What Is a Keynote Speaker? & 8 Steps to Become One!

Audrey Hirschberger
November 25, 2023 | 6 mins

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Keynote addresses are some of the most inspiring and powerful speeches out there – but what is a keynote speaker exactly, and how do you become one?

Becoming a motivational keynote speaker can be a long road, but it doesn’t have to be a hard one. If you are passionate about speaking, and about the topic you are speaking on, the journey can even be a blast! 

But to become a keynote speaker, you must first understand what a keynote speaker is – so that’s what we will cover in this article. Then, we’ll give you some simple, actionable steps to take to land a keynote speech for yourself.

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What is a keynote speaker? 

What is a keynote speaker? The primary speaker at an event is the keynote speaker, meaning they are the speaker who sets the central theme for a conference. Usually, the keynote speaker is what people travel to an event to see. 

A keynote speaker is usually an expert in their field and can speak extensively on their topic. Their speeches are often uplifting. A motivational keynote speaker may be used at graduations, wellness retreats, and other ceremonies.  

What is a keynote speaker’s role? 

The role of a keynote speaker is to deliver an engaging speech as a thought leader in a specific industry. Keynote speakers often present information in a new way to inspire or entertain their audience. 

Educating the audience and leaving them motivated to try something new is what a keynote speaker’s role is all about. A keynote speech should be captivating, informative and, ideally, encouraging. 

Often, a public figure will leverage bookings as a keynote speaker to bolster their own speaking platform and promote their events. This is the case with Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker who has become famous for his books and sold-out motivational and self-help events all over the world.

What is the difference between a keynote speaker and a guest speaker? 

A conference may feature many guest speakers, but a keynote speaker is what remains the star of the conference. They are the figurehead, headliner, or main event. 

Usually, what a keynote speaker is asked to do is follow a specific theme, topic, or insight. Guest speakers, on the other hand, generally have more freedom over their speeches. 

Do keynote speakers get paid? 

Some speakers who are starting out might give a keynote address for free at their speaking engagements – but the majority of keynote speeches are paid roles.

So, what is a keynote speaker paid? Keynote speakers can earn anywhere from $250 to over $100,000 depending on their topic and prestige. 

For example, Barack Obama is going to command a higher dollar figure than a budding author. 

If you are just learning how to become a public speaker, you will probably give keynote speeches for free locally (or for the cost of travel expenses) before moving on to paid roles.

So, now that you know more about what a keynote speaker is, you may be wondering how to become one. Let’s talk about the different routes to becoming a keynote speaker. 

How do you become a keynote speaker? 

Just because you understand what a keynote speaker is inside and out doesn’t mean you can become one. But with the right tips and practice, you should be able to land a headline role. 

Here is what a keynote speaker needs to do before hitting the main stage:

1. Determine your “why”

Why do you want to become a keynote speaker? Before anything else, it’s important to answer this question. Finding your motivation will drive you to reach for your goals and become a successful speaker. 

Is public speaking your passion?

Do you want to help people?

Do you have any important message that the world needs to hear?

Whatever your reason, having a clear and defined “why” behind your journey will help you through any pauses and pitfalls. 

2. Find a niche

You have to stand out if you want to be a keynote speaker, meaning you can’t try to please everyone – you need to find your special niche. 

Examine your passions, experience, and skillset to find a specific group of individuals who you can help. Then dive deep.

What is it that sets you apart? What new information can you share with the world? What makes your voice special? Once you have your niche set, you will be ready to move on to speaking. 

3. Work on your speaking skills

To become a headline speaker, you need to be good at speaking! It’s important to continually improve your speaking skills and learn how to develop presentations that take your audience on an engaging and emotional journey. 

If you aren’t sure where to get started, you can check out our top public speaking tips!

4. Start with free speaking gigs

You can’t expect to make money right away as a keynote speaker, meaning you need to take some free speaking gigs first. Don’t worry, if you blow the audience away a few times, the paid gigs are bound to start rolling in. 

At the beginning though, you just need to take any public speaking opportunity you can to increase your experience, visibility, and credibility.

If you aren’t sure where to look for speaking engagements, you can try:

  • Searching social media for events near you
  • Joining a PR association or public speaking club like Toastmasters International
  • Asking local business groups or associations about opportunities
  • Marketing yourself to local colleges or universities

5. Write a book

One of the biggest tips we can give when working towards the big stage is this: write a book first. 


Writing a book helps you organize your thoughts and gives you a lot more authority in your field. 

Best yet, anyone can write a book – you don’t need to be an author already. At selfpublishing.com, we’ve helped hundreds of people to publish their stories through ghostwriting or self publishing. And you can do it too! 

Once you have a book, you just need to work on how to turn your book into a speech. Then, every time you do get on the stage, it will be FREE marketing for your book. Talk about sales! 

6. Give a TEDx Talk

Landing a TEDx Talk can do WONDERS for boosting your outreach and credibility. It will be much easier to find paid keynote gigs if you’ve already given a speech at a TEDx conference. 

Luckily the steps you should take when learning how to get a TED Talk are similar to those for a keynote role.

7. Market yourself

Even if you land a spot in the limelight, that doesn’t guarantee you will become a keynote speaker. You have to continue putting your name out there but sharing relevant content on social media and creating blogs, courses, or other content that adds value to your target audience. 

Keep creating a digital footprint and it will be easier for organizations to find you when they go searching for a keynote speaker. 

Related: What is a Mastermind Group?

8. Land your first keynote address

With enough marketing and credibility, the right people are bound to find you. Before you know it, someone will ask you to be a keynote speaker, meaning you’ve made it! Of course, if you’ve gotten to this point, you’ll likely always be chasing the next big speech, but that’s part of the fun. 

Becoming a keynote speaker is what you dreamed about, but it doesn’t stop at just one speech. You can now use your platform in exciting and powerful ways. Get ready to write more books and change more lives. From here, the world is your oyster.

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