention span. In turn, their learning ability, and retention of critical information. This is all great news. That is, if you pick the right keynote speaker or emcee! Remember to look for synergy. Seek out someone who aligns with the impact you hope to achieve at your event.

The science is substantial. Engagement and learning happen when audiences are laughing. The keynote speaker or emcee is going to transform an event from being simply informational to being entertaining and educational. Being able to poke fun at oneself, or knowing some insider information about something funny that the entire organization is familiar with is handy. It helps a keynote speaker or comedy emcee score points with an audience as well as come across connected and relatable as well. All of this leads to another level of alignment, where the keynote speaker, emcee, and the audience feel like they are one team.

Listeners want relatability: hire a subject matter expert

While it may seem obvious, you want the audience to feel as if their keynote speaker is a subject matter expert. If you have an emcee, let the same be true. After all, why should audiences listen to someone without relevant content? A full amount of life experience, and/or a degree in a subject, and/or decades of experience is a good place to start. Even personal experience, amidst a life well lived, is enough to bring the audience on a journey. Talk to prospective candidates for your keynote about what their experiences have been. You can then ask how they see them relating to your event.

Life lessons can go as far or further than simply being smart about a subject. Remember: relatability is when the audience and speaker feel connected and in synch. Look for someone who has made mistakes in life, has learned from them, and wants to share what they have learned. This is an absolutely relatable perspective. Ultimately you can have all the theoretical knowledge in the world through learning, but making mistakes is an art form.

Relatability and connection Part II: what we can learn from failure

People love hearing about mistakes. Especially if those failures forged a path toward success. Hearing about mishaps is where many people learn what not to do. This keynote ultimately saves them and the team time and resources. The best keynote speakers have taken their life experiences and mistakes and are ready to share the lessons they’ve learned. This scores those authenticity points too, which only helps with engagement and having people really come along for the ride. Keep in mind too that the same process of vetting a keynote speaker can be applied to choosing a professional event emcee. Either or, both can share experiences and anecdotes that elevate your audience’s experience.

We want to hear stories with creative approaches and insightful ideas which show a different path taken through life. One which didn’t include quitting when challenges arose.

And now, some final points to consider

You want someone who takes the time to understand the event itself. You want full buy-in from your keynote speaker or emcee. Think in terms of emotional, topic, theme, and mission statement buy-in. Unless you're in the business of having events slowly wither as they go on, (which you’re not or you wouldn’t have read this far), then you'll want to find the speaker who takes substantial time to engage not only with the audience but with you, the event planner.

The right keynote speaker will take a holistic approach. They will value the extra time they take with you to understand who the audience is and where they might be impacted most. In multiple pre-planning meetings with you, the best keynote speaker will be looking for insights to use during their presentation. They are customer service experts when it comes to alignment with you and providing you with reassurance. Again, this is also to help make the event accessible, relatable, and impactful.

Do The Research

By taking the time to get into the details of what the company does and what the corporate culture is, a speaker can help to tailor their content. This approach makes their presentation far more meaningful. It would be preferable to find a keynote speaker or professional event emcee who understands this more than trying to pitch their own ideas. Or even worse, their own product and content at your event. You want a keynote speaker who is in sharing and education mode, not back-of-room-sales mode.

From the same angle and back to basics, but you also want to ensure that your speaker has extensive experience onstage. Pick someone with a great video and an extensive client list. This will mean they will know what event logistics typically look like. This will remove many of the headaches you might otherwise face when things come up in the moment. And again, reassurance is a huge part of what you’re buying.

A solid knowledge of the technological side, from audio to stage management, means that last-minute decisions can be focused on impact first and foremost. A great speaker is going to be a true asset to your event on multiple levels. You want a proactive keynote speaker who helps you create event success.

Reassurance is paramount

Ultimately, you want to get the most out of your investment and feel confident in your buying decisions. Any issues are avoidable through strategic planning and some solid, basic considerations. Plan wisely, ask as many questions as you’d like and do a solid amount of research. Above all else, work with professionals you trust.

About me:

Greg Bennick understands the pain-points that event planners face. Having been on stages nationwide since the age of twelve (yes you read that correctly!) he has extensive experience with everything that can go right and wrong as a keynote speaker, a professional event emcee, and as an entertainer. He knows that alignment and reassurance come from listening. Find out more about Greg at When you’re ready to discuss your next event and the type of speaker you’re looking for, reach out and connect to schedule some time to discover both alignment and reassurance.

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