Interview with Tim Ferguson, CEO of Audience
With offices in Toronto, Cambridge UK, Basel and Singapore, Audience brings a unique and audience-focused approach to the development of meetings. Previous sponsors, speaker management and facilitators to MDI’s own FRESH conference, we wanted to get some key insight into what they feel our members and planners should focus on when presenting to an audience, a team or running their day-to-day workload. We spoke with Tim Ferguson of Audience to find out in general what people’s real vulnerability is and how this can be overcome.
You have done a lot of research into behavioural change; can you explain more?
Our clients don’t have meetings or run workshops for the fun of it (though that would be nice!): the goal is always behaviour change. They want their employees to be more agile, strategic, innovative, balanced, or productive. They want to see greater collaboration, new ways of working, and positive disruption to the status quo. To achieve this, employees must change their habits, which is difficult to do. So, we are looking to behavioural science to help our clients make changes that stick.
What do you feel are the key pointers to help someone if they have to speak to or perhaps influence an audience?
First and foremost, know your audience. And I mean deeply. What keeps them up at night? What are the pressures they experience at work? What solutions are they looking for? And what have they tried before, and why did it fail? With enough insight when you walk on stage the moment you begin to speak, they will say, “this person knows me.” The other is be yourself. The number one thing an audience wants in a speaker is authenticity. You can’t achieve that with buzzwords or a ton of data. You need to tell your story and show them why it matters.
What do you feel are the main vulnerabilities for us in our industry?
I see three, each of which is also a huge opportunity if we manage it correctly: 1) Climate change forcing clients to drastically reduce Co2 emissions and along with that live events which require travel, 2) Poor initial meeting experiences causing young people to give up on live events in favour of digital communication, 3) The VUCA (short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world of work getting so hectic that proper meeting planning becomes impossible and everyone is too exhausted to enjoy meetings when they happen!
What about for us as individuals?
Burnout. I see a lot of people including myself trying to do too much. We need get control of our agendas and learn to say no. Resilience and mindfulness are topics of interest for a reason.
How is technology and other factors influencing how we cope?
I think phone addiction is a major problem. On a societal level I don’t think we’ve thought this through at all. People are looking at their phone 150 times a day. I mean, who signed up for this? And I am deeply concerned about the social media algorithms designed to fill our feeds with custom designed click bait to make us fearful and angry. I am no luddite and see benefits to technology, but when I see everyone staring down at their phone during the coffee break at a networking event, I really wonder what’s gone wrong.
When we talk about behavioural change, how can this help?
It is important to recognise what is within our control and what isn’t. We can’t change the world, but we can change how we start our day, what we eat, when we exercise, how we communicate, and where we go to find a quiet moment. We can go to bed on time and make our bed in the morning. By taking control of our behaviour we can significantly improve our mood, outlook, health (mental and physical) and relationships, more quickly than we think. It goes back to the phone and social media: spend less time about how your life appears on Instagram and more attention to your daily behaviour choices. You’ll feel better.
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