Innovation in Public Speaking

By guest blogger Richard Dyrkacz, Ph.D., P.Eng., P.M.P.

In many industries, innovation is absolutely critical to success. Although professional speaking may not seem like a profession where innovation occurs, this is far from the truth.

Between October 2018 to April 2019, I competed in two separate competitions in the IXL Innovation Olympics. This is a business innovation management competition hosted by the IXL Center and the Global Innovation Management Institute. During the IXL Innovation Olympics, teams must work with a company to solve an innovation problem. When I competed in these competitions, both of the companies I was assigned to wanted to achieve market entry into the USA while increasing their sales by more than ten times within five years. Despite having zero background in business, my team has successfully won this business innovation management two times consecutively while beating some of the world’s most prestigious business schools. Our team was able to achieve this through a unique innovation management methodology developed by the Global Innovation Management Institute. This methodology involves generating opportunity insights, developing fields of play, creating business concepts, and then preparing a business case. Using this methodology, I have explored what innovations will be occurring in the professional speaking industry.

For professional speakers, getting the biggest possible audience is crucial to business. When doing research on the workforce, the millennial generation is the biggest emerging trend. In 2014, millennials encompassed 36% of the US workforce. Presently, millennials occupy about 46% of the US workforce. In 2025, it is estimated that millennials will make up 75% of the US workforce. Presently, most professional speakers are devoted towards the aging baby boomer population that is gradually retiring as well as workers that are a part of Generation X. Unfortunately, there are very few professional speakers in the market that cater towards this large millennial generation.

The next challenge is addressing what problems millennials face in industry. From my research, I was able to identify six critical issues. Interestingly, men in the millennial generation reported that their biggest issue was excessive workloads whereas millennial women indicated that office politics was their major challenge. Additionally, professionals belonging to the Baby Boomers and Generation X's indicated that millennials lack soft skills. According to some millennial managers and leaders, finding mentors was their greatest challenge. To get a further understanding in this topic, I emailed a survey to some of my colleagues in preparation for a Toastmasters speech on this topic and I received 37 replies. From this survey, the biggest challenge for millennials was working with older generations (35%) while respondents reported that being taken seriously by older generations (27%) was the second biggest challenge.

Now that we know what challenges millennials face in the workplace, what can the professional speaker do to engage these audiences? From my research, there are five unique approaches. One of the best ways to appeal to millennials, along with other generations, is games. When I was a teaching assistant at the University of Manitoba, I found that playing Jeopardy! with my students was a major success. By playing games, students were able to learn their materials more effectively, they had fun, and this resulted in creative problem solving. Additionally, millennials like to learn while having fun. This can be achieved by games but also incorporating humor into presentations. Also, millennials love using technology to learn a variety of subjects. To achieve this, the professional speaker can incorporate cell phone use into their presentations; however, this is very controversial. In my survey, 38% of the respondents supported the integration of cell phones into presentations, 35% did not support this, and the remaining 27% were unsure. At this point in time, cell phone use can be incorporated into presentations but there needs to be limited constraints since audience members can easily get distracted. Finally, millennials prefer to attend conferences and webinars that are at a convenient time and location for them.

For the professional speaker, webinars and virtual conferences are gaining significant momentum. Fortunately, 84% of the respondents in my survey indicated that the material presented in a webinar was the main motivator to attend the session in comparison to other factors (e.g. play a game, make connections, win a prize). Presently, webinars and virtual conferences possess several advantages in comparison to traditional conferences that you would attend in person. Twenty years ago, companies would drop thousands of dollars for their employees to purchase a plane ticket, get a hotel, take a taxi, pay registration fees, and buy food to attend a conference. By having webinars and virtual conferences, there are significant advantages to this. Webinars and virtual conferences are convenient, cost-effective, easily accessible, they use state-of-the-art technology, and you learn the same content. Having said that, there is one critical disadvantage that the professional speaker will have to address -- relationship building with the participants. When I attended conferences during my PhD research, I got to meet with several contacts that were vital to my success. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to develop that face-to-face relationship with somebody that you meet over the Internet. Professional speakers that harness webinars and virtual conferences for their business will need to identify how they can foster these technologies to create relationships that can easily be achieved when attending conferences in person.

One emerging trend that is slowly appearing for professional speakers is the use of holograms. When I think of holograms, the first thing that pops into my mind is Princess Leia asking for Obi-Wan Kenobi's help in the movie Star Wars: A New Hope. Currently, the world’s most tech-savvy professional speakers are harnessing hologram technology to present to their audiences regardless of location. On the speaker’s part, all they need to do is record themselves in front of their smartphone and they present what needs to be said. There are several companies that offer a platform for hologram technology that includes Musion, Kaleida, Holoxica, ARHT Media, and Dimensional Studios. By using holograms, professional speakers can deliver presentations at conferences, businesses, and organizations worldwide without having to travel. Unfortunately, the major disadvantage of this technology is cost. For most professional speakers, purchasing hologram technology is financially infeasible. To overcome this hurdle, major city convention centers and organizations are expected to invest in these technologies in the next decade. When I asked my participants about implementing holograms into presentations, there was a lot of uncertainty about this topic. Approximately 52% of respondents supported this notion, 24% said no, and 24% were unsure. Since hologram technology is new, audiences may have to gradually warm up to this technology instead of thinking it is still an idea of science fiction.

Finally, I asked my participants where they believe the future of professional speaking will be heading towards in the next ten years. From my survey, 40% of respondents indicated that this will revolve around online training and e-learning. Meanwhile, 22% of respondents believe that this may be concentrated on virtual presentations. This includes delivering presentations through holograms as well as relying more on webinars and virtual conferences.

Leadership and Beyond, founded by Helen Dyrkacz, is presently tackling the innovation challenges in the professional speaking world. Over the past two decades, Leadership and Beyond has worked with hundreds of clients to solve workplace problems by using the latest advancements in technology. By implementing games, online training, and using the latest in virtual reality technology, Leadership and Beyond aims to improve the working relationships of professionals in industry while also helping out with their goals such as business innovation, communications, team building, and productivity.

In summary, there is significant room for innovation in the professional speaking industry. In the next decade, millennials will form the vast majority of the workforce. Professional speakers will need to use technology to lure these audiences in through online training to improve their relationships with other coworkers. Although technology can be a wonderful asset for professional speakers, many challenges will be present. I am looking forward to seeing how professional speakers will revolutionize the industry with the latest innovations in technology.

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