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Brian Palmer, CMM, Senior Vice President, National Speakers Bureau

An Insider’s View of 2021: Speakers

Planners face new challenges when sourcing speakers in the digital environment, says NSB’s Brian Palmer.


MeetingsNet asked 21 events-industry thought leaders to weigh in with their predictions and perspectives for 2021. Find all the commentary here.

Brian Palmer, CMM

Senior Vice President

National Speakers Bureau

About one-third of the speaking engagements we secured in late 2020 were for events that planned on having a face-to-face component—but they also had contingency plans should their destinations’ attendance restrictions change and make the in-person meeting impracticable. Clearly, many organizations are betting (with hedges) that by the end of the first quarter of 2021, sizable physical gatherings will be possible. 

With each domestic downturn has come a move to better quality in speakers. Now is not a good time to be a mediocre speaker delivering the same speech. An appropriate and well-prepared speaker can hold an audience’s attention for a 45-minute virtual keynote slot, but it becomes especially important for planners to choose well when it’s so easy for attendees to tune out.

Planners, brief your speakers appropriately. If you want a shorter presentation than in the past, adjust the number of things you ask them to help you accomplish with the session, or at least convey to them that you don’t want the usual presentation packed into a shorter time period.

Also, don’t simply hope that they can do the job for you. Glibness on TV or a 90-second “sizzle reel” does not equate to virtual competence. Be sure to evaluate a longer clip and combine that with references from planners who had similar goals and used the same format that you’ll use.

Many speakers who are used to doing face-to-face presentations are now being asked to participate in a moderated Q&A or fireside chat for the virtual medium. It’s important to make it very clear to the moderator and the featured person how these sessions will go, so there are no surprises. For a lot of speakers, I think the virtual option is going to stick even when in-person meetings resume. Many enjoy presenting virtually and might start reducing how much they go on site—they could simply price themselves in ways that makes it less attractive to have them in person. One year from now, even if in-person meetings have returned strongly, I expect at least one-third of the speaking assignments we book will be delivered virtually. 

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