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In public speaking, a keynote speech is a speech that establishes a central underlying topic. When it comes to business or commercial contexts, the delivery of a keynote speech or keynote address is given more significance. It is the keynote speaker's responsibility to set the framework for the subsequent programme of events or convention agenda; in many cases, the keynote speaker will also serve as the convention moderator. It will also draw attention to a broader concept, such as a literary narrative, a specific musical composition, or an event.

The keynote address or keynote speech is given at political or industrial conventions and expositions, as well as academic conferences, to establish the underlying tone and summarise the central message or most significant discovery of the event. Keynote speeches are also presented during graduation and commencement ceremonies held at colleges, universities, and large high schools, and are typically delivered by renowned academics or celebrities who have been asked by the student body to speak. These talks are referred to as commencement addresses in certain circles.

When selecting keynote speakers for a specific event, such as for a conference or big gathering sponsored by a company or organisation, it is important to consider how the speaker will increase interest in the event and encourage people to come. Prospective attendees will be more enthusiastic about a meeting or conference if the keynote speaker is well-known for his or her competence in a specific area, or if he or she has gained widespread name recognition via other achievements. Some conferences include an opening keynote, a closing keynote, and a number of additional keynotes, with the term keynote becoming more used as a synonym for plenary session or "invited lecture."