Ride the Tides: Five disruptive forces shaping the future of the speaking industry

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I am one of the co-founders of TomorrowToday, an international strategy consulting company. We track the trends that are shaping the new world of work, and help our clients understand the strategic implications for their people: leadership, teams, talent, customers, partners and more. We deliver this information to our clients mainly in the form of keynote presentations, strategic insight sessions, workshops and training, with content based on our research team’s ongoing work.

But that has always meant that I have battled to know which industry we really fall into. Every time I have a business card printed, I change my mind. I use the titles “futurist”, “consultant”, “strategist”, “expert speaker” and others. I tend to think that the fact that we operate at the nexus of a variety of different worlds is a key strength.

So, a few months ago, when I was asked to write an article on the future of the speaking industry, I jumped at it. The article was made the cover story of “The Speaker” magazine’s Jan/Feb edition. You can read the PDF file here, or the content I submitted to the editor below.

The TIDES of Change for speakers

Five disruptive forces that will change the speaking industry in the next decade

By Dr Graeme Codrington
Futurist, TomorrowToday.uk.com

A turbulent and uncertain decade lies ahead. As we slowly emerge from the recession of the last few years, we will discover that it has been more than just an economic crisis – political, social, corporate and personal norms have been irrevocably altered. People in many industries are starting to say they hope things will “get back to normal” soon – it isn’t going to happen. This is going to affect almost all of our clients, and for that reason alone it is worth pausing to consider what the new realities of work will look like. But of course, the forces re-shaping this world will impact us as speakers too.

To help us manage the disruptive trends that we are likely to face in the next decade, I’d like to suggest that they fall into five distinct categories – these are the T.I.D.E.S. of change:

Technology Impacts Everything

The decade ahead will be dominated by unbelievable technological advances. We should expect cheap and easy DNA scanning leading to personalized medication, robotic artificial organs, ever more alternative energy sources and applications, nanotechnology and space tourism, to name just the headline grabbers. But the biggest technology revolution of the next few years will not actually be found on any shop shelf: it is a revolution in how we process information. It doesn’t sound dramatic, but it has the potential to change everything.

How we process information influences who we trust, where we go for information, how we access it, where we store it and how we use it. If this changes, it will affect how we buy and therefore also how we sell and brand and market ourselves. It will change how we communicate, and therefore how we work and group together in teams, how we manage and lead. And so it will also impact our organizational designs. In other words: everything.

People want to be able to contribute, collaborate and connect. They have a desire to be involved, to interact and to engage. They don’t just want to be given information in a one-way communication. Technology is now enabling us to do this. This is one of the reasons that social media has taken off. I don’t know – nor do I care – whether Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like will even be around in five years (I guess they will, but that doesn’t matter). What I am convinced of is that the concepts of ‘social search’, augmented reality and converged ‘cloud’ connecting will help us access information, make decisions and collaborate to build businesses and value in new and exciting ways.

As speakers, we’re going to have to tap into this new mindset. Our stock-in-trade is standing in front of people providing information. But if people expect to be able to collaborate and interact in content creation – in all parts of their lives – then this will affect our role as information suppliers (this applies equally to our books, manuals, webinars and programs). Obviously there will be an impact on how we market ourselves and how we prove our expertise (how many YouTube videos have you uploaded? How do you manage the mix of blog, podcast, social network and ‘live’ engagement?). We need to make sure that all our communications, from our website to our programs encourage engagement, involvement and interaction.

As the decade unfolds, the craft of speaking will be impacted by remote presenting using significantly improved 3-d and holographic technologies, real-time interactivity with audiences, real-time translation and transcription tools and changes in

The New Realities of Institutional Change

Almost every industry in the world is undergoing deep structural change right now, with new rules being written for success and failure. The world of speaking is no different, and we need to adjust our metrics and our expectations to fit the new reality. For example, lead times have been dramatically shortened and we’ll need to get used to managing our diaries in different ways. Clients are demanding much more customization than ever before and are asking us to provide more value for their investment. Adopting a ‘return on investment’ mindset in your pricing and communications with clients would be a valuable first step in positioning yourself for this structural shift.

The Demography Connection

Ageing populations, falling fertility, people getting married later (and divorced more), changed behavior in relation to retirement and pensions, increased global migration and globalization, and the continued shifts of political and economic power towards developing countries are just a few of the demographic trends that will change the ‘shape’ of the world in the next decade. We’re going to have to understand how to deal with greater cultural diversity, and the emergence of the developing world as both destination and decision maker.

Many people are youth-obsessed, trying to find ways to better connect to ‘Generation X’ and ‘gen y’ youngsters. This is important, of course, as decision makers and audiences do become younger and exhibit different attitudes and behaviors. But we shouldn’t ignore the ageing Baby Boomers either. The current 50 and 60-somethings control nearly half of the world’s wealth and disposable income and are nowhere near finished their working lives. There will be a huge upswing in small businesses started by over-50s in the next decade, and growing markets in all products and services aimed at the over-50s. Don’t miss out.

Doing Your Part for the Environment

The November 2010 edition of this magazine focused on this issue in detail, so I’ll not belabor the point. Whatever you believe about the scarcity and use of global resources and climate change, it should be obvious that more and more people, companies and governments are demanding that their suppliers make an effort in this area. One simple response as a speaker would be to ensure your clients know that you purchase carbon credits for all your travel.

Social Values Continue to Evolve

With the above forces changing the world it’s no surprise that what people consider to be ‘normal’ – their expectations and values – are changing too. Our values have been changing for some time – attitudes to what a normal career is, to the role of women, marriage, homosexuality, diversity, the importance of work-life balance, recycling and the use of technology have all changed markedly in our lifetimes. There’s more to come.

As speakers we’re especially going to be impacted by changes in perceptions of the value of spoken information. With so much information so easily available we need to give people a compelling reason to want to access that information through the medium of a spoken program. Shifting social values are placing a high premium on the ability to dig through mounds of data, make sense of it, provide insights and package all of this in formats that both inform and entertain. Now more than ever before, speakers must hone the craft of sense-making as we become the eyes, ears and mouthpiece of a generation.

This is the privilege of the platform and the power of the podium.

Harnessing the TIDES

For those starting out in the speaking business, you find yourself in the ‘noisiest’ world we’ve ever lived in. You have to somehow find your voice amidst a proliferation of data, information, sound bites and messages. Use technology wisely, understand institutional changes, choose your demographic target segments carefully, tap into big trends like the environment and shifting social values. And make sure you focus on adding real value.

It will be equally tough for those of us who have been in the business a while. We are going to have make changes to things that we thought were rules for success and failure. Mark Twain probably said it best: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

The decade ahead is not going to be easy. But it’s going to be exciting and has the potential to bring great opportunities and rewards for those willing to adapt to a new world of work. If you’d like more information on these five forces and especially how they’ll influence your clients, see http://tinyurl.com/tideschange.

Dr Graeme Codrington is a futurist, researcher, author, presenter and expert on the future world of work. He is a Fellow of the PSA in the UK, and speaks in over 15 new countries to 100,000 people every year. He is founder and director of TomorrowToday, a global consulting firm, and spends his time helping clients understand the disruptive trends shaping the new world of work. He can be contacted at graeme@tomorrowtoday.uk.com

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