Quick show of hands…or feet! Before March, 2020, how many used Zoom? How many never even heard of it? How many of you used a crystal ball and predicted that Zoom would replace in-person meetings forever? And, if you did, are you saying “Told Ya”! Tiny tip…nobody likes to hear “I Told You So”! Well, I want to suggest you, whoever you are, may actually be incorrect. It’s been barely a year and the scoop is the number of people getting “Zoom Fatigue” is rapidly growing and I’m using the platform of Zoom to represent all of the virtual meeting sites that have been forced into use by hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people. I want to state that I’m not “anti-technology”, but I’m “pro-human” and the computers aren’t getting bored…people are!

Let’s make it very clear here. “Nobody” asked for Covid and unless you are a pharmaceutical company, nobody has benefitted either. Of course, anecdotal evidence suggests families with non-adult children have generally grown closer. People who hate their commute and cubical and now working from home are kicking their heels. Apparently, pollution is way down and I’ll even acknowledge that social interactions have on the surface, become more cordial with people being forced to respect others with social distancing, etc.

Oh, and in North America, the number of animal shelter adoptions has been staggering. Lucky Dogs!

Keeping Live Alive

But, Covid has decimated the speaking industry I love so much and have been in for 40 years. Hundreds of thousands of hotels, convention centres and meeting facilities have closed and hundreds of millions of people in the Global Hospitality business have lost their jobs. The same number of musicians and entertainers have had no shows. Imagine the impact on “live” theatre. Venues that host plays, musicals, opera and other events are shuttered and theatre districts are like ghost towns.

And there’s all the restaurants we can’t go to! Until the latest rules change where we live in Alberta, my wife and I haven’t been out for dinner since last summer! It sucks!

New World disOrder

I realize we had no choice and I am “NOT” a conspiracy theorist or anti-masker/vaccer! I will also acknowledge my bias as my normal 150 days away every year to speak at events has gone to zero! True, I’ve been able do my show on the very platform I’m questioning and I have been genuinely grateful for that. I’m a seasoned veteran and professional so I have “expanded” my portfolio of talks to accommodate the new world order. By the way, I refuse to use words I really can’t stand like “pivot” or “new normal” as a personal choice. And I will admit, I do not miss the rigours of the road for someone without arms. It’s never been easy. But I’m used to “hard” and I know that the decision by medical professionals to place our world on hold wasn’t easy either.

This blog, my first in a long time, feels a tad self serving. But really it’s about what I believe we have lost by not getting “together”. And more specifically, I believe that while we still have meetings and conventions exist online, I believe we’ve lost part of our soul. The soul that is fed by restaurants, theatre, live concerts and yes…in person events with speakers. I realize we aren’t there yet but please read this lengthy piece and consider what my work is really all about.

In 2010, Darlene and I travelled to Thailand for one of the coolest events of my career. I was the only outside guest speaker for Thai Life Insurance. They were having a single day conference with all of their people at one location and the only place big enough was the Impact Arena in Bangkok, a stunning facility that the previous weekend had played host to the Miss Universe Pageant! Over 9,000 people were there for an annual event that is easily the highlight of the year for Thai Life! The budget must have been huge! The day program happened in the arena and then moved to the Bangkok Convention Center for the banquet and dance. Just walking into the huge room gave me chills. The decorations, lights and loud music went straight into you! It was absolutely the “Wow”and you could see it in the expressions of the employees.

A Little Gift Yet A Big Lift

Heineken was the evening sponsor and paid for three of Thailand’s biggest Grammy caliber bands to perform and free beer all night! You should have seen the wardrobes of the attendees! I was told that due to typical economic conditions for so many of these people, this is a “one night out on the town” for the majority. An event to look forward to, and one to talk about for a long time.

My speech was translated in real time and my on stage translator was described as Thailand’s David Letterman because he had the highest rated late night TV talk show in the country!

The Chairman of the Board of Thai Life opened the banquet with a short speech and I will never forget what he said. He encouraged all the people present to enjoy the food and dance because this was his “gift” to the

People who breath the Life into Thai Life! Without all of you, there would be none of us”! Brilliant.

But for the sake of argument here, what if Thai Life had their “Day of Recognition” online? Let’s put Covid aside for a moment. Nine thousand people in their own homes, wearing sweats and such, no free beer because no sponsor and no bands to dance to. I could appear on Zoom and they would see my speech, learn my story and be inspired. But where’s “The Gift”?

I experienced the sheer power of my program way back in 1981. It was the International Year of Disabled Persons and the largest focus was on “Awareness”, especially for schools. To walk into a classroom in front of adolescents who had never seen a person with no arms ever in their life was stunning! They could have played my award winning documentary from CBC TV. But being “in the room” was the difference maker.

Some would argue, I’m living in the past. Virtual events are the future. There is no question, virtual can work. It’s like a “YouTube video” to teach you how to fix something. Effective? Absolutely. But, “Ted Talks” were the rage for many years, so what happened to their hype? Social media is incredibly powerful for its reach across the planet, but it too is showing its shelf life. And then there’s the headline for this blog, people are getting “Zoomed Out”!

Out Of The Cubicle But Still Inside The Box

They’re tired of virtual meetings, bad internet, muted mic’s, surprise visits from toddlers and cats, the list is endless! You can see it. That’s actually part of the problem, isn’t it? You can see all the people in their little boxes. You can see them lose focus, pick their nose or even get up and leave! I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen with in-person meetings. I’m being serious. It’s extremely difficult to focus online, yet it’s still a “meeting”. Some suggest we will get used to it. Not by choice folks! None of this surprises me because we are not “artificial intelligence cyborgs”…we are human!

As mentioned, the core of my business is Keynotes. I’m brought in as a non-industry expert to inspire and entertain the delegates of a meeting. Most of these meetings are held at off-site locations for companies and a magnet meeting location for associations. As an example; in October of 2018 on three successive Fridays, I was a Keynote for InterCoiffure, a huge hairdressing industry event for 3,000 delegates in New York, the Caribbean Banking Association in Barbados and GolfTec, a digital golf training and club customization company in Scottsdale, Arizona. What do those three events have in common? Me!

I don’t have or do hair, my wife handles the money in our home and business and I obviously don’t golf! I was “The Gift” for the delegates. The thanks and encouragement for their people. But most vital, these events are incentives and perks for the attendees. It’s almost literally a “working vacation”. An opportunity to escape the office cubical, and yes I’ll say it…home! You know that feeling of putting “vacation” on your wall calendar and staring at it with the giddy anticipation as the time draws near?

Take the New York hairdressing convention. Once a year, the leading professionals in hair styling and fashion gather at the “Event of the Year” and you must “qualify” to get there. The feeling in the Hilton Manhattan when I spoke in front of such a large, passionate and life-loving group of people from around the planet gives me goosebumps to this day! It goes directly to the soul! You can see it! Honestly, you don’t get into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame by being able to play piano with your feet! I’m a powerful storyteller and to speak while you can hear a pin drop in a gigantic and remarkable ballroom is intoxicating! There is literally an exchange of energy. I’ve had countless people see my “aura”, feel it. Am I simply “reminiscing”? Oh, for the good old days? No.

All The World’s A Stage – Literally

I’ve been told my impact on Zoom has definitely adapted to the platform. I’m exactly the same person and speaker and my personal energy on stage hasn’t changed. My physical stage has shrunk to my living room and I no longer walk around, I now sit! I still put in the same effort, do what I do so well and be a professional. But it’s not about me! Sounds so noble, doesn’t it? But honestly, I don’t do this for my ego. I’m all about the results for the client, every time. I’m about the “personal” touch. In person, I make a point of sticking around. Getting selfies with attendees, hugs, and very personal conversations. I know we can “chat” virtually, but you can’t replicate “face to face”. It’s “Personal”. Its “Human”.

Down For The Count – But Not Out

I have heard from a couple of industry insiders who told me the real culprits may be a predictable whipping horse…accountants! More than one company has looked at its “bottom line” and believe it or not, the accountants have proclaimed profits are up, costs are down, why would we ever bother to have an offsite incentive meeting ever again? Sorry, but that makes me extremely angry! What about the “value” of your people. Sorry accountants, but what exactly are “you” doing to increase sales and productivity? Look, I love accountants. Ours have probably saved our company many times over. I’m not trying be disrespectful.

But as a bit of an outlier, I’ve never completely understood why some corporate cultures see the stock market as more important than their own people!

Did you realize that “public speaking” began 2,500 years ago in Athens? Men were required to give speeches as part of their “civic duties” and by using pathos for emotional appeals to gain public support and acceptance of new ideas and policies. It was also a form of “community gathering”, even then. 2,500 years, and still vital to our human connectivity and growth.

Joel Weldon is a designated Legend of the Speaking Industry and one of the founders of the National Speaking Association (NSA) in the United States. He believes, and I quote…”The speaking industry is poised for an epic, historic rebirth”!

Is all of this blog just self serving and narcissistic emotion on my part? If you believe that, fine but this is about the kind of “energy” I believe contributes to the “Tipping Point” the best selling author, Malcolm Gladwell espouses about how cultural change occurs. It’s starts with a buzz, then a movement then reality!

I’m not at all suggesting we fling open the doors tomorrow and I totally understand these are very uncertain times for the people who make the decisions before the meeting planners even get the event.

Plus, Covid is real! As we all get vaccinated, we can only hope that the world turns the corner because the health of humanity is more important than a weekend in Vegas.

I would simply argue that this is also the time for real “Leadership”! To thank the bean counters for their professional commitment to their trade but make a loud statement that people matter more than profits and the only way to get rid of Zoom Fatigue is to wake up and start bringing people “The Gift” that so many crave.