A Global Perspective for Meeting Professionals

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By EDGE Women Speaker Amy Segami

“I told my China and her GoGo how I ended up being hung upside down, like a sheep in the butcher shop,” I explained to the business leaders at the largest Creativity Conference in South Africa.

 The audience clapped and laughed. Why? Because I related to their culture. They sat up and paid attention; they understood my effort to relate to them.

 Here is the translation in plain English: “I told my girlfriend [China] and her grandmother [GoGo] how I ended up being hung upside down [like a sheep in the butcher shop].”

 As an international speaker, I present to people all over the world. I modify my stories with terms that are relevant to the audience in front of me. This critical connection helps a speaker to engage their audience in a meaningful way. Yet, you don’t have to travel far these days to experience diverse audiences.

  A Different Focus

 I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the growing diversity among conference attendees. Race, gender and age are the most obvious. Then add language, culture and mindset. The definition of diversity has expanded to include unconscious bias such as default thinking, decision processes, and learning styles, just to name a few.

 What’s helping to drive this global diversity expansion? As global commerce and industry accelerate and expand, smart organizations are pivoting from a traditional command and control model to increase collaboration and cooperation amongst global teammates.

 The benefit? A solid business advantage. Global companies such as Cisco, FedEx, and American Express have found that real diversity can make a difference in providing a competitive advantage.

 Scott E. Page, University of Michigan professor, mentioned many advantages that diverse organizations have in his book, “The Difference” 

 •         They generate more ideas. 

•         They are able to enter new markets faster. 

•         They have a higher success rate.

•         They have more of what is called “Organizational Intelligence.”

 How can you create experiences that help amplify and honor diversity? Meeting professionals can serve as thought leaders by choosing speakers who can stimulate diversity of thought.

 1. Multi-sensory Experience

Consider experiential approaches to drive home the importance of diversity of thought and perspective. Be bold. Be creative. Ask the speaker for ideas to engage your audience. When one speaker was talking about handling ideas, she tossed the audience a few big beach balls and they automatically bounced them around. Everyone sat up and was ready to receive whatever might be thrown at them. When talking about making connections, another speaker I know encouraged the audience to take selfies with their neighbors. At another event, when the speaker was telling a story about cookies, the audience could smell the fresh baked goodies. Yes, they were hungry for more.

  2. Uncommon Touch

Social outings beat cocktail receptions. Set up tours such as industry related site visits or a brief nature walking tour for example, and invite the speakers along. The attendees will gain opportunities to connect and relate with each other and the speaker can talk about the relevant experiences with the attendees after the tour. In Chicago, take a walk along Lake Shore Drive, taste the Deep Dish Pizza in Wicker Park, or visit an ice cream parlor in Old Town. You can find such diverse experiences in any city that help engage an audience to open their minds and further engage with the speaker.

 3. Local Facts

Look for speakers who can relate, interact and respect the audience. Whenever you can, hire a speaker who can deliver a message and influence in a unique way. One of my colleagues was invited to speak in the Middle East. Since her story took place four decades ago, she found out it was the year the city completed the construction of a well known bridge. She tied the time reference of her story to this bridge which made it significant and meaningful to her audience.

 As audiences become more diverse, the secret sauce for the meeting professionals is to bring the right kind of diversity to the stage. Not only the visible differences such as skin color, age or gender, but also the “invisible” differences found in diverse languages, cultures and mindsets.