The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything about the way that we live, work and play, forcing us to re-evaluate everything from the handshake to the way that we go on vacation. Even after restrictions are lifted, there’s the constant threat of a new variant and a general reticence to put ourselves at unnecessary risk.
Given that COVID-19 is fundamentally a social pandemic, forcing us to go into isolation and to limit the amount of human contact that we have, perhaps it’s unsurprising that it’s also had a big effect on the public speaking industry.
But how exactly has public speaking changed, and can we expect those changes to continue in the years to come? Let’s investigate.
How Public Speaking Has Changed Through COVID
1. More online events
Online events have always formed something of a peripheral segment of the public speaking industry, but people have been turning increasingly to online-first programming to mitigate some of the risk that comes from gathering large numbers of people together. At the same time, these types of events require different skills, both for event organisers and public speakers, and so organizers need to ensure that they’re well-versed in the art of organizing online events.
2. No more fixed line-ups
One of the major challenges for event organisers in a COVID world is that there’s no way to guarantee a fixed line-up. Of course, we’ve always needed a certain amount of flexibility because of things like industrial action and even human error causing people to miss flights, or speakers dropping out for other reasons. But nowadays, the challenge is even greater because we never know when new travel restrictions might crop up or even when a speaker or a member of their close family might test positive forcing them into isolation.
3. Mitigation of risk
Even when we’re legally able to host meetups and conferences, we still need to be vigilant and to mitigate the risks where possible. We’ll need to offer complimentary face masks and hand sanitiser and to make sure that we’re cleaning common areas even more diligently than usual. There are even little things to consider like making sure that speakers aren’t sharing microphones, and disinfecting equipment between sessions.
4. Keeping track
Building on the last point, it’s also a good idea to keep accurate records of your visitors so that if there is an outbreak, you’re able to notify them. This can be tricky considering the amount of data protection legislation there is, therefore you’ll want to think carefully about privacy and maybe even work with a consultant. The goal is to strike the perfect balance between COVID tracking and data privacy.
5. Personal space
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that our personal space is valuable to us. This has always been the case, but we used to be willing to make sacrifices in the name of education and networking. Now, though, people are more aware than ever of the importance of personal space, and you’ll want to give people plenty of sitting and standing space, and never go in for a handshake or a hug before first asking permission.
6. Offer contactless payment
Contactless payments are now the norm. If you’re hosting an event then you’ll want to make contactless available at all payment areas, including speaker book sales, food, drink, and merchandise.
7. Clearer ticket policies
Building on the earlier point about the increased chance of being affected by travel restrictions, you need to bear in mind that some of your visitors may not, in the end, be able to attend in-person. Because of this, you need to go out of your way to ensure that you have a publicly available cancellations policy and that it’s easy for people to find. You may also want to allow people to cancel their tickets and receive a refund if they’re unable to attend due to COVID, though be aware of the impact this may have on your bottom line.
8. Changes to subject matter
COVID-19 has had such an impact on our society that it’s bound to also affect the topics that your speakers cover. True, if every talk is about the way that COVID has changed your industry, it might be overkill, but you also shouldn’t pretend that it didn’t happen. It’s all about finding a balance.
9. Be mindful about merchandise
A lot of conferences like to give goodies out to their attendees, and there’s no reason why you can’t do that in a COVID world. The aim should be to be more mindful, so ensure that any staff handling the bags are washing their hands regularly and wearing face masks and gloves. You can also consider gifting items like hand sanitiser and face masks.
10. Communicate the measures
The final thing to mention is that you’ll want to communicate all of the measures you’re taking to mitigate the threat of COVID. You should do this before, during and after the event so that people are confident enough to book their tickets and attend, and you should also have plenty of signage on site as visual reminders of the measures.
Now that you’ve heard our thoughts on how public speaking has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to hear from you. What changes have you noticed in the industry? Which ones do you think are here for good and which ones do you think will be dropped?
As always, let us know what you think in the comments so that we can keep the discussion going, and don’t forget to follow us on your social media sites of choice so that you don’t miss future articles. We’ll see you soon!