There is a certain irony in writing a piece about the world of conference speakers returning to normal after the worst 2 years the industry has experienced, whilst yesterday seeing the dreaded two lines on a self administered LFT for the very first time.
There is no doubt that we are now getting there – I am incredibly grateful that virtual events were able to take place and our clients were willing and able to pay talent to appear on a screen rather than on a stage. However, I have been back attending live events for nearly 6 months, and two thirds of my conference speakers bookings are now in real life (IRL), and I’ve loved it. The things I thought I had missed in the virtual world were real!
The first speaker I heard in the flesh was back in September 2021, and though this is a horrible, tired old cliche in our industry, Monty Halls managed to create an atmosphere in that room – no one was scrolling through emails, they were focused on the story and the messaging, and – without wanting to spoil too much – Monty’s new speech ends with a video that resulted in majority of the audience reaching for their handkerchiefs. It was fantastic, and Monty had a queue of people telling him what an effect he’d had on them for 45 minutes.
Whilst it’s fantastic to be back in a conference hall, it got me thinking about ways in which the pandemic may have affected JLA, our clients and the conference speakers we book, as we move into the new normal. Yes, I did just use that phrase – deal with it.
There’s one in particular I’d like to pick out – our clients’ flexibility on speech format.
As the pandemic wore on, it became apparent that a 45 minute virtual speech “down the lens” wasn’t going to maintain the attention span of attendees watching online. To counter this, speakers started introducing polls and mini Q+A sections in the middle of speeches. Some even took a straw poll at various junctures of a speech, asking whether the audience would like to hear about subject a) or subject b) for the next 10 minutes of the keynote.
I think the legacy of this interaction will feed into IRL speeches moving forwards. Pre pandemic, I had conversations with clients who expressed the view that if they were paying someone a high fee to speak at an event, then they expected them to do this without requiring a facilitator. This – I must stress – is a view I totally understand.
But the success of a more interactive speech during virtual events, coupled with an ever decreasing length in attention spans in general (is anyone still reading?) means a renewed desire to reimagine the way a conference speaker presents on stage.
It’s SO GOOD to be back and you never know, perhaps the worlds of virtual and IRL could even learn from each other, whilst coexisting happily side by side.