For me (as a customer experience keynote speaker and customer service trainer) the COVID-19 landscape has led me to pivot to virtual keynoting and webinar hosting, as well as to delivering customer service training digitally. While my own experience with this pivot has been positive, I also want to share with readers the perspective of someone who works with a variety of professional keynote speakers.
The author, Micah Solomon, delivering a customer experience keynote speech.
© micahsolomon.com – (484)343-5881
So, I called on Richard Schelp, the President and Co-Owner of the well-known, Memphis-based, Executive Speakers Bureau, where he has worked for over a decade and a half with some of the best in the business. Schelp agrees that the pivot to virtual presentations is happening across the board: “Almost every speaker, even those we represent that have celebrity status, are now delivering virtual presentations–some live, some pre-recorded. The actual format depends upon the requirements and desires of the end client organization.”
Richard Schelp at his desk at Executive Speakers Bureau
Executive Speakers Bureau
Likewise, my pivot to delivering training digitally, in my case customer service training, including in longer formats (seminars, workshops, and “e-learning”), is now right in the mainstream, says Schelp. “Training has become even more of a focus area for speakers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is manifesting itself in two ways. First of all, speakers/trainers are taking their specific areas of expertise and constructing training sessions/webinars built specifically to those. Second, some speakers are doing webinars that share on their newly acquired knowledge of managing virtual meetings and presentations. As they are learning it themselves, they are developing knowledge bases that make them very important to organizations that have no idea where to start.”
In my experience, not everyone who is good onstage behind a lectern is good via remote; extremely rah-rah speakers can leave you flat in this new environment if they’re not careful to adjust. Schelp: “That’s absolutely true. Some speakers require the traditional interpersonal connection in order to reach their highest level of performance. Therefore, it is a different level of skill to achieve success in the new environment. The speakers who have the best results create a more professional studio environment and do a better job of utilizing visuals, multi-media, etc.”
Schelp also offered a list of best practices to follow, for any keynote speaker wanting to pivot into this world from the world of traditional keynote speaking:
1. Incorporate interactive tools into your presentation. These should include not only engaging visuals (which are certainly important), but also polling and breakout rooms. (A breakout room is a feature in certain platforms, including Zoom Meetings, that allows the speaker to separate the audience into smaller groups, typically in order to ask a question for the groups to then work out amongst themselves. This allows the audience to have a personal discussion with other attendees, and it gives them a more interactive experience. Normally a speaker will use this once or twice in a presentation: After the speaker addresses the entire group with the question, the audience is randomly broken out into the breakout rooms, all discussing the same question for the same period of time, usually 5-10 minutes.)
2. Work with your client to arrange for a Q&A period within your presentation. Q&A periods are effective at keeping an audience engaged, both during that portion itself and in the time leading up to it.
3. Make sure you understand the platforms and applications involved in doing this work. This includes having the right presentation software yourself.
4. As should be the case when doing an in-person presentation, research the client thoroughly before doing the presentation. The best practice here is to request two pre-event calls: the first one is a content call and the second one is a technical/rehearsal call.
5. It’s valid to pre-record everything other than the Q&A, if that’s your (or the client’s) preference. Pre-recorded presentations have advantages over live: They can be more fully staged, and editing can be applied before they are broadcast to the audience. Note, however, that a live Q&A is still ideal. This can be appended in real time to an otherwise-recorded presentation.
… and a list of pitfalls to watch out for:
1. Not customizing your presentation for the platform and/or the client. This is mistake that is made quite often. Most speakers assume that they can just take their normal presentation and do them virtually, without any adjustments. Wrong.
2. Not working closely enough with the client (and the entity who is managing the event) pre-event to make sure that all foreseeable glitches get worked out.
3. Not having a professional-enough environment from which to present. As the speaker you are now responsible both for the content of the presentation and the “venue” as well. Therefore, you needs to be presenting from an environment that is-or at least comes across as–extremely professional. (This doesn’t only apply to the visual element, by the way. Audio is equally important. You need a decent-sounding room, an excellent microphone, and a way to hear yourself without any echo; often, this means wearing a headset or headphones.)
4. Failing to making the presentation interactive enough to keep the attention of attendees for the entire presentation. Attention spans online are much shorter than they are in person.
5. Failing to practice your presentation in this admittedly unnatural environment, to the point that your style as a speaker comes off as natural and engaging to the eventual audience.
As a keynote speaker, I’ve been thinking about what the future is looking like for our industry, both short- and long-term. The near-term, feels Schelp, is clear: “We expect nearly all events in 2020 (and possibly into the early part of 2021) to be virtual, or at a minimum will have a significant virtual component. The success (or failure) of competitive sports over the next few months is a space to watch, as it will help determine what happens with in-person meetings.” Long-term, as well, he feels, we can’t expect things to go fully back to how they were: “The door to a virtual future has been opened, and it can never be shut again. Now organizations understand that they can have a fairly effective meeting without the cost of meals, hotel, and higher speaker fees. Because of this, a much higher percentage of meetings will be virtual, and speakers will be offering presentation packages that include a combination of in-person and virtual appearances.”