The disruption to flights in Europe gives us an unprecedented opportunity to innovate at conferences. I speak/facilitate regularly at conferences and away day strategy sessions. Some might think it’s a strange way to make a living, but I love it. Well, all except the travel anyway. And in a week like this one, when Europe’s skies have been emptied by a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland, it is immensely frustrating. So far, two conferences I was due to speak at have been cancelled. I am sure there will be more fallout as this week unfolds.

But last night, in a Facebook status update conversation with one of the world’s most travelled keynote presenters, the leadership expert, Paul Bridle, I got a different perspective.

Paul was due to speak at two events this week in the USA. Both conference organisers are going ahead with their events, and still want Paul to be involved, so they are hooking up with him via Skype. He’ll speak live via video linkup, and even be able to take questions from the audience. If I was him, I’d pre-record the main keynote and provide the conference organiser with a high quality video file to play – this overcomes any bandwidth and connectivity issues. But then, Paul needs to be available live – possibly to do a live intro and outro to the video, and to take the Q&A session. Paul, like myself and many keynote presenters, has access to good video recording (I have a home studio with green screen, lights and multiple cameras – and also have a video producer brother who lives around the corner).

Anyway, my thought was this: maybe this latest disruption to air traffic around Europe will force some conference organisers to try something innovative – like video-based speakers. And they’ll discover that this works. Maybe then in the future they’ll try it again. This could be a game changer for our industry. It will change how we prepare and deliver our value as speakers and experts. It will change how we package our content. It will change the dynamics of an event. Of course, we will lose out on the informal interaction with delegates after the talk – but there are ways we could do that digitally too (Skype terminals available after the presentation, for example).

It will also allow those of us who speak to reduce our prices. Some people wonder how we can charge what we do “for an hour’s presentation”, but they don’t factor in that an hour keynote can actually be three days out of the office. That’s three unproductive days in airports, on planes and sitting around waiting in hotels. We do need to be compensated for that. But not if we can do a keynote from the comfort of our home studio. Most keynotes are set up as one way communication (it’s the nature of the beast for large audiences), and any interaction tends to be digital anyway. This could happen at a distance quite easily.

We just need a reason to innovate. Maybe the Iceland volcano is just such a reason. I look forward to hearing from conference organisers and presenters who are forced to innovate in this way in the week or two ahead. Did it work? What were your experiences? And maybe most importantly – would you do it again?

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