This is a follow up on the excellent feature by my colleague Adam Harkness, written at the end of April. Adam highlighted some of the initiatives that JLA, as a speaker bureau, have piloted recent weeks and months.
So much has changed, even within a month, and though phrases like “unprecedented times” and “new normal” have a danger of inducing eye rolling, it’s impossible to argue that the industry in which I’ve worked for over 10 years has changed beyond recognition in the space of just a few weeks.
There are now a few signs of how the market might look once the stricter elements of lockdown have been loosened, and as our own online series of events reaches its 10 week milestone, I thought I would reflect on how it has developed, and look at some possible lessons for any Speaker Bureau.
The most important thing we’ve discovered, is, that when done correctly, online/virtual events WILL work, and – thank goodness – there is absolutely still a demand from our clients to hear from experts!
I’ve been really proud of the way the JLA+ Briefings have worked over the last 10 weeks. Initially our director Jeremy Lee booked speakers he has a close working relationship with (William Hague on the first week of lockdown for example) – and the 15 + 15 speech/fireside chat format was used as a low risk way of testing the water.
But as lockdown continued, we’ve started to push some boundaries, both in terms of technology and content of the sessions. After our clients became familiar with the Tuesday 10.00am time slot, we decided to book someone with substantially less media profile, the Former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, Duncan Wardle.
Tellingly, it has been our most popular briefing and almost 1,000 people logged in to hear a terrific speech on how this is precisely the time for companies finally to innovate and think differently.
The session was hugely interactive, Duncan used the Zoom “hand raising” and “online poll” features brilliantly. It was the first time during these strange times, that I’ve thought, “actually, this is definitely more interactive than any regular conference speech” – the chat function was being used liberally by our clients whilst watching, and it felt like a proper conversation was taking place during the session.
So what can we learn?
Names and media profile will forever be important; people love being on a Zoom call with Eddie Izzard. But I think – refreshingly – content is still king, and the speakers with something genuinely insightful to say will be in demand by our corporate clients.
And if they say it in a way that takes advantage of an online platform’s interactive features, rather than just replicating something on a screen that used to happen on a stage, then perhaps my speaker bureau will find a way of operating successfully in whatever this fabled new normal looks like.