As someone who spends a great deal of time sitting inside conference rooms, introducing and then watching keynote speakers, I am often asked by my clients “Who are the hot, new speakers on the conference speaking scene?” It is a fair question. Most conference organisers are looking for the next big thing, someone fresh, current and different that their conference delegates will not yet have seen.
And indeed there are always awesome new speakers killing it on the speaking circuit that everyone is keen to book. Right now, think Steve Sammartino, Holly Ransom, Claire Madden, Gus Balbontin, Michael Crossland and all the cool futurists. These new-ish speakers are all at the top of the game and if you haven’t booked them, do so! You will not regret it.
They may hate me for saying this because for the purposes of this article’s analogy, I’m calling them the Bieber Speakers (and I mean this fully as a compliment). They are new(ish) and sort of young(ish) on the conference circuit (been speaking for 5-7 years or so), but they are excellent and hugely talented and have great content, genuine edge and substance. They will also be around for a long time, because they are the real deal.
But recently I started to think “Hey, don’t forget the old guard” by which I mean the speakers who have been on the circuit for 20-30 years plus and have become masters (and I use that term to mean masters and mistresses) of their trade. The speakers who have done Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours and more. The speakers who are so good that they have developed like a fine wine. The speakers who have been around so long that most of your Gen Y and Z audience have likely never seen or heard of them. And these speakers are still at the top of their game.
Some veteran speakers are a little like the Rolling Stones – they’ve aged well but their material hasn’t really changed much. They perform their greatest hits which are brilliant, so we want to hear that material again. But thirty years on their act is pretty much the same. Its good, great even, but not “new”, “fresh” or “contemporary”.
But then there are the real masters – the “Springsteens” (or the “Jay Z”s for a slightly cooler reference point) who are so good that they adapt and update – every time you hear them you will witness something different. They change, tailor, update, refresh and upgrade their presentation, with new stories and case studies, based on a new world. They are always in the moment. Always talking about the here and now and using the past as a comparison. They may have been around along time but they are anything but ‘old’.
These speakers have mastered the art and craft of speaking for way more than 10,000 hours. They may have been on the circuit for years but they and their material is fresh and your conference audience are unlikely to have experienced this presentation. Possibly because this presentation has never quite been done like this one before.
And here’s the key – the “Springsteen Speakers” feel just as fresh and as new and relevant as the Bieber Speakers. Most of their messages are actually tried, tested and totally timeless.
Dare I say it but……
There are so many of these timeless and utterly contemporary speakers still doing amazing work on the conference circuit today – have you heard the always wonderful Amanda Gore recently (still one of the most engaging and energetic speakers I have ever seen) or Robyn Moore, Keith Abraham, Cathryn DeVrye, Big Dave Staughton, Ita Buttrose or Colin James (to name but a few)? These are the masters of the speaking universe and you must expose them and their wisdom to your conference audiences. You and many of your audience have likely never heard their presentation before because they are always different, with perhaps a few greatest hits thrown in.
So next time you phone up a speakers bureau or google “conference speakers” – why not ask ‘who is old?’’ as well as ‘who is new?’.
* (I hope the speakers mentioned here don’t get offended by my clearly age-ist stereotyping or the Bieber / Springsteen comparison, which are all meant as a compliment).
Andrew Klein is a conference speaker and MC and has been doing it for 20+ years which qualifies him as ‘old’. Maybe he feels strongly about this old/new issue because he turned 50 recently (where “recently” = in the last few years…..and where “few” means “2”)