How technology is changing the face of corporate events

Apr 11, 2017 · Guest post from Nick Gold, Managing Director, Speakers Corner

21oct

When thinking about how we use technology today, I often recall a time when videoconferencing was anticipated to be the next great revolution to turn the business landscape upside down. (My lucky colleagues at Speakers Corner frequently get treated to this story).

I was working for a big company at the time, and its employees were told to get ready for the age of the teleconference; the new method of staying connected to each other. With the advent of more reliable and faster data speeds, it was said that ‘finally’ the need for face-to- face meetings and conferences would vanish because, from now on, we would all be able to sit around screens instead. At the time, the business travel industry was seen to be at high-risk, and it was thought that this technological development would surely restore the efficiency of the workplace by improving work-life balances.

Years later, we can observe that this didn’t pan out quite as expected.

Don’t get me wrong; the world of videoconferencing is thriving, and all types of activities are hosted live on the internet through all manners of technology.

It is fascinating, however, that people, perhaps more now than ever, continue to value real interaction; to appreciate the act of physically meeting up in-person to talk business or to listen to an inspiring speaker. Without a doubt, the ‘live’ experience remains a critical aspect of our corporate and personal environments.

If my hypothesis above is correct, am I saying that all the predictions of the 90s were wrong? Of course not. We have, nonetheless, seen the rise of more nuanced technology that underpins and enhances the actual environment. I suppose, especially with 2016’s technology phenomenon, Pokémon Go, we are beginning to understand that it is about augmenting the human element of life, and not about replacing it.

A newly explored area is the dynamic interaction between a speaker and audience. I have seen this used to great effect, with respect to real-time speaker-led polls and questioning. It is an immensely powerful tool to help the speaker engage with the delegates and to validate the key points they aim to get across. That said, for me, even more exciting is something that we are only just starting to witness: real-time audience-led feedback. Primarily pioneered by the advent of social media, particularly twitter, this allows the audience to raise questions or points in the moment, rather than having to wait for the speaker to instigate the opportunity.

Any speaker with a real and deep understanding of their content should be able to (and welcome) the chance to take the audience on a journey of their choosing (while keeping in mind the briefing from the organisers of the conference). The fluidity of speech it generates is able to better deliver the objectives of both the delegates and the organisers and, moreover, to challenge the keynote speaker to take their role to a level where they can inspire enduring change.

This neatly leads me on to another area: maintaining the impact of the conference or event, above and beyond the actual day itself. The use of technology by communities, whether mobile apps or websites, serves as both a reminder about the event and, more importantly, a means to turn any theoretical discussion inspired on or by the day itself into actionable goals.

I am absolutely passionate that the job of the keynote speaker should not simply be measured on the day. Beyond this, a speaker should have an impact that lasts weeks, months, and even years down the road, once the delegates have returned to their ‘everyday lives’. Audience members and event organisers should be asking themselves what did the delegates learn to help improve their working practices or processes in a way that benefits themselves and/or their companies? Surely this is the whole point of a conference or event, and using technology to monitor the cause and effect, with relatively simple manual interaction, has enormous potential.

Another area where speakers often employ technology is in the use of slides to communicate with the audience. Let’s talk PowerPoint here: the two plosive syllables that strike fear and dread into the hearts of event organisers. It’s no surprise that the phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’ is now an accepted part of their lexicon: it means, why are you presenting a subject that an audience can effectively just read from your slides? To reinforce an earlier point, technology is there to supplement and augment the keynote speaker, not to render their presence pointless.

Words displayed large and bright on the conference wall, only to be read aloud to the audience, add no value. Content, and its delivery, should remain the realm of the speaker, while PowerPoint is there to provide visual stimuli that enhances this, whether in the form of images, videos, key words, symbols or other kinds. If you use this handy, albeit often misemployed, presentation software in any other way, a speaker will need to deliver even more dynamically if they are going to get their key messages across amongst a distracting bulk of text. Used in accordance with spoken words, however, it can help a speaker to spark the audience’s thinking and take them on a journey of discovery.

Finally, technology can preserve the legacy of a speech. There is no denying that TED has had an amazing impact on the world of speaking. It has shown that a video of a speaker can generate enormous interest across continents and cultures, as long as it contains fascinating and challenging content. It needs to be not so long that people are turned off before even tuning in, and not so short that it lacks depth.

If anything, this has demonstrated that we, as humans, want to learn from each other and can do so in different forms, as long as the content is presented in the right way. There is a place for video technology in keeping alive the memories of a particular speech and opening it up to people who weren’t able to be present in the actual moment: a tool that is of absolute value to everyone.

Looking back, it’s clear that we weren’t wrong to get excited in the 90s about the potential of technology to help us connect; we simply underestimated the power of the live experience and the benefits of seeking to boost, not replace, this. Used in the right way, technology can open new possibilities for clients and delegates to get the most out their speakers, who are, in turn, put in the spotlight to sharpen their skills. Whether enabling audience-led content, harnessing tools to monitor a speaker’s impact, enhancing the spoken word with visual media, or storing speeches in a format accessible to world-wide viewers, those in the speaking industry can embrace the digital world in clever ways to create powerful legacies that live on.

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Nick Gold, Managing Director, Speakers Corner

Nick Gold is the owner and managing director of Speakers Corner, a market-leading speaking bureau and consultancy with a portfolio of over 6,000 speakers, servicing over 1,000 events each year across all UK business sector. Nick previously worked in the energy sector at PCI Powercosts Inc and Centrica PLC, where he specialised in project management, business development, business analysis and bid tendering.

Nick has been published extensively across UK media commenting on a number of business issues, including: The Telegraph, City AM, Spears WMS, GQ.com and Management Today. He also writes a regular blog on Huffington Post UK.

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