Transformative, disruptive, revolutionary: as soon as a new technology hits the scene, there is a pressure within companies to get on board with it ASAP in order to be a part of the next big wave of change. From my experience, however, the relationship between technology and business – specifically the events industry – is a strange one, and deserves a more considered response.
For many years longer than anticipated, I have (happily) been working in the speaking arena of events, running a company called Speakers Corner alongside my brother Tim. While I love 99.9999% of my day job, I started out professionally during the first dot-com boom; a time whose tech ‘pioneering’ mentality has harvested a host of stories and valuable lessons which I continue to draw on (see: the long-suffering ears of my team!).
Prior to Speakers Corner, I spent a four-year stint learning about business at an FTSE 100 company. At the time, videoconferencing was ‘the next big thing’ in tech, and we were repeatedly informed that face-to-face meetings and events would soon become redundant as a result. Looking around, however, I noticed that people were still choosing to hold meetings together in person, even when videoconferencing could have saved significantly on travel time.
This phenomenon has remained apparent throughout my career. The latest technology comes along and, to use today’s terminology, is seen as something that will fundamentally ‘disrupt’ the core of the events industry. Oftentimes, however, the outcome does not match original expectations.
To demonstrate, let’s take some of the innovations that generated a flurry of initial concerns that the speaking world would be forever altered: Would people still want to sit in an audience before a stage when they could simply watch speakers on YouTube? Who would spend money on having a speaker in the room as opposed to reducing costs through videoconferencing or hologram technology? Would ‘live’ social media interaction expose speakers to ‘trolling’ by delegates?
In the face of these proposed ‘game-changers’, the central purpose of events and meetings has, nonetheless, remained largely unwavering. Delegates continue to enjoy opportunities to meet up and network; they seek engaging environments and personal experiences – whether from thought leaders delivering fresh insights, or through experiential learning workshops – in order to improve both themselves and their industries.
For those of us who work in the events industry, and certainly within my own niche area of it, this is a lesson in being more level-headed about the potential effects of technology.
At Speakers Corner, we spend a lot of time considering what our clients are really trying to achieve from their events: do they understand their own goals, how do they want the audience to feel, and what do they want delegates to take away? Only by starting at this point can we make sure that the right content is delivered to the client in order to meet their objectives.
I would argue that we should look at the latest gadgets and processes in a similar way. As much as any tech fan, I am the first person to get wildly excited about the next sparkly ‘bit of kit’ that comes to market; but rather than automatically assuming it will disrupt everything, it would be more effective to take a step back. Let’s consider how such technology might work best for the delegates attending an event in order to enrich, rather than dictate, their experience.
There are good and bad examples of this, but the employment of real-time audience polls surveys during a keynote session is a great one. This rings especially true for speakers who possess the depth of knowledge to adapt their content on the spot to the incoming reaction ‘data’ of such polls. By interweaving the original brief with genuine conversations on the day itself, the impact on the audience will be all the more powerful.
As the usage of technology in the events industry has matured, we have begun to discern the sustained value it can bring to a speech: the real question, then, is not how can technology redefine the goals for an event, but how can we use it to help a client achieve their goals?
This is a guest post by Nick Gold. Nick is MD of Speakers Corner, a world leading speaker booking and consultation agency. Passionate about providing a personalised service to ensure that clients are matched with the perfect speaker to deliver content which is fully targeted at meeting aims and objectives of each event. Follow him on Twitter @speakers_corner.