Let’s Talk

This July, I attended the NSA (National Speakers Association) national conference in Philadelphia. This was the second consecutive year I attended the event and though this year’s program was much different, I came out of the conference energized and excited.

As I mentioned last year, the spirit of the professional speaker community is refreshing. Speaking professionals are eager to help and share with each other and there is no sense of competitiveness, other than harmless boasting. Though it’s a long standing joke that the boasting is exaggerated.

Hey, but at least there’s boasting. And lots of smiles. Given the weeks leading up to the conference much of the media and conversations around the water cooler and the tables at Starbucks has been about the government and our national debt, it was also refreshing to find a group of people so upbeat, motivated and smiling. Then again, I would expect nothing less than a group of motivational and inspirational speakers.

To be sure, the speaking industry, which is tied closely to the meetings/conventions and professional training industries, has been hit hard and has been extremely slow to recover, like the rest of the economy. There are fears that these industries must face the unwanted reality that the business will never be the same.

It’s not only the economy that is disrupting the industry. It’s also transportation and technology. For starters, air travel is more difficult and time consuming than ever before. It’s also more expensive. Hosting a meeting in Hawaii, Vegas or elsewhere interrupts business, which is also speeding by at a much faster rate than before, is more difficult and costly.

What is happening is there is a hole growing in society; an emptiness that is causing us to yearn for personal connection—with people.

Groups can meet virtually through tech tools that make collaboration simple, easy and cost effective, such as Join.meGoToMeeting, WebEx, AvayaLive and Fuze. Also, many speakers are offering free and bonus content through tele-seminars and webinars. Enhanced content is also available for a nominal fee. Even better, for these programs attendees don’t need to watch or listen in real time. Often the content is “evergreen” and available for online or offline viewing at a later date.

Speakers that aren’t leveraging their proprietary content and new technologies are going to be challenged to increase or even maintain their business. Then there is social media. Many concurrent sessions at the NSA conference focused on the use of social media to create awareness, brand or drive traffic and generate leads. For those that get it, like the many that were tweeting tips, news and happenings around the conference, this is a no brainer. But judging by the glazed look in many of the eyes of the attendees I saw roaming the halls between sessions, this is a major challenge to professional speakers.

While I am a huge fan and user of technology and have embraced and followed social media trends and technology since 2001, I can’t help but think that in a business where professional speakers, trainers and coaches are hired to connect with people—to help them lead, think, sell, grow and be more inspired, motivated and productive—is moving further and further away from truly connecting. We are being distanced by technology while at the same time getting more productive by using these tools.

What is the likely outcome? Well beyond the professional speaking profession, relationships are distancing too. We now follow, friend or become fans. And we court relationships looking to be followed, friended or attract fans. But are these social media relationships real? True?

What is happening is there is a hole growing in society; an emptiness that is causing us to yearn for personal connection—with people. As human beings we cannot survive on virtual relationships alone. Professional speakers, trainers and coaches can repurpose their content and package their expertise for consumption online, but I’ll guarantee effectiveness will wane. We need to connect. Especially in our technological and fast-paced personal and business lives, when we do connect and create real relationships, these will be much stronger and more important.

Look at how online dating has expanded the universe for the single and the lonely. But the successful relationships that result from online dating are nurtured and grown away from the screen of computers and mobile devices. I believe that social media and fan, friend and follower relationships can be a bridge to a more meaningful and real relationship—whether that’s in business or in the personal lives of people. And if we are committed to building true customer, business and personal relationships, all of us will need to change the way we’re looking at and using social media.

So the next time you log into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ don’t be afraid to cross the bridge and truly connect with someone. When you do, you’ll find something special and you will feel better and whole.

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