For professional speakers, engaging with an audience can begin months before stepping out onto the stage.
Their first audience interaction might come through a teaser video in an event promotion email, says professional speaker and author David Fisher. Or they might also begin cross promoting the event on social media, according to Rich Gibbons, president of SpeakInc., a company that books event speakers and headline entertainers.
Once the conference is over, audiences might interact with Fisher further during a post-event webinar building on the conference content. Or they might receive an email newsletter campaign focused on applying what they’ve learned on the job.
With events and conferences evolving into experiences for attendees, professional speakers are taking this shift to heart. Judi Holler, improviser, author and keynote speaker, says what most of her clients want from her sessions is “change.”
“[What they want are] tangible takeaways that can be used right away to make change in their lives or to inspire a different way of thinking,” Holler says.
From fuzzy microphones made for tossing to the influence of TED Talks, read on to find out what four professional speakers and managers are seeing as the latest trends in meetings and events.
While sessions might still incorporate motivational elements, professional speakers say clients request content that is immediately applicable.
“There’s a strong demand for actionable content from subject matter experts,” Fisher says. “[The content is] very grounded in the practical steps that participants can actually learn from and apply right away.”
Fisher says clients also want content that resonates beyond the event. Texting and event applications can be used to remind participants to attend follow-up events. “What’s really popular are follow-up webinars or sessions after the event that allow participants to have another touch point, to ask questions or refresh the knowledge they gained.”
The TED Talk Effect
Professional speakers say the popularity of TED Talks has left its mark on conference sessions. Fisher says the typical 90-minute speaker session has been pared down to 60 minutes. In some cases, speaking sessions may even be cut further to 45 minutes or less.
However, Gibbons cautions planners from trying to pack too much content into the typical TED Talk time frame of about 20 minutes.
“You’ve got someone with a breadth and depth of intellect, who’s written several books and has a long view of the landscape, but you give them 25 or 30 minutes because it’s a trend and in vogue,” Gibbons says. “If you’ve gotten someone you’re making a massive investment in, you’re asking them to truncate the rhythm of their remarks to shoehorn it into an artificially short period of time.” Gibbons says he finds a 60-minute session to be the sweet spot.
If planners are looking to host shorter sessions, splitting up content over multiple sessions may allow speakers to cover the same amount of content in a more digestible format, Fisher says. In some instances, Fisher has split his typical one-session talk into three, one-hour sessions on different topics.
Gibbons says groups can also leverage a speaker’s expertise by asking them to lead a breakout session on a particular topic following their talk. This adds more value for attendees and can be added on to the speaker’s original fee at a nominal cost.
Gibbons says topics like leadership, working effectively in groups and producing innovative solutions remain popular. However, other themes such as artificial intelligence and using big data are in increasing demand.
Author, speaker and consultant Kevin Sheridan was recently asked to create a custom talk for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America on identifying the symptom of employee burnout. Since then, other groups have consistently asked for talks on the same topic, he says. Other popular topics include how to manage remote workers and how to work across generational differences.
Holler began speaking professionally in 2010 but says her participation in improvisation through Second City accelerated her speaking career. She has since written a book on fear titled “Fear Is My Homeboy” and says her talks on courage continue to resonate with audiences.
“The topic of courage is one that matters so much because the big reason we don’t make change in our lives … is because fear keeps us stuck, safe and just the same,” Holler says. “So, addressing how we manage fear first is a great way to help participants understand how to embrace inevitable disruption in our lives so we can keep moving forward.”
Keeping Sessions Interactive
Groups can also use several different tools to allow participants to directly engage with the speaker. That includes using applications to allow participants to anonymously ask questions or participate in audience polls. Fisher has also seen a group use a microphone enclosed in a fuzzy, padded box that can be tossed or passed around the room during a Q&A.
As planners design unique experiences rather than just events, speakers are coming through with more interactive elements. Holler recommends customizing content so participants feel the talk was written and designed just for them.
She also keeps her talks moving by incorporating several multimedia and interactive elements.
“I love teaching fill-in-the-blank frameworks, telling lots of stories, using video, sharing relatable case studies, using models, and making my slides visual story boards to demonstrate my points,” Holler says. “All of these tools help me keep the audience’s attention while helping them remember the lessons.”
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