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Ian Altman: 5 Event and Speaker Trends to Watch in 2019

by Ian Altman, B2B Growth Expert and Keynote Speaker
Ian Altman Guest Blog Post

Each year, B2B growth expert and keynote speaker Ian Altman works with businesses of all shapes and sizes. Through conversations with stakeholders and industry leaders, as well as his own research into the bold and innovative changes that leading companies around the world are making to drive results for their organizations, he has compiled a list of the transformative trends he sees occurring in the events space.

Below is a list of the trends Altman sees happening in business meetings (sales conferences, conventions, annual meetings, and more), which will undoubtedly become more influential at events across the country in the next year:

1. Shorter Lead Times for Speakers

Historically organizations booked a professional speaker for their event months or even a year in advance. More recently, speakers and planners have experienced significantly compressed timeframes between the contract execution with a speaker and the organization's event date.

Just this week I’ve received speaker contracts for two events that are two weeks and six weeks away, respectively. Each of these events is hosting more than one thousand attendees.

Renowned keynote speaker and bestselling author, Mitch Joel, Founder of Six Pixels Group noticed the same trend. “At first, I thought that I was being asked to speak because someone backed out, got sick or canceled. “ He adds, “In terms of preparation, this requires speakers to have their content at the ready on a moment's notice, and it forces us to ensure that our content is current and truly up-to-date/up-to-the-moment. From a planning perspective, everything from moving set meetings and rescheduling office work, to recognizing that the cost of travel could be significantly more expensive (the closer to your date of departure, the more expensive flights and hotels can be) is the new reality.”

What’s driving the shorter lead time for booking a speaker? Hall of Fame keynote speaker Connie Podesta, explains, “In the past, one person might have been entrusted with full authority for an event. They could make quick decisions. Today, events often are driven by a committee. It takes time to build consensus. So, decisions that used to take days or weeks, now can take months.”

Expect to see the shorter booking lead time trend to continue. This means that organizers need to have flexibility recognizing that their top-pick for a speaker might not be available. It also means that speakers need to be responsive to ensure the best outcome for the audience and the organizer.

2. Creative Seating

Often the seating structure for an event comes in two flavors:  1) Row after row of ballroom seating; or, 2) The ever-popular 10 chairs placed around a circular table (and those facing backward just love the experience).

Especially at client-focused events, seating can change the energy in the room. “Content is king, but it’s the full experience that makes your meetings stand out,“ said Gretchen Zito, an event planner with Executive Productions. “Just by changing the normal ballroom layout you can set the pace for an innovative program that your attendees will remember,” she added.

Sofas and bean bag chairs are not the right elements for every event. If you want to signal that your audience should take the learning seriously and put the concepts to work, then you might opt for a classroom setting with tables and pads of paper.

Knowing the layout in advance enables speakers to make bold choices to embrace the creative approach. “The audience now expects to have the same level, if not more, interaction with the speaker in person as they do on social media,” said fellow speaker Laura Gassner Otting. So, creating an environment that fosters interaction can help produce great results.

You can expect to see more intentional decisions about seating in 2019. Rather than just accepting what the venue has as seating, top event organizers will evaluate different seating options that can impact the experience, and maybe even the budget.

3. Results Matter

For B2B company-specific events — such as sales meetings, product launches, and partner meetings — the organizers seek to achieve an increase in sales, deliver improved competitive strategies, and provide actionable tools for the audience. With actionable messages, speakers must coordinate their messages with other presenters to ensure that the audience doesn’t hear redundant or conflicting advice.

The session itself is not the finish line. If the attendees don’t put the ideas into practice to drive improved outcomes, then you might wonder if the program was worth the investment in the first place.

In 2019, look for a tighter alignment between the speakers, organizers, and executives to ensure that the concepts delivered drive lasting, tangible results for the organization and its attendees.

4. Reinforcement To Achieve Lasting Results

If results are so critical, then it makes sense that organizers and speakers have started bundling pre-event and post-event activities to support those results.

Successful organizations recognize that if you want to achieve a lasting result, the attendees need to have the right mindset coming into the event. In addition, they will require some level of reinforcement or guidance on how to implement what they’ve learned after the event. Often times I will survey the audience as well as share a video, in advance of the session. This allows the speaker and audience to build a connection in advance. After the event, we provide an infographic as a takeaway for all of the attendees. A  post-event video helps ensure that they can quickly put the concepts into practice. 

“When the speaker has a specific set of tools they deliver for reinforcement, it is a sign that they are intentional about their learning points and how you can implement them. This increases the chance that you’ll see results beyond the session,“ Connie Podesta shared.

Expect to see it become standard practice for organizations to rely on y speakers to offer a pre-event video as well as a series of reinforcement tools after the event. These added steps will help to ensure that the concepts stick with the audience which will ultimately drive results.

5. Cross-Functional Audiences

Many events used to be created around one functional area: sales, marketing, customer service, operations, or technical teams.  This approach resulted in organizations having silos where the individual business units would come back from an event inspired to take action. They would then try to explain what they learned to their peers in another business unit, only to be confronted with resistance to change. For example, marketing would try (without success) to convince the sales organization to embrace this great new concept they had discovered at their conference.

Leading organizations have discovered that getting all departments of their team aligned at the same event allows them to establish a competitive advantage and delight employees and customers alike. This often takes the shape of a general session with all functional units in attendance to get a common vision and a shared vocabulary. Then, the attendees representing individual roles will have a session to take a deeper dive to see how what they learned will be put into practice for their specific role.

You can expect to see more events with a combined audience across functional areas. This also raises the bar for speakers as they need to have sufficient background to speak confidently about more than just one functional area. Where there are multiple speakers at an event, it is essential that they can coordinate their messages to avoid any confusion for the participants.

One Popular Topic that Didn’t Make the List for 2019

Session length was a big discussion topic. There was a period of time where many events were shooting for TED-style talks. With an increased emphasis on measurable results, many speakers have realized that whereas you can get someone to think about an innovative idea in twenty minutes, if you want the audience to put the idea into practice, you will likely need forty-five to seventy-five minutes. Though shorter talks seemed like a trend in 2018, I don’t see it gaining momentum in 2019.

Key Takeaway

Achieving results certainly stands out as the common thread for these events and speaker trends expected to impact 2019. Leading companies will put more and more thought into measuring outcomes for their events. Expect event planners to seek pre-event and post-event activities to help drive those results. Expect audiences to seek even more engagement throughout and beyond the event, and expect the most successful professional speakers to ensure that they can support specific learning objectives while broadening their talks to cross-functional audiences.

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