Spontaneous harmony is difficult to achieve. Try it for yourself; go to a colleague, and tell them that on three, you’ll both sing a note. We’ll be here when you get back.

Assuming you tried the exercise, chances are you didn’t get a perfect vocal harmony; the likeliness that you picked two notes that worked well together is pretty low. Try the same experiment again, but instead of both of you singing a random note on three, one of you will start by singing a note, and the other one will harmonize with that note on three. Now, unless one or both of you are tone deaf, you’ve likely created a beautiful harmony; and felt great about it, too! You’re halfway to becoming a barbershop quartet. The note one of you sang in order to establish what the harmony should play off of? That, my friend, was a keynote.

A keynote is used to establish theme; in the case of musical harmony, it’s literally used to establish what key will be used for the song- the keynote. The musical metaphor is so beautiful, it’s impossible to resist; if you want to have a conference with perfect harmony, use a keynote speech to establish a resonant theme everyone will able to follow throughout the rest of the conference. The speech should strike a chord with your audience, like Obama’s famous keynote did before he ran for president. A keynote should be powerful, while providing a sense of unity and shared priorities for the listeners. Other speakers should be able to play off of the themes the keynote speakers developed, like great musicians riff off of each other.

It’s likely your conference already has an established theme, centered around a priority for your organization; it might be creativity, or motivation, or equality. Your keynote speaker, and their speech, should be an embodiment of these particular priorities; they should have stories and narratives that hone in on the core of what makes that priority so important to you. You should also evaluate the priorities of the individual members of your organization; if you have an office full of sports lovers, a speaker who is a sports star might mean their hero is on stage discussing your priorities. Choosing the right speaker is bound to provide an impactful experience that will orient the whole rest of the event in a positive and productive direction.

Remember that the tone of your keynote affects the tone of the whole conference, much as starting with a dark note will lead to a sad song. Should your conference be somber, your keynote should be too; a sunny keynote will lead, conversely, to a bright and happy conference. Using the keynote to set emotional expectations is a powerful tool to drive the conversations and interactions that will occur during the rest of the conference.