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MPI Academcy

More than a speaker

Mar 27, 2017
by Thom Singer, CSP
Contributing Writer

The meeting industry proudly proclaims that “Meetings Mean Business,” and this is more than a slogan. In fact, meetings and events contribute annual spending of $280 billion to the U.S. economy. That is big business!

Conferences, trade shows, conventions, seminars, company all-hands gatherings, incentive events, association conclaves, etc., are widespread and growing. In most cities you can have a “three-name-tag day” with local networking events alone (meaning you’ll wear a name tag at breakfast, lunch and dinner). Then there are the regional, national and international events. The U.S. meeting industry alone employs 1.8 million people.

As in most aspects of our ever-changing world, the meeting industry is undergoing a lot of changes. Morphing audience preferences, technological advancements and new research on how people learn are all impacting how meetings are organized and attended. There have been many changes in the way meetings are being run, and expectations for how speakers engage audiences are actively discussed at all industry forums. Interactive presentations are becoming more popular, and planners are looking for unique programs that challenge and engage the attendee mind, body and soul. Speakers who remain relevant are those who study industry trends and have conversations with planners about the expectations of their presentations.

“A good professional speaker realizes their session is not the entire event, but an important part of it,” says Harris Schanhaut, CME, enterprise event planning at USAA. “To make their session as successful as possible, the speaker should proactively work with the event organizer to learn more about the event. [What is the] reason for the event? What are the other key issues that face the attendees and, of course, what are their demographics?”

Speakers have a unique ability to impact the success of a conference, and according to Meetings & Conventions’ 2015 Meeting Spend Survey speakers and entertainment account for 8 percent of an event’s budget. Other suppliers who support the industry—hoteliers, transportation companies, designers, caterers, audiovisual production, logistics engineers, venues, digital technology providers, etc.—view themselves, and are seen by others in the industry, as “event professionals.” However, sometimes speakers seem not to be as equally engaged.

Part of the problem is that “speaker” is not a one-size-fits all label. There are many different types of people who populate an event’s agenda, and therefore it is often hard to define what one means by a “speaker.” There are professional speakers, subject matter experts, authors, celebrities, industry leaders, consultants, company or association leaders, humorists, peers, economists, thought leaders, etc. Some of these people are compensated for their talks while others are not, which adds to the confusion.

But anyone who is speaking at an event is part of the greater meeting industry. The role of a speaker is more than delivering a great presentation on stage. They serve a pivotal role in the success of the whole conference attendee experience. When a relevant presentation impacts the crowd, it changes the culture of the whole event. Speakers (professionals and non-fee speakers) have a direct impact on setting the tone for every meeting. Thus, the speaker and the meeting organizers are in a unique position to partner.

Those who present at meetings should be seen as one of the most valuable resources before, during and after the event. Working together with planners at all stages of the conference allows the speaker to help facilitate greater engagement for everyone in attendance and make the event memorable.

“It is presumed the chosen speaker is a high-quality presenter and a subject matter expert on the topic they have been asked to speak on,” Schanhaut says. “Taking the effort to learn more about the conference and its attendees will enable them to tweak their presentation to make it really resonate with the audience. That is what will make their presentation a success and will increase the chances of additional bookings.”

Speakers should also get involved with the various industry organizations. The National Speakers Association (NSA) is an active member of the Convention Industry Council. 

“While we see speaking as a profession, that profession is part of a bigger and very important industry—the convention and meeting industry,” says Stacy Tetschner, CEO at NSA. “It is important that professional speakers, who play an integral role in the success of meetings, have a seat and voice within the industry that affects their livelihood.”

However, only a small number of speakers are active with MPI, ASAE, IAEE, PCMA, etc. The more a speaker understands the skillset, ability and industry standards involved in conceiving and executing events, the more value they can bring to meeting organizers and their audiences.

Everyone in the meeting industry is hardworking and comes together to deliver amazing experiences. Few audience members understand the amount of coordinated effort that goes on behind the scenes and how many people and companies serve the end product of a successful conference. Meeting professionals all share an amazing work ethic and when we do our jobs, the meetings we execute can change the world.

The future of the meeting industry looks good. The need for people to come together to share ideas will never go away. It is a great time to be part of any aspect of this business, and it is a great time to be a speaker, too. It is competitive—and different events have any variety of needs for presentations. Audiences are no longer satisfied with data-dump experts who do not keep people engaged. There is a lot of excitement spreading around the world of meetings, and when speakers get more involved with the needs of the whole industry, everyone wins.

Thom (MPI Texas Hill Country Chapter) is a professional master of ceremonies and keynote speaker. Contact him at (512) 970-0398 or visit www.thomsinger.com.