What makes a true keynote speaker?

Finding a definition of the term ''keynote speaker' is far from easy. Whether it is because the term is not unambiguous or because it consists of several aspects, it seems that even professional speakers do not all have the same image of a keynote speaker. To get a better handle on this, we sat down with professional speaker Ruud Veltenaar. He tells us about his view on the speaker landscape, the power of stories and emotions and the effect of design on your performance.


"Speakers shockingly often get away with bad content, bad visuals, bad delivery or all three," states Ruud. "The pitfall of many speakers is that they are on stage for themselves, not for the audience. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to fill halls: you get a lot of no-shows and low interest, but that is not due to quality of speakers or workshops. There is a lot of choice in parallel sessions. It's about deepening quality, stories, and improving performance."

"You make things better by making better things"

Mockup - KeynoteSpeaker


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You can find the answers in our whitepaper, specially prepared for event managers



"Content is at least as important, but content alone will get you nowhere. As a speaker, you are not there to tell your story, but to get them moving. To get people moving, to shock, to stir, to move. That is not the goal, but the means to get movement in them. It has to be balanced with each other. Otherwise it is irrelevant and there is no way from A to B. It is like being on a mission, the same as an expedition: speakers help people make more impact with stories. That's all you need. Along the way, you adjust that: the journey itself is the goal, not the end station."


Being able to adjust the sails is therefore an important trait in a speaker, says Ruud: "Good criticism is extremely valuable. We can learn something from top athletes, they get criticism from their coaches all day long. If you want to get better, you have to be able to handle criticism well, otherwise you cannot improve. Not everyone has to become a speaker, but you have to be able to tell a story. Presenting to people to work with is different from presenting to a room. It is not necessary to expect that from everyone, but if that is your goal, you will have to be able to handle criticism."


It also means looking critically at your performance, Ruud believes. Because in addition to your story and your delivery, your performance also consists of the visual support you use. And that could be less distracting, according to Ruud: "The focus should be on the story, not on me. The image is supportive, so I don't want the image to fly in or use routes; I don't want to talk from head but heart. And then you want as few distractions as possible. I don't always use pictures either. In the beginning I do, then it can surprise, amaze, irritate and maybe even make people angry. Some people walk away angry. I actually think that's the best thing about it, that means I came in the hardest and that sticks for weeks. Over the years, I did hone my performance to update it. There are sometimes people sitting in the room who have heard me speak before, so the story shouldn't be the same. It's actually quite a tricky craft. You develop an art for it over the years. I'm not looking for best picture, but the one that has the most impact. If I go to sleep earlier, that can have even more impact than the image I have chosen."

Ruud Veltenaar


Ruud Veltenaar is not only a sought-after speaker but has a proven track record of almost 30 years as a sustainable entrepreneur, inspirational leader and impact investor. As a progressor, he works hard every day towards a more sustainable environment and fair society. As a scientist, he easily knows how to separate sense from nonsense, as well as purpose from intention.

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