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January 20, 2015

PCMA: Five Speakers for Your Events in 2015

Joe Abraham

Courtesy PCMA

On the final day of PCMA's Convening Leaders conference in Chicago last week, five up-and-coming speakers showcased their talent to meeting professionals as part of the Association's Five Speakers to Watch series. The speakers—available for $5,000 to $15,000—each had 15 minutes to present their talks, and tackled a range of subjects that could apply to many kinds of events.

The first speaker was David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity, contributor to Forbes and Harvard Business Review, and assistant professor of management at Oral Roberts University. Represented by the Brightsight Group, Burkus discussed the importance of building a network so we don’t grow stagnant in our thinking. Without new ideas or new people to work with, we become “the average of the five people we interact with the most.”

Burkus began his presentation by stating that Thomas Edison’s greatest invention wasn’t the light bulb, it was Menlo Park — the site of the first industrial research lab. “The Menlo Park years were some of Edison’s most productive years,” he said. “He had teams of people he could pull from, put together, and disband. Menlo Park was Edison’s greatest invention, because it wasn’t about finding apprentices and building a team that he could have for a number of years. He knew the network was stronger than any team.”

Burkus then asked attendees what they’re doing to build their own networks. “Do you go back to the same five people?” he asked. “Are you the average of the same five people? You constantly need new thinking. The light bulb doesn’t work unless it’s plugged into a network.”

Next was Yvonne Camus, represented by The Lavin Agency. She spoke about her participation in Discovery Channel’s “Eco-Challenge,” the world championship of adventure racing created by Mark Burnett of “Survivor” fame. Her team was the first rookie team to complete the grueling 300-mile competition. “In the history of ‘Eco-Challenge,’ the U.S. Navy seals had entered every single year and had never completed this race,” Camus said. “Not once in 10 attempts.”

A key to finishing the event was for each member of the team to not believe they were failures. “We tend to look at ourselves when we’re failing miserably, and we look at our potential and think, 'These are my true colors,'” Camus said. “What I’ve discovered is the most successful people I’ve met have the incredible capacity to remind themselves of who they are when they’re at their best.”

In the world of sports, she said, we pay incredible attention to the best people. Athletes are remembered for their greatest achievements. Why can’t the rest of us see ourselves this way? “You have the opportunity to not only duplicate your single best performance, but to surpass it,” she said. “We have to be capable of exploring that far side of our ability.”

The third speaker, Scott Christopher, with SpeakInc, is an actor, humorist, and author of The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up. He said leaders who are lighthearted earn more on average than their peers, and entertaining workplaces have more loyal employees and customers. But in the business world, Christopher noted, people often feel that they can’t be who they are or show a sense of humor because they’ll lose respect, credibility, and authority.

He shared the story of a team of food-service workers at a hospital who improved their job performance and customer satisfaction by simply bringing their own humorous, giving personalities to their job. Instead of being in the business of serving meals, they changed their outlook to reflect that they were now in the business of helping patients heal. And they had more fun. In just six months, they went from the first percentile of food-service satisfaction to the 99th percentile.

“This was just by encouraging people to be who they are,” Christopher said. “This wasn’t after going through continuing education or tons of personal development.”

Joe Abraham, with the National Speakers Bureau, took the stage next. Founder of BOSI Global and a former TEDx speaker, Abraham said we must get away from leadership-development programs that are one-size-fits-all.

He identified four types of business leaders, each with their own “entrepreneurial DNA”: builders (Donald Trump), opportunists (Richard Branson), specialists (most workers), and innovators (Mark Zuckerberg). “Research says 78 percent of people say they’re disengaged from their job,” Abraham said. “I believe many of these companies are asking [their employees] to check their entrepreneurial spirit at the door and just do this cookie-cutter stuff.

“In your company there are builders, opportunists, innovators, and specialists. The solution? Start thinking about what your entrepreneurial DNA is. Then you’ll see the world — and your team — through that lens. Then, you can start asking yourself about the people who surround you. Chances are their entrepreneurial DNA is different.”

The final speaker, Jim Knight, with Keppler Speakers, is a former Hard Rock International executive and author of Culture That Rocks! He talked to Convening Leaders attendees about how to create a better workplace culture. It’s important to hire “rock stars” (not “lip synchers”) and find your own corporate identity. The first step to creating a vibrant culture, however, is to “be like U2” and embody a shared vision. Why U2? Each member of the Irish rock band has a specific role to play, yet they are passionate about their common purpose.

“The most successful businesses in the world have a shared mindset among all employees,” Knight said. “Everybody has a part to play in a band.”

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