How to become a great keynote speaker and inspire audiences

Like many best-selling authors I speak to more than 50 audiences a year. They range from major associations like the International Franchise Association to well-known corporations like Google and Amazon, to my most recent TEDx talk on fear. I get asked a ton of questions, but here are my top five:


  • How do you get over fear of public speaking?
  • What are your top tips for delivering a keynote speech?
  • What are the best topics for a keynote speech?
  • How can you understand your audience?
  • What has the most impact on an audience?

First, What is a keynote speaker?

A keynote speaker is an expert in some field that is usually leveraged to open or close a conference, sales meeting, or kick off an event. Great keynote speakers are like any other professional, they put thousands of hours into getting good at their craft. The ingredients of a wonderful speaker include soldi stagecraft (using body and gestures to add to the experience, understanding and training voice and most of all having the ability to spellbound an audience with great story telling). The absolute best keynote speakers also leave their audience with two critical take-aways; an idea, or even a question, that can change their life; and a new perspective that they had never thought of before.

What a keynote speaker is not is someone who just decides it’s easy money, or they can just have one canned speech, or that they’ll be great "winging it." Giving a world-class talk requires preparation and practice. This is also true if someone is doing a virtual presentation, in fact sometimes it's more difficult because there is no IT support, and there's no intimate presence with the audience so choosing a certified virtual speaker is especially important if it's not an in person event.

How do you get over a fear of public speaking?

The truth is that some people, even academy award winning actors like Sir Laurence Olivier, always have stage fright. In the audio version of my book Fear is Fuel we have an incredible interview with Grammy winning actor, director and producer Mike O’Malley. Mike shared that the actors who have a fear onstage or in front of the camera are the least prepared. Knowing your lines and the flow of your talk is the first step toward confidence on stage.

From a neuroscience perspective what we are afraid of is that we will either be rejected from the tribe and put out in the wild alone, or not find a suitable mate. Theses are feelings based on the two million year old programming in our fear center - the amygdala. There are two easy ways to combat this once you are up on stage:

  1. Find two people (on opposite sides of the room) who are smiling, and nodding their head as you talk. Talk to just those two people. Make eye contact and let their positive affirmation of your story carry you confidently through. Pretend you are having a conversation with just them and you will be more your authentic self.
  2.  Smile. There was a ground breaking study at Emory University in Atlanta that showed the power of the old adage “grin and bear it.” They showed a group of subjects a scary horror video and asked half of the subjects to hold a chopstick clenched between their teeth. What they found was absolutely incredible, the subjects who were flexing the 42 muscles in their face which we use for smiling had reduced their level of the stress hormone cortisol by 80%!

What are your top tips for delivering a keynote speech

It's most important to talk about something that you know, and do it in the form of telling a story, not giving a lecture. People love to hear stories especially if baby cause you to ride a wave of emotion like a rollercoaster. If you have a moment in the speech - like when I talk about my near death experience with leukemia - let that moment settle in for a moment with what oftentimes feels like an uncomfortable silence. Then afterwards change the mood with a joke or a humorous anecdote. Getting audiences to feel different emotions is critical to keeping them entertained and engaged. When I do a 45 minute speech I think to myself that they have to have a quote moment a minute, so that every minute there's something happening that's going to get their attention that's going to make them think that will cause them to be curious. Make sure you change the tone and volume of your voice and use your body and body language to help tell the story. Remember people sitting way in the back are going to see a very different performance than people sitting up front in the first row.

5 Tips to become a great keynote speaker

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What are the best topics for a keynote speech

The topic for your keynote speech really depends on the audience, in the intent of the talk. One of the best things you can is spend a lot of time with the company CEO or the events team, or the leader of the Association and find out what their goal is for bringing in a keynote speaker. If it's just to entertain then the storytelling value and sometimes the media, pictures and video is critical. If it's to inspire then having a story of overcoming adversity and changing your mindset is most important, if it's to motivate then giving a challenge to the audience in showing how someone else set an example can be great as well. The subject should be something that you know very well and that you can authentically be an expert on.


I spent six years researching the neuroscience of fear, courage and peak performance. This included flying across the globe to meet with more than three dozen of the world's top neuro scientists, psychologists, and neuro biologist. There is so much information and I learned so much in this process that the biggest challenge for me became filtering out the scientific data in jargon. 2 points that were incredibly useful for anyone who wanted to find courage and overcome fear. After working with hundreds of world class and professional athletes, special forces operators, and more than 500 CEO's globally what I found was the best performers use fear as a fuel to drive them to great deeds. Fear is fuel - the surprising power to find purpose passion and performance, hit #5 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. It was apparent that after it became a bestseller it changed millions of people's lives, helping them find courage and confidence in their life. With all that research and the experience of competing at the Olympic level and then starting several multimillion dollar technology companies I have a unique perspective to bring to audiences from entrepreneurs and business owners to educators and professionals who want to live a more authentic and courageous life.


Figure out what area you have expertise and knowledge in that would make you interesting and informative and then come up with a story that moves the audience through the spectrum of emotions.

How can you understand your audience

This is the cornerstone for giving an excellent keynote speech. Motivational speakers and inspirational speakers across the globe will spend time to really get to know their audience. It starts out with the people who are hiring you; why are they bringing you to their conference and putting you up on a stage? What does the events committee or the CEO, or the VP of sales think that you can do to add value to this conference? Those are the people who are paying your pay-check and you want to make sure you make them happy however they are not the audience. I found where my keynote speeches really moved the audience and weeks or months later I'm still getting emails or social media comments are those times when I arrive early to a conference and I spend some time speaking with conference attendees over lunch or coffee breaks or areas where they congregate. I ask them what their biggest challenges are, what they are afraid of, and where they're getting value during the conference or event. Just a few simple questions like that give tremendous insight into how the information you have can change their life.


Also keep in mind geographical differences. I've spoken in more than 15 different countries and even the difference between giving a speech in Boston where Dunkin' Donuts is the best known coffee shop compared to Toronto where Tim Horton's wins that award can have an impact on your delivery in jokes and making a point. That’s even more pronounced when you might leave your office in New York to speak in London or Dubai.

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How can a speaker have the most impact on an audience?

This is where neuroscience can really come into play and help you create an amazing keynote speech. When something happens our brain creates two different types of memories one is called a semantic memory and the other is an emotional memory. A semantic memory is just the facts and that's stored in one part of our brain called the hippocampus and the emotional memory is stored in another part of our brain called the amygdala. The stronger the emotional memory is the more we remember the semantic memory, in other words the best way to have an impact on the audience can be to leave them with something they'll remember the rest of their life, to tug on their emotional strings with as much power as possible. Moving an audience to tears, making them burst out in laugh and getting them angry all are emotional states that will help them remember you as an inspiring motivational speaker and importantly your message that can potentially change their life.

Oftentimes you'll see speakers use the element of surprise to get the amygdala to react. The amygdala is a small gland at the base of our brain shaped like an almond. It is responsible for the fight flight or freeze response, and it's running a 2,000,000 year old piece of software that isn't used to all the distractions we have in daily life. So if somebody drops something, yells , or does something dramatic onstage that activates the amygdala who is saying we might be in danger to something. Being in danger is an incredibly strong emotional response.


One of my favorite things to do during my keynote speech is get people up on stage. I always tell people that I'm running late in my speech and I usually ask for volunteers but since we don't have much time I'm just going to pick people in the audience to come up randomly and help me sing a song. As you can imagine I look for people who are trying to hide and not make eye contact with me and get them up on stage because they are most likely to have a fear of public speaking. This is a great tool to get audiences engaged , and show the power of our fear center which is a cornerstone of my keynote speeches.

As a keynote speaker after COVID-19 and the new reality were in audiences are going to demand something different, they'll want more interaction after living a year of zoom fatigue. So it's critical that you find ways for the audience to participate to ask a question to give a thought.

The best keynote speeches leave the audience asking questions.

Speaker Logistics for Event Planners

How to book a keynote speaker

There are two primary ways to book a keynote speaker: directly off their website, or through a speakers Bureau. The benefit of booking a speaker directly off their website is you get direct engagement with the performer, you can discuss fees, logistics and content immediately, and you both will have a better economic experience because nobody is taking a Commission or adding overhead to the cost.

Using a speakers Bureau is another great way to go because they have such great knowledge of their speakers. They know who can move an audience for a sales presentation, they understand speakers who can tie together a large conference as a closing keynote, and they understand the strengths and weaknesses of many of their best speakers. The downside is they will push speakers that are exclusive to their Bureau because they make more money. This is why three or four speakers with each speaker's Bureau are so heavily booked because the agents have a financial incentive to book the exclusive speakers.

Cost of a keynote speaker

The cost of a keynote speaker can range from $500 to $200,000. I was the closing keynote speaker at the international franchise Association annual meeting in Las Vegas and Gary vainer Chuck was the opening keynote speaker the CEO of the Association told me afterwards they paid garyvee more than the former United States president who spoke at the meeting just a couple of years before. Before garyvee got his six figure fee he had done a lot of speaking and built up a huge following on social media. There are generally 3 levels of keynote speaker costs and they start out below $5000 for new speakers with no following and likely no intellectual property. 5000 to $15,000 for speakers who have had good success in life, done incredible feats or inspirational activities, started successful companies, or are an expert in their field. When you get to the 25,000 to $50,000 range you can pretty much expect that those are best selling authors, successful entrepreneurs, world class athletes, world record holders or adventurers , and people of an extraordinary nature. Also when you get to that high tier of keynote speakers you can be assured that those people are very professional, will work to create a specific keynote speech just for your audience, and have great storytelling ability.

Check patrick's availability

Patrick is one of the world's most sought after live and virtual speakers. His schedule for 2020 is already well booked, so don't wait.

Follow three easy steps to get the best speaker for your team:

Step 1: Inquire on his availability & set a time to discuss your needs 

Step 2: Your team and Patrick connect virtually to craft the most impactful event.

Step 3: Change your audience's life with a presentation they will remember forever. 

step 1: Find out if Patrick's available for your event