If you can secure a great keynote speaker, you've got every chance of organising a great conference overall. The headline act, who delivers the main address, has the ability to make or break the conference.

If the speaker delivers the goods, there's a greater chance of people going home happy, feeling as if they have got value for money from their trip. But if their address flounders, it's likely to leave a lasting negative impression for everyone in the room. And next year, they might not be so eager to attend.

No matter how professional or polished the conference has been as a whole, and how successful the workshops and seminars are, people will always remember a disappointing keynote speaker and their underwhelming speech.

As a conference organiser, you ideally want to attract a big name in your industry, subject to budgetary constraints, of course. But before you agree a deal, you might want to check their speaking capability. Do they have a track record of addressing large audiences, and making the right impression? Are they likely to engage your conference guests and have people on the edge of their seats?

Sometime going for a less well-known figure who is more of a natural performer is advisable. If you can guarantee your keynote speaker will deliver fireworks from the stage and impress the audience, you've got firm foundations for a great conference.

Choosing the right speaker

So what are the traits of a great conference speaker? First and foremost, they must be able to speak clearly and persuasively on their subject of choice, adopting a suitable pace. They need to offer insight and balance, forming intelligent arguments which offer food for thought. And they must be able to articulate themselves effectively, developing a coherent narrative for their speech with a distinct beginning, middle and end.

Great speakers are conscious of the context of their address. They know who they are talking to, what they are interested in hearing and how they can establish rapport. The best speakers focus on meeting the needs of the audience, rather than promoting themselves or their own activities.

Ideally, the speaker will have stories to tell - anecdotes and case studies which help frame the content, while also entertaining the audience. By sharing personal observations they can illustrate their message clearly and give additional weight to their arguments. And at the end, they can bring everything together with an effective 'call to action', urging the listeners to take something away from the speech which helps them going forwards.

There are good keynote speakers, bad ones and also some great ones. If you know what you are looking for, and which people will strike a chord with your conference guests, you've got every chance of securing the latter. And sometimes this can be the difference between a successful event and a failure.