Keynote v plenary speaker: the difference

Large meetings and conferences generally feature keynote and plenary speakers, but not everyone is completely aware of the differences. Here are the major characteristics of each type of speaker.

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Compulsory attendance

Within the context of a conference, plenary means that it should be attended by everyone. Therefore, a plenary speaker is generally someone from within the industry, or even a company, who has a broad knowledge of the sector and may address a wide variety of subjects pertaining to issues affecting those at the meeting.

A plenary speaker is not necessarily a professional. The speaker may be someone who has been called on to present information relating to the meeting, and they may be quite nervous. To find out more about how to deal with anxiety and public speaking, see this report in The Guardian.

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Inspirational and aspirational

A person giving the keynote address communicates from a wider platform. They may be engaged to unite the themes of a meeting, to highlight reasons for holding the event, or to inspire those in the audience. A good keynote speaker can motivate listeners, educate them and encourage them to achieve more.

Sometimes an event may feature an opening keynote address, with a closing keynote address at the conclusion of the event. The opening speaker may set out the general themes and tones of the event and prepare the attendees for what is to come. The closing keynote address provides a conclusion to the meeting, will usually seek to enthuse those listening and will help end the event at a high point and with a feeling of optimism. The opening and closing keynote speakers may be the same individual or different people.

A galvanising keynote speaker can make an event or conference truly memorable. If you would like to explore the possibilities of having a quality keynote address at your event, looking at a site such as can show you what a motivational speaker could offer your audience.

A well-organised meeting or event generally benefits from having plenary and keynote addresses. A meeting seeks to inform those attending, and this is a role a plenary speaker can easily fill. However, when you want to motivate and enthuse your audience and give them something to remember, this is the job of the keynote address.

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