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How to Use Keynote Speakers to Determine If You Should Attend a Conference

Keynote speaker addressing audience at a conference

A keynote in music is the first note of a musical scale and is meant to define the tonal progression of the piece. Keynote speakers at conferences are no different—their purpose is to set the tone for the event and establish the framework to allow other speakers to carry through the main message or theme. The opening keynote speaker will not only set the tone but as one of the first speakers of the day, they could be the reason someone attends a conference. Their message has to ignite the theme of the event and clear a path for other speakers to follow.

A typical keynote session is 45–90 minutes and is a value-add to an event. A well-chosen keynote speaker is not only a draw to attract people to attend but they also contribute to the overall success of the event. Keynote speakers can be a motivational speaker or an expert in their field. Some keynote sessions elicit laughs, and some produce tears (and some have both) but regardless of approach, the presenters are professional speakers who know how to deliver a powerful and lasting message.  

The SafeStart Forum is a user-centric event geared to companies at any stage in their partnership with the SafeStart organization. SafeStart’s safety and human error reduction training is designed to complement existing safety management systems and is meant for any company in any industry. The keynotes for the SafeStart Forum were chosen with the SafeStart processes in mind. The keynotes are meant to speak to the many facets of human factors and their messages—combined with the line-up of speakers—will further establish the curated learning experience the SafeStart Forum is meant to provide.  

This year, the Day 1 opening keynote is former Navy Captian Mike Abrashoff. At 36 years old, he was the junior-most officer in the Pacific Fleet when he took command of the near-worst performing ship, the USS Benfold. In Abrashoff’s keynote, you’ll hear the story about how he turned the performance of the ship around to become the best-performing ship after only 12 months, and without changing a member of the existing crew. That transformation story has lessons for every organization: leadership matters, engagement is key and culture is everything.

The Day 2 keynote is the founder and Managing Director of HabitSafe and the author of Third Generation Safety: The Missing Piece, Cristian Sylvestre. Cristian is passionate about applying the latest neuroscience and behavioral research to change how individuals and organizations think about safety, thereby helping them improve their safety performance. In his keynote, Cristian will demonstrate how physiological changes in our brains and the process of forming habits can help people use their brains as personal protective equipment (PPE).

A good closing keynote speaker is essential to encourage people to stay for the entire conference and leave people feeling inspired and talking about the conference as a whole (and hopefully for a while after the conference). The SafeStart Forum carefully selected SafeStart creator/author Larry Wilson and ever-popular senior safety consultant Jack Jackson to deliver the closing keynote session together about the importance of storytelling (which is a big part of SafeStart).

In order to know whether keynote speakers are worth the price of admission, check to see what the purpose of the event is. The speaker’s session description should align with the conference’s overall theme. Remember, some keynote speakers make a living from speaking at events. Take a quick look into their other speaking sessions to know you’re getting a quality experience for your money. To learn more about the keynotes and speakers at the SafeStart Forum, visit

Guide to Safety Conferences

Safety Conference Guide

This guide contains tips on making the case to attend safety conferences, choosing sessions and how to maximize your experience.

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