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The Speaker’s Return on Impact: the New ROI

With a dearth of professional speakers prepared to take their message beyond the podium, meeting professionals are increasingly challenged to attain organizational objectives. Today's professional speaker must deliver far more than a provocative, humorous, and content rich keynote. Relevant, measurable outcomes that are married to the strategic goals of the organization are now the defacto standard, as senior executives look for a direct connection between the meeting budget and an enhanced balance sheet. Accountability is the new black.

Honest, transparent, and outcomes-based partnerships between the speaker and organizational decision makers are now de rigueur. It used to be that sending employees to a convention, conference, or regional meeting was considered a perk. Now, the material being presented is often analyzed in advance to determine its relevance back on the job. Not only that, but the willingness of the speaker to follow-up on their presentation with customized support is becoming an expectation. It’s a tall order but one which is increasingly differentiating the commodity speaker from the progressive one.

With employees being held accountable to justify the conference expenditures being lavished on them, companies are increasingly selective not only about which events to support but, as importantly, which speaker to engage. Meeting planners are asking fundamental questions such as: Does this speaker have a firm understanding of my industry? You’d think this was a no-brainer, but from the shallow answers often provided during a Q&A, you might be surprised by the speaker’s sheer lack of operational expertise. Can this speaker read and interpret a balance sheet? If you’re speaking to a group of financial professionals, accountants, attorneys or a host of other professional groups, you had better understand their financial position so that your content is consistent with their reality. Does this speaker have profound knowledge of technology that allows them to empathize with the key IT obstacles facing my audience? With a plethora of industries dependent on IT applications to drive their business, the speaker had better investigate what those key drivers are in order to speak with authority and conviction.

Speakers need to facilitate the work of the meeting professional by being explicitly clear as to what their value-added propositions are. They need to define how they plan to support the meeting in the pre-through-post segments of the event and articulate, unequivocally, how their impact will be measured.

Meeting professionals know that the speech can only go so far. Once the speaker leaves the podium, the motivating helium (or hot air) begins seeping out of the balloon and any meaningful knowledge transfer tends to dissipate quickly, usually within three days (and sometimes within hours).

Even the most euphoric presentation can become a distant memory if it is not reinforced and supported back “on the job”. The audience’s reality, being the only one that matters, requires the speaker to be willing, prepared, and able to facilitate knowledge transfer back into the organization. The progressive speaker must take their message and transform it into actionable information within the workspaces of the individual participants. This will not only be the expectation going forward but will, more importantly, represent the essence of a return on impact.

It behooves the professional speaker to evolve their business model to one of a quasi-professional services firm, where a full range of tools can be deployed to support and sustain the core knowledge being proffered from the platform. This may include on-site coaching, workshops, seminars, partnerships, mid to long-term consulting, and technology based performance solutions. These can no longer be looked at as “add-ons”, but rather need to be considered as part of the overall return on impact.

Achieving a high rate of return on impact will most certainly require the efficient use of technology in order to reach subsets of larger audiences within a range of workplaces. It will mean re-creating the original experience and then redeploying the content in Manageable, Meaningful and Measurable ways. Manageable because accommodating the clients’ people’s competing priorities and time constraints will help ensure that the material remains relevant and applicable well into the future. Meaningful because, as adult learners, participants will migrate to where there’s an emotional connection between the material and its relevance in their work or personal life. Measurable because organizations are increasingly demanding a payoff on their meeting investments. Those who can provide simple and easy to interpret data showing a direct link between the application of knowledge and a solution to a business problem will reign supreme.

Whether the topic is humour, change management, sales, process improvement, work-life balance or a myriad of other issues, the progressive speaker will ensure that their impact transcends the platform and reaches deep into the fissures of the organizations they represent. In this way, both the meeting professional and speaker’s goals are aligned and the return on impact delivered.

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