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Speaker Trends for This Year’s Business Events

Economic, cultural, and technological issues are impacting who makes it onto the podium at meeting and conventions.

The Speaking Industry Benchmark Report produced by AAE Speakers Bureau compiles data from both event organizers and keynote speakers to better understand the issues and trends affecting the speaker-booking process.

While the full 2024 report will be released on March 26th, Jennifer Best, vice president of marketing at AAE, shared some early data from this year’s survey results with attendees at the Catersource + The Special Event conference in February to highlight corporate event trends and how they’re likely to impact speaker bookings this year.

Rising Costs
Event organizers are concerned with both rising costs and attendance numbers for this year. In fact, Best finds this to be “a triple threat,” noting the increasing number of in-person meetings, higher costs to host and feed guests, and expected annual hikes for speaking fees.

Overall, meeting professionals seem less confident about this year compared to their sentiment over the past couple of years.

Implications for booking speakers:
• Booking local speakers as a way to reduce travel costs will be more popular, freeing up budgets for non-negotiable expenses.
• For many events, speakers will be chosen based on outcomes and relevance versus celebrity alone.
• Speakers need to clearly delineate their value proposition.
• Speakers need to keep fees as competitive as possible and research their audience.

Themes and Topics
Among the top speaking themes AAE has identified for the year ahead are artificial intelligence, belonging and DEI, mental health, corporate culture, climate change and environmental sustainability (ESG), and politics, human rights, and economics.

With the U.S. presidential election in November and continuing wars around the world, 2024 promises a divisive environment. As a result, Best notes, organizers have the challenge of finding speakers who can bridge the gap in compelling and impactful ways.

Also, she says that “we’re expecting a shift in how we approach DEI topics this year. Language around DEI will soften, and speakers will focus on belonging, which is the emotion behind inclusion.” She also expects more awareness of the importance of addressing neurodiversity and accessibility at events, noting that “speakers who reflect these traits will appear on stage more.”

Implications for booking speakers:
• Knowing your audience and finding speakers with broad appeal will be an important challenge.
• Organizers will continue to advance DEI efforts by booking diverse speakers and by offering virtual options to attend.

Artificial Intelligence: Critical Tool
Based on more than 300 early responses to the survey, 50 percent of speakers are currently using artificial intelligence in some way, and another 25 percent plan to in 2024. On the planner side, 33 percent are currently using A.I. in some way while another 33 percent plan to in 2024.

This seismic shift since generative A.I. was launched in late 2022 is reflected in a strong demand for speakers who can talk about its impacts. But while A.I. is hot, themes are evolving. In 2023, groups wanted to hear about the general impact of A.I. on society; in 2024, the demand is for speakers who can address use of A.I. in specific applications and its social implications.

Implications for booking speakers:
• Expect a strong demand for A.I. topics, especially around the application of A.I. in specific industries and the legal and ethical implications of A.I.
• There will be more use of A.I. services that can translate speeches into multiple languages in the speaker’s voice.
• A.I. generated speaker avatars are emerging for use as pre-event promotion tools.

Driving Attendance
According to the AAE survey, the three top performance indicators for event success in 2024 are attendance, survey responses, and social-media engagement, with attendance being by far the most important.

At the same time, prospective attendees are being more selective. The importance of work/life balance post-pandemic, combined with tighter budgets, means they’re carefully gauging which events to attend. Therefore, it’s important for planners to effectively communicate the value of the event and create the FOMO that can drive registrations.

Implications for booking speakers:
• Speakers are more frequently being asked to help with pre-event publicity and focus on impactful storytelling. Speakers are thus more likely to leverage video and other technologies to help introduce themselves to audiences ahead of an event, notes Best.
• While relevant content is critical, event organizers are also making a speaker’s engagement style a key factor in their selection process.

The full results of the 2024 AAE Speaking Industry Benchmark Survey will be released at the end March.

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