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Ed Bernacki on conference design, innovation and ROI

Conference design: How Not to Use a Great Speaker

Ed Bernacki - Thursday, August 04, 2016

 As a speaker on innovation at many conferences, I view the chance to listen to other great speakers as one of the benefits of the job. I recognize that my message on innovative thinking is functional and informative. I make people think. My goal is to make people say, "I never thought of that before!"

At the other end of the scale are motivational speakers. Their goal is often to make people feel something. They want to touch the hearts of attendees in some way.

Here is the story of a great speaker with a great message that was ruined by poor conference design.

The motivational speaker was inspiring. He was a former professional football player who suffered a major brain injury in a terrible traffic accident. No longer a dynamic, larger-than-life personality, he had to start life again. He had little or no memory of his wife, his family, or his sporting achievements.

 Nor could he remember his speeches. He needed a deck of cue cards to remind him of what to say next, yet this did not keep his message from being very memorable.  He opened the conference, and ended at the right moment. People applauded. People left, perhaps a bit weepy.

A group of us sat as people left, because we felt that his message deserved more reflection. We dis­ cussed this question: What moved you the most about his talk? The result was a meaningful conversation, and allowed us to revisit his stories and insights. This discussion allowed each of us to create our own connection to his message. Here lies the dilemma: We were late for the next session despite getting this value from his talk.

How many great, inspiring speakers fail to connect with an audience, as people have no time to reflect and to create their own meaning? Why not build in an extra 20 to 30 minutes to get the extra value from your investment in your high-profile speakers? Have your emcee start a conversation at your tables based on this question:

“Which of the speaker's main messages was the most meaningful to you? Discuss this in groups and share insights”.

You can take this one step further by getting teams or groups to define questions that they would like to ask the speaker. Despite the brain injury inhibiting his ability to remember a presentation, the keynoter's ability to answer questions in a meaningful way was inspiring. Too bad the conference designers were unable to let the whole audience benefit from the lessons he learned in life that brought him to that conference room.

Design your major motivational keynote presentation to include 20 to 30 minutes for table or small group discussions on the key themes of the presentation. It will make the keynote that much more meaningful to your audience. The speaker will likely approve as it creates far more ROI for the participants.

After speaking at many conferences on innovation (www.PSIdeaFactory.com ), Ed Bernacki created a body of knowledge on conference design. His book is, ‘Seven Rules For Designing More Innovative Conferences’ was put a long of top management in Canada when it was published. www.InnovativeConferences.com  

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