My experience in the speaker industry has been developed over a sixteen-year career working with thousands of professional speakers, both in representation and placement for events worldwide. COVID-19 or Coronavirus as its also known has thrown an enormous spanner in the works.
I am not going to spin out motivational words of wisdom and tell people that everything will be fine soon in our industry. It is clearly not going to return to normal in the short to medium term. Business-class travel is all but dead and transatlantic flights few and far between for non-essential workers. The other day I listened on the morning news to a Financial Analyst from one of the world’s leading investment banks talking up Q1 in 2021 for a return to normality. ‘Seriously!’ how on earth does a Financial Analyst know more about the recovery and cures for Coronavirus than the thousands of global scientific advisors and politicians – I think not.
The harsh reality is that the Coronavirus has reduced speaking in public to rubble. The industry has ground to a total halt and the short-term outcome does not look good. We can talk up virtual speaking (more about that later) but the truth is that the real in-person conference speaking market is gone, Vamos! There are a few bubbles of exception in Switzerland and Italy at the time of writing, with capacity limited to 100 persons or less. Better than nothing though!
The suppliers of the conference venues and designs, contract staff, food and beverage providers, ticketing systems (Eventbrite, etc), hotel, and airline accommodation bookings many of them have evaporated into thin air. These companies rely on packaging up the overall solution to run conferences seamlessly from beginning to end. With little to no governments providing financial support for this sector, it’s hard to see an immediate recovery anytime soon.
At this point in time, all of the world’s leading companies have canceled their international conferences that they use to drum up business and market their products, services, and brands.
Examples of Major Conferences Cancelled Due to COVID-19
- Adobe Summit (Mar. 29-Apr. 2 in Las Vegas) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Apple WWDC (June) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Aruba Networks Atmosphere 2020 (Mar. 23-26) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Atlassian Summit 2020 (Mar. 31-Apr. 2 in Las Vegas) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Black Hat Asia 2020 (Mar. 31-Apr. 3 in Singapore) – Postponed until Sep. 29-Oct. 2
- CanSecWest (Mar. 18-20 in Vancouver) – Held as scheduled
- Cisco Live (May 31- Jun. 4 in Las Vegas) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Cisco Live Melbourne (Mar. 3-6 in Melbourne) – Canceled
- Comic-Con (Jul. 23-26 in San Diego) – Canceled; Rescheduled for Jul. 22-25 2021
- DEF CON China (Apr. 17-19 in Beijing) – Postponed TBD
- Dell World (May 4-7 in Las Vegas) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- DocuSign Momentum (Mar. 4 in San Francisco) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Domopalooza (Mar. 18-19 in Salt Lake City, UT) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- DrupalCon (May 18-22 in in Minneapolis, MN) – Postponed TBD
- E3 (Jun. 9-11 in Las Angeles) – Canceled
- EmTech Asia (Mar. 24-26 in Singapore) – Postponed to Aug. 4-5
- Enterprise Connect 2020 (Mar. 30-Apr. 2 in Orlando) – Postponed to Aug 3-6 in San Francisco
- ESRI Developer Summit (Mar. 10) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- F5 Agility 2020 (Mar. 16-19 in Orlando, FL) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Facebook F8 (May 6-8 in San Jose, CA) – Canceled
- Facebook Global Marketing Summit (Mar. 9-12 in San Francisco) – Canceled
- Future Vision: DTG Summit 2020 (May 6 in London) – Postponed until Oct. 5
- Game Developers Conference (GDC) (Mar. 16-20 in San Francisco) – Postponed to Summer 2020
- Forrester CX Sydney (Apr. 29-30 in Sydney) – In-person canceled; online-only event Apr. 20
- Forrester CX North America (Jun. 16-18 in New York) – In-person canceled; online-only event Jun. 16-18
- Forrester SiriusDecisions Summit (May 3-6 in Austin, TX) – In-person canceled; online-only event May 4
- Gartner CIO Symposium/ITxPo (Oct. 18-22 in Orlando) – Being held as scheduled
- Gartner Data & Analytics Summit (Mar. 9-11 in London – Postponed
- Gartner Data & Analytics Summit (Mar. 23-26 in Grapevine, TX) – Postponed
- Google Cloud Next (Apr. 6-8 in San Francisco) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Google I/O (May 12-14 in Mountain View, CA) – Canceled
- Google News Initiative Summit (Late Apr. in Sunnyvale, CA) – Canceled
- HPE Discover (Jun. 23-25 in Las Vegas) – In-person canceled; online-only event June 22
- Infor Inforum 2020 (Sep. 14-16 in Las Vegas) – Being held as scheduled
- Ingram Micro Cloud Cloud Summit 2020 (May 12-14 in Miami Beach, FL) – Postponed until early 2021
- IoT World Developer Conference (Apr. 6-9, 2020 in San Jose, CA) – Postponed until Aug. 10-13
- Kaspersky’s Security Analyst Summit (April 6 – 9 in Barcelona) – Postponed until Fall 2020
- Microsoft Build (May 19-21 in Seattle) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Microsoft Ignite (Sep. 21-25 in New Orleans) – in-person canceled; online-only event Sep.
- Microsoft WSLConf (March 10-11 in Redmond, WA) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Microsoft MVP Global Summit (Mar. 15-20 in Bellevue & Redmond, WA) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Mobile World Congress MWC Barcelona (GSMA) (Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona) – Canceled
- MSPWorld (Mar. 15-17 in New Orleans) – Rescheduled for June 2020
- Mobile World Congress MWC Los Angeles (GSMA) (Oct. 28-30 in Los Angeles) – Being held as scheduled
- Mobile World Congress MWC Shanghai (GSMA) (Jun. 30 – Jul. 2 in Shanghai) – Being held as scheduled
- NAB Show – National Association of Broadcasters (Apr. 18-22 in Las Vegas) – Canceled; possible rescheduled for Fall
- Nvidia GTC – GPU Technology Conference (Mar. 22-26 in San Jose, CA) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- O’Reilly Strata Data & AI Conference (Mar. 15-18, San Jose, CA) – Postponed; Merged with Strata Data & AI (Sep. 14–17); online-only
- ODSC East 2020 – Open Data Science Conference (Apr. 13-17 in Boston) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- OFC 2020 (Mar. 8-12 in San Diego, CA) – Held as scheduled
- Oktane Live – (Mar. 30-Apr. 2) Online-only event
- Oracle Code One (Sep. 21-24 in Las Vegas) – Being held as scheduled
- Oracle Modern Business Experience (Mar. 23-26 in Chicago) – Postponed until Sep. 21-24 to coincide with OpenWorld
- Oracle OpenWorld (Sep. 21-24 in Las Vegas) – Being held as scheduled
- OSCON (Jul. 13-16 in Portland) – In-person canceled; online-only TBD
- Paris Blockchain Week Summit (Mar. 31-Apr. 1 in Paris) – Postponed until Dec. 9-10
- Percona Live Open Source Database Conference (May 18-20 in Austin, TX) – Postponed; new date TBD
- Pwn2Own (March 12 in Vancouver) – In-person canceled, online-only event
- Qualtrics X4 Summit (Mar. 10-13 in Salt Lake City, UT) – Postponed to early Fall 2020
- Recode Code Conference 2020 (May 26-28 in Beverly Hills, CA) – Rescheduled; Sep. 8-10
- Red Hat Summit 2020 (Apr. 27-29 in San Francisco) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- RSA Conference (Feb. 24-28 in San Francisco) – Held as planned (IBM, AT&T, Verizon, and other vendors withdrew)
- SaaS Connect – Cloud Software Association (Apr. 15-16 in San Francisco) – Postponed until Oct. 5-6
- SaaStr Annual 2020 – (Mar. 10-12 in San Jose, CA) – Canceled; rescheduled Sep. 2020, SF Bay Area
- Salesforce Dreamforce (Nov. 9-12 in San Francisco) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Salesforce Tableau Conference – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Salesforce TrailheaDX (Jun. 9-10 in San Francisco) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Salesforce TrailheaDX India – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Salesforce World Tour Sydney (Mar. 4 in Sydney) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- SAP Ariba LIVE (Mar. 16-18 in Las Vegas) – Canceled
- SAP Concur Fusion (Mar. 9-12 in Orlando) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- SAP NOW (Mar.) – Canceled
- SAP SAPPHIRE NOW (May 12-14 in Orlando) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- SAS Global Forum (Mar. 29-Apr. 1 in Washington, DC) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- Shopify Unite 2020 developers conference (May 6-8 in Toronto) – In-person canceled; online-only event
- SXSW (Mar. 12-22 in Austin, Texas) – Canceled
- TNW Conference (Jun, 18-19 in Amsterdam) – Postponed until Oct. 1-2
- VMworld (Aug. 31-Sep. 3 in San Francisco) – In-person canceled; online-only event
Facebook has said they won’t have any live events involving at least 50 people until June 2021. Salesforce.com who also run major conference worldwide won’t run any live events for the remainder of this year.
Leading an events provider of any size must be a disheartening experience at this time. It was a competitive and crowded market place before Covid-19 but what happens next and for how long can staff be maintained on furlough schemes that are winding down in Europe and beyond? For how long can a company that puts on conferences costing $100,000’s to $millions of dollars survive without this business? By October 2020 we’re already over six months into the pandemic and it looks like there are no live events for at least another six months which is well into 2021.
Now The Good News
It’s ironic that in these desperate times that the speaker industry should suffer so badly. Shouldn’t this be the time that speakers are really needed not just to improve morale and output but also as a way of bringing teams together? This is where the world of public speaking has not died its own death but comes into greater demand via online or virtual events. This is a rapidly growing marketplace part due to the necessity companies have to ‘do something’ to counteract the negativity the comes with Coronavirus.
Even the most successful businesses in the world feel this pain. Working for Tesla during the pandemic can’t have been too bad with the companies share price increasing by 60% or more. But even for those in organizations not financially impaired by Covid-19 this eats away at our morale. Stepping outside the office; watching the news; having an outbreak in your child’s school; a partner out of work; elderly parents isolated; and of course the wearing of facemasks, etc, this affects us all in some way or another. And we’re expected to maintain a positive outlook, it’s literally a ‘hard-life’ with so much anxiety surrounding us all.
Virtual Conferences & Events
Originally we set out to believe that events companies were in serious danger as the workplace buckled and people were isolated at home. Optimism arose when a handful of companies had or developed the technology to run virtual conferences. We don’t mean a speaker talking to employees or attendees via a platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams that most of us have now become acquainted with. This is a user literally walking into a digital version of the conference or event, past digital sponsored stands, with break out meetings and a far easier way of networking. The attendee can look through and align meetings via the delegates list or by company name. This is also a great feature from an event organizers perspective as they can facilitate these virtual introductions which at a live event take time to occur and are often missed opportunities.
GDS is a UK-based events company who in discussion with Promotivate told us that they had successfully converted all their major client events to their slick virtual conference platform. Here is a link to a video about a recent Retail Summit run on their immersive event platform: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/
One of the few advantages that companies have due to Coronavirus is the cost savings on not running live events. So we were surprised to learn that the cost of running fully scaled digital versions of conference arenas with all the sponsors taking stands and beyond can reach the same cost or fee as the live event. This is potentially good news for event organizers should they be able to acquire and market virtual conference software. We contacted three providers and established that we could acquire this software for clients for an annual four-figure which seemed reasonable. We expect that the heavyweight tech companies, Microsoft, Google, etc are developing more sophisticated versions of these event platforms and this should further drive down costs.
How Can Speakers Make The Best Out Of The Coronavirus Terrible Situation?
If you’re reading this post as a speaker then we hope you’ve noted that there is an opportunity and demand out there. It isn’t as good as it was before COVID but it offers the opportunity to learn new presenting skills and to adjust content to fit with living with the virus. We have never experienced so much demand for speakers who specialize in talking about ‘Resilience’ and working in isolation.
If you are reading this article with interest in booking speakers for an upcoming virtual event then the good news is that;
(i) speaking fees are less
(ii) there is far greater access to speakers worldwide
(iii) companies and events organizers have a far wider reach to employees, clients, and partners by taking events online
Motivational speakers and positivity are most needed now if we are going to get through COVID-19. In many ways I like this opportunity to really see what’s going on and to allow us time to adapt to new methods of speaker delivery. There is a growing market for speaking virtually and it’s a lot safer posing few health risks. Having great speakers who have adapted fast to the new world is fun. They’re progressive, they want to help in whatever way they can. Everyone has been touched by this awful virus. If we can bring in some really interesting speakers who can and do make a difference in a very positive way then we are extremely useful and not done yet, or ever will be.
As always I welcome feedback and like talking to people myself.
Thanks for reading!
Jonathan Curran, Managing Director
Promotivate Speakers Agency