The difference between a keynote speaker, facilitator and trainer – and why it matters

By Andrew Grant (TEDx, APEC CEO Summit, YPO Keynote speaker)

If you have a learning event coming up, it might be worth stopping and considering what you really need. Before jumping in and choosing a presenter, it’s worth asking the right questions to ensure you get the right fit. Many people struggle to balance budget parameters with outcomes, so it might be worth realising that the biggest investment made is not the event cost, but the cost of wasting everyone’s time if the session does not deliver.

Learning events should be engaging and relevant, and they should have actionable outcomes. Plus, these days, one has to ask why pay so much or waste people’s time when the information is free on YouTube or available in a book? For professional speakers to be worth the investment, they will need to deliver more value than just a presentation with content, they now need to clearly link to results. The session must be a careful mix of intelligent evidence-based content with engaging methods that drive the outcomes needed.

So what do you want to achieve? Inspiration to motivate and engage people, to inspire them to do their best? Or do you want teach them some specific content? Or, better still, have them learn something in a way they will not forget it? Is it to help them process the information so they can action it personally in a way that it resonates with their specific situation? Or is it to help them discover, reflect and apply?

This article provides some guidelines on how to identify the real needs and deliver bottom line results.

What is the difference?

Here is a quick guide to some key terms to help you navigate the differences:

  • A keynote is like a light– it is designed to inspire, engage, and motivate. Keynotes are designed for larger groups with a known pre-booked speaker / topic. Keynote speakers have original material about an area of expertise or tell about significant achievements / research they have made in a particular field. They can present their material in an interesting, motivating, engaging and stimulating way, reaching cynics and interested people alike.  For this reason, keynote speakers’ fees are higher.
  • A workshop or simulation is more of a window to the world – it is designed to provide an outward perspective, to learn about best practices and new ideas.
  • Experiential team learning and simulations are like a sandpit, as they are designed to use activity-based learning to create safe places or “practice fields” where people can self-discover & explore ideas and behaviours, using inductive style learning.
  • Executive business facilitation is like a mirror – allowing the group to reflect and strategically plan. An executive level facilitator can help people maintain ownership of the process and outcomes and promote dialogue, allowing people become observers of their own thinking.
  • Training is a funnel – trainers refer to existing material or tell you stories about other people, so they need to be good communicators and perhaps technical experts. Training is about developing a specific skill set, imparting knowledge, while education is about developing skills for ongoing learning and enquiry. Training uses more of a deductive method, telling people what or how to do something, often with little emphasis on why it is the case.

What is a good presenter worth?

A professional presenter can create a different conference dynamic to what an expert, academic, or even company sponsored speaker can bring. A professional speaker is there to deliver a relevant message to the audience. The presentation time on stage is minimal compared to the amount of time invested in designing and preparing. A good speaker will make the presentation look easy and the academic content simple, but don’t be fooled, this takes time and experience.

My 18 minute TEDx talk took longer to design and research than any other longer talk – even though I already had a 300-page book and 20 years’ worth of expertise presenting on the topic. The talk still had to have a creative opening, relevant content, personal story, humor, engagement, active learning and actionable outcomes, all packed into a tight time frame. Despite technical difficulties, I was able to smoothly continue the delivery within 17 minutes and 59 seconds. It is only with 20 years of experience that I was able to make the presentation look smooth without flinching or pausing.

Unlike a technical or academic expert who just presents facts or updates, it is the professional presenter’s responsibility to ensure a high level of interactivity and maintain engagement that can carry the more technical sessions. A professional presenter should be risk free, as they have delivered many times before, and they have developed the knowledge, experience and skills to understand the complex challenges and nuances of orating.

The best speakers do not fall into the trap of thinking that the audience is as passionate about the topic as they are, but instead they work hard to convince the audience that the topic is important for them. They should also be globally minded and culturally fluent, sensitive to everyone’s needs. For these reasons, the professional presenter should open the conference in a way that sets the rest of presenters and speakers up for success. 

Why experience matters

A professional speaker should have the following experience:

  • Strong communication skills with the ability to fully engage an audience.
  • Broad business operations experience that is both globally minded and culturally aware.
  • An authority on their topic, such as an author of a book published by a recognisable publisher, educated to post-graduate degree level in their topic of expertise, academic validation etc. Check out the presenter’s qualifications to talk on their specialist topic.
  • Able to design participant centric sessions that contain the latest academic research, made relevant through delivery methods that ensure full engagement with actionable takeaways
  • Able to respond in real time, reframing content in response to audience feedback, whether expressed or implied and go ‘off piste’ in regard to subject matter should the need arise.
  • The ability to talk with key stakeholders, and: Diagnose, Design, Develop, and Customise. Understand client business strategies, determine desired outcomes, link learning to needs and desired outcomes desired outcomes, develop content & delivery methods to reach outcomes.

Getting the right person for the right occasion can make all the difference!

2 Responses to “The difference between a keynote speaker, facilitator and trainer – and why it matters”

  1. As you mentioned, keynote speakers should have some of their own experience and ideas about the topic to bring to the table. They should also present things in a fun and engaging way, as to keep people interested. My brother is in charge of finding a keynote speaker for a medical conference, I will have to share this article with him.

  2. I’m glad you talked about how it’s important to look for a speaker with experience in their field. Recently, my wife mentioned that in her workplace, they’re thinking about options to lift the spirits of their workers. I believe that a speaker could help them and improve their efficiency, so I’ll be sure to tell my wife about it and to share this article as well. I think you did an excellent job explaining how a professional speaker needs to have powerful communication skills.

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