28 Mar 2018 | by Anthony Kelly

Last year, the UK Conference and Meeting Survey 2017 (UKCAMS) showed that an estimated 1.45m face-to-face conferences took place at UK venues – the highest number since 2008.

It's safe to say that most of your delegates will be attending more than one conference in 2018. So it's vital to create an experience that really sets your event apart.

One of the most anticipated elements of any conference, and one of the largest overheads, is who will be taking to the stage. The right guests have the ability to not just make or break this year's event, but they can affect attendance for following years too.

So, you want to ensure every speaker has scope to be as effective and engaging as possible. Here are 5 trends that can empower your speakers in 2018:

1. Amplifying a Greater Diversity of Voices

Short, snappy, and always thought-provoking, TED Talks have played a huge part in bringing conferences into the mainstream. So, it’s easy to assume they amplify a diverse range of voices.

Shockingly though, 73% of TED-Talkers are male, a fact that reflects a much wider problem in conference culture  the elevation of certain voices above others.

This often leads to two connected problems: speakers feeling like they don't belong on your stage and delegates feeling they like don't belong in the audience. Neither of which make for particularly engaging presentations.

Click here to engage, educate, and inspire your delegates, with our infographic  guide to conference trends in 2018

Movements against this issue have been gathering steam for a while, and, in 2018, empowering both your speaker and your delegates could be as simple as taking a closer look at which voices you’ve been neglecting. All too regularly panels contain:

  • No femme-presenting individuals
  • No persons of colour
  • Nobody from the LBGTQ+ community
  • Only able-bodied participants

Not only will amplifying different voices better engage audiences and encourage the sharing of new ideas and perspectives, but it’ll also attract new attendees who’re delighted to see something other than another all-male panel.       

2. Pick the Right Speaker for Your Audience

There’s nothing worse than getting up in front of a crowd and feeling like nobody is particularly interested in hearing what you’ve got to say. One sure-fire way to empower your speakers is to simply ensure your audience wants to take part in their presentation.

Simply taking the time to figure out who your audience would like to hear from and building your list of potential speakers from that point, will give your speakers confidence they belong on your stage.

The impossibly hip South by South West festival has implemented the perfect solution to this issue, the SXSW PanelPicker. Essentially, it allows anybody in the SXSW community to submit an idea for a presentation, then the most popular ideas become a part of the event programme, following voting from the SXSW community, the SXSW Advisory Board and SXSW staff.

While you may not be able to implement your own version of the PanelPicker, you could ask delegates to let you know what they’d like to see at your conference via social media or your event app.

3. Speakers Engaging Delegates Before and After the Event

The months before and after your event are a great opportunity for speakers to connect with your audience. This can be used to boost attendance and promote ancillary products and service, but it’s perhaps best used as way to empower speakers.  

For example, hosting Q&A sessions is a great way for speakers to find out more about the delegates and what they’re expecting from the session. It can even be an opportunity for them to take suggestions on what content the audiences would like to see.

We also believe 2018 will see more speakers choosing to share content before the event to put the presentation into context. This will allow them to concentrate on giving an insightful talk, unburdened by the need to deliver background information.

Even after the event, you should provide a platform for your speaker to answer questions from delegates and also gather feedback. 

4. Presentations Evolving into Conversations

While your audience doesn’t particularly want to spend 90 minutes being talked at, speakers are also fed up of delivering keynote speech after keynote speech. After a while, even the most traditional speakers want to try something a little more engaging.

In fact, over half of event professionals say the thing attendees want most of all is greater interaction with speakers, and it’s safe to say speakers want the same.

This year, it’ll be on conference organisers to provide the means to facilitate conversations between audiences and speakers. One simple way to do this is to use your event app as a platform for delegates to vote on presentation topics, ask questions in real-time and add their voice to a discussion.

This would allow greater insight into how the audience reacted to the presentation, which could help you plan for your next event and could also be shared with speakers to use however they see fit.

5. The Rise of Collaborative Conferencing

The debate over whether active learning is superior to passive learning has been raging for ages, but the majority of the evidence suggests traditional lecturing is becoming less effective – particularly in STEM subjects.

You can empower your speakers to better teach and engage delegates by facilitating presentations that encourage participation. This doesn’t just mean creating a conversation, as we discussed earlier, but also empowering speakers to challenge the audience to actively use what they’ve seen and heard.

Inviting delegates to get up on stage to talk, create breakaway groups for discussion or workshop new ideas are just some examples being used at events like Ignite and The World Café. These could easily be integrated in your conference after a presentation has finished to foster collaboration and engagement with your speaker’s ideas.


For the most part, 2018 will be all about conferences moving away from traditional lecture-style talks being given by “main-event” speakers to an audience of delegates who have usually started to switch off.

Instead, you can empower your speakers to give game-changing presentations by using two straightforward strategies:

  1. Ensure your speaker feels like they belong on your stage because they are the perfect fit for your conference
  2. Provide your speaker with a platform to better engage delegates with participatory elements

Setting your speakers up for success is one of the best ways to ensure your conference is a hit, so you shouldn’t hesitate in looking outside of your organisation for help planning the perfect event.

Click here to view our infographic highlighting the important conference trends of 2018 and make sure you also check out our other posts in this series – looking at festivalisation and creating meaningful interactive experiences. 

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Anthony Kelly

By Anthony Kelly

Head of New Business MarketingMore articles by Anthony Kelly