9 Steps to Becoming a Keynote Speaker

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If you’re looking to get booked and paid to speak, you may have heard that keynote speakers are among the best-paid and most in-demand professional public speakers. But what are the steps to becoming a keynote speaker?

What is a keynote speaker? The keynote speaker is the leading figure at large conferences or events. They may give the opening address or closing speech, or both. This big name is usually the most well-known person at the event, often someone who has already achieved some notoriety, like a famous athlete, actor, actress, or businessman. The keynote speaker is the one that is most likely to be recognized and boosts publicity for the event.

If you aspire to be a keynote speaker, you don’t necessarily have to be a well-known public figure, but you do need to be able to deliver an excellent talk. How can you create a killer talk, and leverage that to getting booked and paid as a keynote speaker? For 9 steps to becoming a keynote speaker, read on!

Step #1: Define your audience

Are you passionate about speaking to an audience? Who or what group of people gets you excited to share your knowledge? Is it teenagers? Entrepreneurs? Executives? Or maybe moms of model train enthusiasts? If you could talk to any audience, who would it be?

Not all audiences are ones that are big enough to have multiple groups that support a keynote public speaker. How can you know what topics are prized and what topics won’t be worth your while?

It is important to research the potential audiences who could support a keynote public speaker before starting. This can help you craft your talk to the right topics and tailor the language and complexity so that your audience is guaranteed to relate to what you are saying. It can also give you a better understanding of the best subjects to mention during your talk.

One way you can do this is looking for opportunities within your area of expertise. For example, if you live in Tennessee and you’re a dentist you could search: “Tennessee Dentist Conference”

Notice the big, national conferences are at the top. Don’t go for those straight away. Scroll down a bit and look for the smaller, local conferences that would love to have someone from their own backyard give a great talk. This can give you a starting point for finding an audience and event profile.

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Step #2: Choose a niche

As you determine your niche, it may be helpful to go narrower than you think, while maintaining a balance of finding an area enough people are interested in. Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner, joined the Speaker Lab podcast to talk about how he positioned himself as an expert and became a regular contributor to Forbes.

According to Rose, who started out as a personal finance expert, he could have gained a lot more traction as an expert sooner if he had developed a more specific niche. Rose started out writing about numerous different niches within personal finance, from investing for newbies to social security to pensions. “I didn’t have a really clear strategy,” Rose said.

But as he developed his niche, Rose started to find success by honing in on a niche of life insurance. After publishing a couple hundred blog posts, a couple dozen YouTube videos, and a podcast on life insurance over 9 months, Rose found a lot more traction.

“It got more traction in probably one fifth a time,” Rose said. And “the revenue and the opportunities that came along with that came so much faster, because all I talked about was life insurance for about nine months straight.”

Step #3: Have a killer topic

Now, let’s say you’ve chosen the perfect group…What would you want to communicate to them that would be valuable and enrich their lives, businesses, or whatever it is they’re pursuing?

As you take the steps to becoming a keynote speaker, it’s important to keep in mind that even if you know who your ideal audience is and what you want to talk about, this doesn’t necessarily mean someone will pay you for it. Different topics have different value in the market, and some are more likely to get paid than others.

Out of all the possible speakers on this topic, why should people choose you? It can be intimidating to speak without a flashy backstory or degree, but don’t worry. You don’t need to have experienced some life-altering event to be a good speaker.

Oftentimes, people are asking you for a story — or evidence that you are qualified — beyond just your talent. Sure, it’s great if you have a few key life moments that might be relevant to the topic, but even without those, you can still provide value.

The best way to provide value is to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

While it may seem counterintuitive, oftentimes, the more specific and focused you are in what you speak about, the more gigs you will get. Event planners often want specialists and not generalists who think they can speak about anything. (for more on determining what to speak about, check out this episode of The Speaker Lab podcast)

Step #4: Transform your topic into an amazing talk

This is one of the most important steps to becoming a keynote speaker. A good keynote speech should be structured and organized, in order to effectively answer the two most important questions that your audience will be asking: “so what?” and “now what?” “So what?” involves explaining what your keynote speech has to do with the audience, and “now what?” means giving them action steps to take away, in order to implement the knowledge you’ve taught. Mapping out your content can help set you on the right path, just like you have a map or GPS to help you get to your destination on a road trip.

Creating and presenting a great speech is an art form. As Grant Baldwin recommended on our podcast on creating your talk, before you internalize your talk, you break it down into distinct sections. Each section should tell a story and clearly illustrate the points you are trying to make.

Practice each section aloud and focus on your phrasing, delivering the punchline, and transitioning into the next point. Once you have mastered one section, move onto the next. Then go back and practice both together. You can also record yourself and listen back to ensure the material works and to continue memorizing your presentation. Continue to stack your sections together and before you know it, you’ll have an engaging and memorable speech.

How to structure your talk

Grant Baldwin explained in an episode of The Speaker Lab Podcast the importance of using different structures to create and memorize your talk. One type of structure is a sequential structure, which is helpful in ordering the main themes to create a step-by-step flow. For example, when giving a talk titled, “Life is a Highway,” Grant began by talking about the past, then discussed the future, and ending with the present. This sequence can help you to keep things in order and even if you as the speaker go out of order, your audience won’t necessarily realize it.

Another type of structure is called a modular structure. This structure allows for more freedom to mix and match the main ideas of the speech around. For example, if you were giving a talk to high school students, you could discuss topics such as college, classes, majors, job interviews, resumes, credit cards, budgets, and taxes. When using a modular structure, you may find it helpful to think of the content as telling a story. This can help ensure that nothing is missing from the talk and keep the audience engaged.

Step #5: Find potential gigs

Finding gigs for speaking engagements can be made much easier by following a few key steps. Start by using Google to search for events and conferences that meet your criteria. Search for both people and events in your local, state and regional areas before searching nationally. Looking in one’s newsfeed for events or people to Google is a great way to stay in the loop. For example, if you are a dentist in Tennessee, you can search “Tennessee Dentist Conferences”. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the search results to find searches related to “Tennessee Dentist Conference”.

If you’re a Christian or faith-based speaker, a simple Google search for “Top Christian Conferences” will yield many events in the U.S. If you are in healthcare, knitting, youth athletics, or parks and recreation, the same rules apply.

Once you have a list of events that meet your criteria, start a document in Google Docs or Google Sheets to compile information like links, dates and contact information for each event.

Create a list of dream events and realistic events before reaching out to the event coordinators. This process will help you create your own speaking opportunities and grow your speaking business. Keep in mind, taking focused and targeted action is key to success in this area.

Step #6: Prepare your pitch materials

This is another important step to becoming a keynote speaker. Before you start to connect with decision makers, you need to establish your presence as a speaker through a few key ways. Here are a few examples:

  1. Website: Think of your website as your business card. It should include your current page, what you talk about, any recommendations and testimonials, and a contact page. It doesn’t have to be complex or fancy – just make sure it clearly communicates that you are a speaker.
  2. Demo Video: Think of this as a movie trailer. It should effectively convey the highlights of your talk within a few short minutes. If you don’t have any footage of you speaking yet, start with what you do have. Even a small workshop will do. You can always upgrade your demo video later.
  3. Testimonials: Testimonials provide social proof that you know what you’re doing. If you don’t have any speaking experience yet, start with what you have done. Any public speaking experience is valuable. Think back to who was in the audience and if they can provide a meaningful testimony. Reword and use it to your advantage if it’s appropriate.

Step #7: Pitch your talk

Once you’ve identified some potential events you’d like to speak at, the next step to become a keynote speaker is to find the meeting planner or conference organizer. You can find this on an event website’s “about page” or “contact page”. Depending on the size of the conference, there may be multiple contacts you need to reach out to or it may be quite specific. It’s essential to identify the correct decision maker you have to contact.

Many speakers make the mistake of sending long, overly detailed emails that usually get lost in the inbox of the event organizer. Think of this process like dating; don’t make the mistake of sending a cold email proposing marriage. Take time to get to know the conference before reaching out.

A good approach is to start a conversation. Send a short, polite email introducing yourself and asking about the conference. This allows the organizer to get to know you and understand your interest in the event.

Here’s an example…

Hey John!

I noticed your “Association of Beautiful Brewing Baristas” conference is coming up in a few months in Seattle. As a matter of fact, I have a presentation about helping your baristas go from Tall to Venti that I think would be a great fit for your conference!

I was curious if you have started taking proposals for workshop presenters yet?

Thanks John!


At this point, the goal is to build a connection with the decision maker. To do this, you could research last year’s conference. Find out who the presenters were, what they spoke about, and if you know any of those speakers. If you’re already part of the industry, you would hopefully know of some of those speakers. You could contact them for more information on the event. It’s also important to find out if the person you emailed is actually the decision maker, and whether your friend could introduce you to them.

Step #8: Secure your speaking contract

This speaker contract outlines all of the essential details for a successful event. So, how do you write a speaker contract?

In the agreement, include the event date, name of the event, location, host’s contact info, and program details such as the duration and type of keynote that the speaker will provide. You should also list the speaker’s fee. Don’t forget to list to whom the check should be made out as well.

You can either include travel expenses in the fee or invoice the host separately. A 50% deposit is typical for you to secure the date.

Finally, you should outline a cancellation and refund policy in the contract. This includes details such as who keeps the deposit and any travel expenses if the event is cancelled within 45 days. This contract also acts as an invoice, specifying the total amount due.

Want to learn more? Check out our article on speaking contracts here!

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Step #9: Polish your presentation to NAIL it!

Turning your passion into a speech may sound like living the dream. But it takes hard work and dedication to make it a reality. To set yourself up for success and create the best speech possible, start by following these steps to becoming the best possible keynote speaker you can be.

Ensure all the external factors that can make a speech a success are in your favor. Get a good night’s sleep so you are energized. Eat a little bit before your speech and avoid speaking after lunch or during a time when people are less likely to heed your message.

While it is good to plan out certain aspects of your speech, remember that speaking is like playing jazz. You don’t always have to stick to the same script. Mix it up and be present with your audience for moments that call for improvisation.

With hard work and dedication, you can make your speech a success.


So that’s it! Those are the 9 steps to becoming a keynote speaker. Want to learn more? Check out our other articles on public speaking, keynote speaking, and more!

If you’re interested in learning more about the steps to becoming a keynote speaker, we have a great podcast with Grant Baldwin and Marcus Sheridan on how to give keynote speeches and teach workshops. In the podcast, Marcus talks about how he made the leap from workshop speaker to keynote speaker at Content Marketing World in one year.

Want to read more about speaking tips? Take a look at our 100 tips for motivational speaking for any speaking engagement! Happy speaking!


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