Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Not Every Event Is A "TED Talk", Nor Should It Be

I am seeing a trend toward is shorter presentations.  Many business speakers are being given fifteen or twenty minutes on stage instead of longer format presentations.  I have had event planning professionals tell me the minimal time is better for the short attentions span of younger workers, but some have shared it is also a tactic to avoid having a speaker bomb on stage for too long.

Too many talks bomb.  The average "blah" presentation is so pervasive that when a speaker captivates an audience it lingers on the soul.

Event organizers site the popularity of "TED Talks" as the spark to move toward the short format, but TED is a unique program.  The speakers selected for the TED stage are vetted and coached to the extreme!  Nobody on the TED program "wings it".

Yet not every event can or should be TED, and this trend is leaving many events short on high-impact learning.  The desire for the substance over style in presentations can translate into bad conferences.  There has to be a mix of both meat and rhetoric skill.  It is not too much to ask for people to provide meaningful information and do it in a way that does not bore an audience.

For thousands of years humans have gathered to listen and learn from oratory.  Ancient societies required the art of storytelling to pass information along from generation to generation.  People are naturally inclined to hear presentations and be educated and entertained.

Today we live in an age of the sound-bite and "to the point" communications (think 140 characters or less), but most humans over the ages have learned through the presentation of captivating spoken words.  The desire to be entertained by the presentation still exists every time butts are in seats and someone is on stage.  Tribal elders never asked the keepers of their cultural histories to leave the style behind and only go with the basic information.  Taking everything to short format is not always the best answer.

Selecting a speaker is an important decision in the planning of an industry convention, employee meeting or users conference.

The presentations set the tone for the event, and the right speakers weave the experiential essence that is necessary success.  Much time is spent contemplating the message, but the wrong messenger can torpedo the mood of the crowd.

Experienced leaders know the power of having the right speaker, but most executives are too busy to be involved with speaker selection, so the final program can come up flat.  Often celebrities or industry titans are selected because it is a safe choice.  But when the budget does not allow for famous level fees, all bets are off as to who might take the stage.

Too often speakers are selected because they are smart or they have done something cool.  Another mistake is thinking anyone with experience on a topic can connect with the audience.  Public speaking is a skill, and one that matters.

In my work with corporations, law firms, associations and industry groups I find that too often speakers are not vetted in advance. When the audience would rather stick needles in than ears than listen to the speaker, the event will fail.  Stringing three unskilled speakers together will not make a better hour.   Even if the speaker is good, often they cannot get to the real meat in a short talk.

Not every event is a "Ted Talk", nor should it be.  Take the time to look at the purpose and learning objectives of your event and select the right speakers who can accomplish those goals.  Make sure you work with the speaker to find the right amount of time to allow them to have the impact you desire.  Cookie cutter time frames will not always provide the best program for an event.  A flow of long and short format presentations designed around the speakers programs will provide more value.

Work to find the right speaker who can deliver both high-level learning and motivate the crowd to take real action, and work with them to create the best atmosphere for the whole meeting.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


Dave Lutz said...

Thom, great post! I'm seeing more organizations adopt "cool" ideas like Ignite or Pecha Kucha formats. While these can be entertaining, the challenge is that most don't allow time for conversation after the presentations. If organizations go down this road, they need to build in some white space to make the learning stick!

Eugene Sepulveda said...

very interesting topic. I break both ways on this one. Agree, few speakers qualify for uninterrupted attention beyond 12 - 15 minutes. Though, if I'm paying to attend or even just earmarking several valuable hours, I expect the organizers to vet, sample and ensure the level of speaker to whom I might give 20 - 30 minutes uninterrupted attention, plus Q&A time. I wouldn't attend a conference if I didn't have confidence in their selection; certainly wouldn't attend it a second time if they failed. And, I love 12-15 min presentation - but they've got to be well-produced too.