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The new reality for... Speakers

The New Reality for Speakers

by Laura Bickle

As the industry ponders what reopening will look like, every segment has its own unique challenges. Each week we are reaching out to those sectors to get their insights.

This week, we spoke to pros at two of Canada’s most popular speaker bureaus.


The pro: Theresa Beenken, CEO, National Speakers Bureau 

The New Reality for Speakers

What is the current operating status of your business?

We we were able to transition quickly to remote working across the country. We’re regularly reaching out to our event planner clients to see how we can be of service as we want to be partners in this together. We have all-team zoom calls a couple of times a week to maintain our internal personal connections and to share insights and experiences from clients. We’re partnering with many of our industry associations to provide content that their members will benefit from.

Your bureau has made the effort to transition to online speaking engagements: what have been the key considerations in making it successful?

Just as with a live event, ensuring a speaker is making a connection with the audience and sharing timely, quality content, is key. Many of our speakers have broadcast/on air experience, so they’re used to speaking to a camera while connecting with the audience. We’ve come to experience that online speaking events actually can bring a greater intimacy and accessibility than some live events. Everyone gets a front-row seat, can attend from most anywhere in the world, and you can often chat or Q&A right during the presentation.

We’re also sharing best practices for online events as we continue to learn what resonates. We’ve listened to clients who want a chance to experience how an online event can be run, so we’ve been hosting our own Virtual Summits. Once a client experiences an online event, they start to see how that approach or content could work for their organization. [The next event is today Wednesday, June 24, 2020 at 3pm ET. NSB will happy to share a recording for anyone who reaches out: www.nsb.com/engagevirtual.] We also launched our NSB@Home program where we’ve designed speaker series packages for clients whose members or employees are working remote, and we have the platform they can use, to make it easy.

How are you working with planners and speakers to reschedule postponed events?

Both planners and speakers for the most part realize the value of bringing audiences together for education or inspiration, so while we’ve had many requests to postpone, we’ve been working together to find the best alternative to their live event – whether it be ready to go hybrid, totally virtual or design something new. We’ve also encouraged more frequent connections—not just at the one upcoming conference date, but having the speaker share content in the lead up so there’s more value and a greater connection. CSAE’s national conference is doing a great job of designing ‘Unprecedented’ programming to make their conference a multi-month experience for example.

How will the “next normal” affect speakers?

Our speakers are some of the first people to sense trends and shifts in the culture so I think they’ll be at the forefront of being able to help audiences and organizations lean in to the changes and innovate. Speakers will have multiple platforms, so you’ll be able to hear a keynote or engage in a workshop or online training…or something totally different we haven’t even thought of yet! 

How are speakers being prepared to meet the new safety expectations?

We care about health & safety first for everyone. We watch the health care and government guidelines and encourage speakers to follow those. It’s helpful to see the hotels, airlines and AV companies enhancing their safety protocols to care for all attendees. 

What are you doing to ensure attendee safety and confidence?

We’re building in options to change a live booking to a virtual one if need be, so that planners have confidence they can hold an event that cares about attendee safety, if guidelines change.

What will be the greatest challenges in returning to live events?

We’ve been in business for almost 50 years so we’ve seen some of the challenges from earlier recessions and SARS, for example. There’s fear: ‘is it ok to go to an event?’ There’s financial considerations; ‘can I afford to travel to an event?’ or ‘Can we afford to put on a live event?’ and there’s accessibility considerations; ‘Can we put on both a live and virtual event, now that attendees will likely want or expect both?’ I can appreciate planners are in a difficult spot – they want to bring members, clients or employees together, but don’t know what the world will look like 3 or 6 months from now and if attendees will even want to or be able to attend. That said, I’m a ‘realistic optimist’ and I believe in the power of events, of bringing people together, of lifelong learning – when we share ideas it inspires action to move forward. 

How do you think the pandemic experience will affect your operation in the short and long term?

In the short term, it’s hit us hard as it has for many in the events industry. Instant postponements and cancellations and uncertainty about the future make it challenging to plan. We’ve pivoted to virtual quickly and that has helped, though online events are evolving: once we get past the simultaneous novelty and ‘fatigue’ of Zoom meetings, and more frequently see the difference in quality or value of free events versus those you’d more professionally design and pay for, then we’ll really go deep into the power of virtual/online events. In the long term, I’m a believer in the power of bringing people together to share an experience and to learn, so there’s an opportunity to emerge from this experience with even more fulfilling opportunities, stronger relationships and being able to offer greater value.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

Oh gosh. Lessons in humility, in resilience, in leading with honesty and inspiration, in innovating quickly, and in how much we all value connection in one way or another and keep trying to find it and make it happen.

 

The pro: Martin Perelmuter, president & co-founder of Speakers Spotlight

 The New Reality for Speakers

What is the current operating status of your business?

Our entire team is working remotely and has been since the day after the pandemic was declared. We are fully operational, and despite the physical distancing, our team has never been more engaged, connected and collaborative.

Your bureau has transitioned to online speaking engagements: what have been the key considerations in making it successful?

From our speakers’ point of view, the key consideration is to ensure that they are able to effectively deliver their presentations in this virtual medium. This includes everything from ensuring that they have the proper technology to helping them deliver their content effectively in a virtual setting. While some of the ingredients that go into a great in-person presentation still apply, there are several best practices that are necessary to ensure that their presentations are hitting the mark and connecting with their audiences. We’ve been working closely with our speakers to ensure that they understand that they cannot simply take their standard presentations and deliver them into a camera.

From our clients’ point of view, it has been an incredibly collaborative process. Some clients are very well versed with virtual events, whereas for others, this is a completely new world for them. We’ve been working closely with all our clients to ensure that they have all the necessary information and tools to help them not only select the best speakers for their virtual events, but also to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly from beginning to end.

How are you working with planners and speakers to reschedule postponed events?

We’ve been working with planners and speakers on a case-by-case basis. Many clients have already rescheduled their events, or pivoted their events to a virtual platform. Some clients are still in a wait-and-see mode, and we’re working closely with them to help them make the best decision for their organization. I think the key words here are flexibility and fluidity. We are still in a pandemic, and I believe it’s critical for bureaus, speakers and planners to work together in partnership to ensure that their business objectives are achieved, even if that means their events will be delayed.

How will the “next normal” affect speakers?

I believe that when we get to the other side of this, virtual and hybrid events will become the norm in our industry. As a result, speakers need to be well versed in presenting virtually or they risk cutting off a significant percentage of their future speaking engagements.

How are speakers being prepared to meet the new safety expectations?

We haven’t had to deal with this yet, since we haven’t had any in-person events since the pandemic started, and don’t anticipate having any for quite some time. Having said that, we’ve had discussions with speakers about safety protocols when live, in-person events return. These include everything from eliminating meet & greets and book signings to maintaining social distancing on site until a vaccine or treatment has been developed and is widely available.

What are you doing to ensure attendee safety and confidence?

Again, this hasn’t been a big focus, since all of our speaking engagements have been virtual over the past three months. For clients who are booking in-person, live speaking engagements (mostly in 2021 at this point), we are building some of the new safety expectations into our contracts, and providing a “pivot to virtual” clause which allows our clients to move to a virtual format if they are unable to hold their event on the scheduled date.

What will be the greatest challenges in returning to live events?

I believe the greatest challenges will be more psychological than health-related. The longer “work from home” and social distancing continues, the more ingrained our habits become. I believe it will take a little time for many people to feel comfortable with air travel, staying in hotels and attending large events even after the pandemic is declared to be over and the economy fully opens up.

How do you think the pandemic experience will affect your operation in the short and long term?

The pandemic had forced us to re-imagine and re-invent our business. It’s led us to be more innovative, take more risks, and essentially think and act more like a start-up. These have been very positive changes, as we’ve developed new offerings and ways of delivering our services which we expect will last well beyond the duration of the pandemic. Long term, we’re building a more agile, nimble company which will serve us well for many years to come.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

This experience has taught me a lot about myself and the people I work with. We essentially had to throw out the old playbook and create a new one. We’ve had to move very quickly and make changes to our company in a matter of weeks that prior to the pandemic I thought would have taken months or even years to make. I knew before the pandemic that we have a great team, wonderful clients and remarkable speakers. I’ve learned just how strong our community is, and I’ve seen firsthand the importance of deep relationships built on a foundation of trust. No one can get through an experience like this alone, and I’m incredibly lucky to be part of a community of caring, compassionate people who are dedicated to getting through this together.

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