Generating noise

Keynote speakers are not all about motivation, they can bring a massive return on investment and should be viewed as a significant tool for any company planning a meeting, conference or event.
By Administrator
Fri 14 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

Keynote speakers are not all about motivation, they can bring a massive return on investment and should be viewed as a significant tool for any company planning a meeting, conference or event.

You may call me a traitor for saying such a thing, but it has to be said - sometimes, keynote speakers can be dull as dishwater.

And with opinion rife that we have to pander to the attention span of ‘Generation Y', there is a necessity to get the right speaker for your event, or risk sinking your message in a sea of yawns.

Fortunately, speakers come in all shapes and sizes and can offer very different business results depending on the nature of their speeches.

Industry leaders can talk about the current state of play specific to your market, others motivate your staff or, there are others, such as business experts, who can significantly increase your profitability.

A combination of all three, although rare, is of course, fantastic.

Whichever option you choose, you need to ensure your speaker has the necessary skills to deliver.

Business experience doesn't necessarily mean a talent for enthralling speaking and a vibrant speaker with nothing to say is equally as ineffective, as CEO expert and professional speaker, Roger Harrop explained to MIME.

"Booking an industry speaker to share their experience is fine. But the chances are they are not going to be trained in speaking and it is a profession, like any other, with a lot of skills involved," he said.

"Motivational speakers who whip audiences up are referred to in the speaking industry as a Chinese meal - two hours later you have forgotten you had it and you need it again," he added.

The fifth annual ORION Congress, held at Atlantis, The Palm, in October had a keynote speaker in the form of Astronaut Brian Binnie.

Central to the theme of the congress was the future of the hospitality industry and regional manager ORION Hotel Schools, Adam Sargeant said "the attractiveness of Brian Binnie" was the fact he "was at the start of a whole new evolution of the industry".

"When we started looking into what speakers we wanted we were looking at what's next in the general picture and what innovation is being shown in the tourism industry," Sargeant said.

"Obviously the biggest thing in terms of what's next in the tourism industry is Virgin Galactic Space tourism."

Sargeant said that by bringing Binnie in to talk, the audience would be able to understand "we are going to the new frontier" and say "I want to look down on the world - that could be me".

"People are hearing a lot about space tourism, but when you sit in a room and hear from the guy who broke all these records by going into space in the same craft, people realise it's real and it is going to happen - space tourism is a reality," Sargeant said.

This is one of the reasons that Richard Branson was considered, but preference was given to Binnie.

"Richard Branson is incredibly inspirational and he is an amazing speaker," Sargeant said.

"But what we wanted was a first hand experience" Sargeant added.It sets the scene and inspires people at the conference and his insights make the future incredibly real.


Traditional preconceptions of the keynote speaker have been challenged over the last ten years with an evolution in the professional speaking industry.

Originating in the US, this evolution led to the birth of what Harrop called the "high-content speaker", someone who delivers "massive takeaways", but not of the food variety.

"It's about leaving people with an agenda to start growing their business the very next day," Harrop said.

"You need to focus on what their objective is. These times we are in, it's about focusing even more on return on investment.

"There are not going to be jollies anymore - it will be an event with takeaways," he added.

Some people would question what the differences are between a trainer, a professional speaker and a lecturer and why it is worth spending time and money on a professional speaker.

Harrop said that while "all three educate, the difference is professional speakers entertain and enthuse as well".

"We tell loads of stories which are relevant and always the feedback is the stories they remember.

"There is also some entertainment, there's some fun and people have a smile. You are actually taking them through some emotions and that helps people remember some of the issues," he added.

The unfortunate rudeness of many people unable to sit through a presentation without talking or leaving has had one positive effect and that is the demand for professional speakers to come to the fore.

Harrop explained that an audience's ability to "respond in a way they never used to" meant the days of lecturing audiences had to end sooner rather than later.

"Delegates and audience members all have their mobile phones and talk to each other. Most of us turn off after two minutes of being lectured too," he said.

"If you really want people to go away saying ‘wow I've really learned something that's going to help my career or business', then you need a professional speaker - a high-content speaker," he said.

With the potential fallout from the world financial crisis hitting meetings and conferences, people need to focus on the return on investment from a high content speaker, according to Harrop.

"The easiest thing for a company to do is put a red pencil through advertising, any marketing activity and conventions that can be delayed - they are the low hanging fruit.

"But my argument is actually this is a massive opportunity. People need our help and we can help people grow there business - get them thriving rather than surviving," Harrop added.

And there are many traits that are unique to the Middle and Far East market, according to Harrop.

"I do a lot of work in the Middle East and Far East and both are similar in the sense that delegates want high content.

"They may be interested in the big names who'll do the motivational speeches, but they are basically looking to be educated."

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