A ‘keynote’ refers to the main underlying theme of a gathering such as a conference or industry convention. The keynote speaker gives a speech on that theme. In corporate or commercial settings, where such speeches are usually given, the keynote sets the framework for the series of events that form the convention agenda.
The subject of such a speech may be related to key events that have occurred in the industry or seek to summarize and emphasize a core message that the conveners wish to emphasize. Keynote speeches, however, can be given at a wide range of other events including academic conferences, graduation ceremonies and at other similar events.
Keynote speakers are typically well known in the industry or area of the conference or may be well known for other reasons. Often they are carefully selected so as to raise awareness and interest in the event and so that they will draw attendees.