Sunday, September 30, 2012

Speakers Are Important Part of Meeting Industry

Recently I had the honor to deliver the closing keynote address at the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Chapter Business Summit where close to 250 chapter leaders and meeting industry professionals gathered to explore best practices.

My presentation was my 45th speech of 2012 (well over 300 career presentations to date), so I participate in a lot of meetings (this includes local talks to lunch groups, Rotary Clubs etc.. as well as major keynotes at large conventions).  I see myself (and my profession) as a key part of the meetings business, and believe that the speakers set the tone for the entire conference.  Both keynote speakers and those who conduct workshops must have a powerful mix of useful content and the speaking skills to engage people.  With thousands of meetings worldwide every day there is a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of those who take the stage and talk with audiences.

After my talk the MPI Chairman, Kevin Hinton, thanked me and pointed out that I had hit on many key points as if I had done a lot of research or was perhaps I was already part of the meetings industry?  I appreciated his kind words, but it got me thinking...... aren't all speakers part of the meetings industry?  Shouldn't every speaker be versed in the issues facing the business?

Apparently not.  According to many of the planners I spoke with at the meeting, some speakers (not all) have a reputation of being very separate and intentionally distant from the industry.  One person used the word "snooty" in describing professional speakers.  This lead to a discussion of why some prefer to utilize industry experts or other non-speakers in their meeting agendas instead of those who categorize themselves "speakers".  While it was agreed that a "professional speaker" is often more engaging, they are sometimes too difficult to work with and not seen as a partner in the success of the event.  Worse is they sometimes do not connect their content and message to the needs of the audience or the purpose of the gathering.

Wow.  That was tough to hear.  Of course the definition of what is a "speaker" varies between people (even seasoned professionals), so this was not a broad-brush categorization stereotype.

The meetings industry is more than planners and hoteliers and the entire industry has a larger economic impact in the United States than is the automobile industry (if the politicians understood this they would be talking about meetings all day long!).

At this conference I interacted with people who represented from a variety of business lines - but all who are involved in the mix of ensuring that meetings, conferences, conventions, trade shows, seminars and other gatherings are successful.  But there were very few "Working Professional Speakers" (those who have speaking as a primary focus) who seem to be participating in the greater industry.  The same is true for speakers lack of participation in the other industry organizations that make up the meetings world: MPI, PCMA, ASAE, HSMAI, DMAI, ICCA, EIA, IAEE, SGMP, AMPS, TSEA, NBTA, etc...  (Heck, many do even support the National Speakers Association.... is this because they do not see their speaking role as part of the overall industry?).

Nobody can belong to everything, but do I believe in engagement.  I think that when people come together we are all better for the communal experience.  We learn more and we gain vital understanding.  This is why I always talk to audiences about the importance of belonging to a trade association in their chosen field.  I am active with NSA (but if I was a locksmith I would be active in the National Locksmiths Association).

(Side note rant: I often wonder why membership organizations and associations do not require their vendors to be supporting their own industry groups.  It seems like the right message when you are telling your own peeps to join your group that you expect those you work with to support something in their own backyard!)

I am not saying speakers (or anyone) should join every organization under the sun in their areas of business, nor should associations should expect vendors to join their membership roles.  That is not practical.  Supporting an industry is not the same as joining a group... and everybody knows joining is not worth much without participation.  To give and get real value you must be engaged in the cause.

But are there ways that speakers can be more active in the meetings industry! Should they be seen by planners as important partners (like the hotels and others)? What do you suggest?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


johnmoore (from Brand Autopsy) said...

Thom… I think a speaker needs to be deeply connected with whatever industry their expertise is in more so than being involved within the meeting industry.

I’m part of the marketing industry, not the meeting industry.

I’ve spoken at MPI events but have always shared my expertise on the marketing matters I have expertise in. Yes, I tailored the talks to address big picture meeting planner issues but I feel no need or obligation to deeply participate in the meeting planning industry because that’s not the industry my expertise is in.

Same goes for funeral directors, financial planners, bankers, surfing industry CEOs, nursery and garden businesses, etc. My expertise in marketing and my involvement within the marketing industry gives me the credibility and experience needed to share marketing know-how to all types of industries.

I need to be aware of trends and such in the meeting industry but that doesn’t mean I need to deeply involved within the meeting industry. Dig?

Judi said...

I love this post and think you nailed it! Speakers set the tone and should be more involved in meeting associations. I see it as the #1 way to build your business and grow your career!!

Does this mean you will be joining MPI soon?! :-)))