Planners have spent years listening to inspiring stories from speakers who have overcome hardships or scaled the world’s highest peaks. They’ve followed energetic motivators as they ranted, raved, and leaped across the stages of incentive and agency meetings.
Now planners are looking to events like the renowned TED conferences and seeing a new breed of presenter—the artist as speaker. Whether auditory, visual, or tactile, art adds an experiential element to a presentation and increases participants’ retention of key concepts. Best of all, audience members walk away with new ideas about creativity, leadership, and teamwork in the workplace as they participate in creating art.
While TED has inspired this corporate meeting trend, the actual TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes and usually do not have a direct business tie-in. By contrast, the new artists-as-speakers who are appearing at corporate meetings present for 45 to 60 minutes and offer strong business messages. Believe it or not, even a demonstration of how to prepare the perfect guacamole can teach incentive winners, home office executives, and field management personnel important business lessons that they will bring back to the workplace.
Making music, for example, is an apt metaphor for teamwork. As Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander explains to audiences, a symphony is only as good as the sum of its parts. Zander leads financial and insurance meeting attendees in what for many may be their first time making music, let alone being an integral part of a musical group. Working in a team where music is the “product” is no different from contributing to a top-performing team in the workplace.
Turning to visual art, imagine a conference stage set with large blank canvases. As rock music blares throughout the ballroom, a man runs out, seeming to attack a canvas with splotches of paint. Audience members cock their heads and squint, trying to figure out what presenter Erik Wahl is creating. With everyone in the room thoroughly mystified, Wahl launches into a speech about vision and creativity, then deftly flips the six-foot canvas upside down to reveal a portrait of Albert Einstein.
If playing music and painting are not enough to get your group thinking differently, Karin Eastham, author of “Cook the Part,” tackles teamwork and leadership from the kitchen. A former director for several large companies who still serves on many boards across the globe, Eastham shows the parallels between kitchen and boardroom, between cooking and leadership in the business world. And as a way to illustrate key points, she invites audience members to the stage to try their hand at making a little guacamole.
Your attendees may believe they have great vision, a creative mindset, and excellent leadership skills. Maybe it is time to try a new breed of speaker who is ready to put them to the test!
Ruth Levine is founder of Speak Inc., a speakers bureau based in San Diego. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the company’s Web site for profiles and video clips of the speakers mentioned in this article.