4 Latest Trends in Online Conferences and Keynote Speakers

Here’s a question for you. Be honest (please). Before COVID-19 came along, how excited were you to be glued to your seat, eyes forward, fighting the post-lunch food coma—for a 60-minute keynote?

In my “silver linings playbook,” COVID-19 has changed our expectations for keynote speaker presentations and conference events for the better. Gone are the days where a sixty-minute PowerPoint with a voiceover (delivered at another virtual conference the day before), was the height of the online experience.

Thankfully, audiences are now getting fewer slides and more interactivity from their hosts and presenters. Expectations have also changed for conference demand, pricing, format, and topics. Here are the latest four trends, I see in online video conferences.


Pre-shutdown, the meetings industry was a $330 billion dollar industry in the US (alone). Since March 2020, online conferences have increased exponentially—and why not, they’re the meetings industry’s only option. While some businesses canceled their in-person events, other, forward-thinking companies worked on moving keynote experiences to interactive video platforms. Based on an estimated 1.9 million conferences per year (according to Meetings-Conventions Magazine), it’s likely that nearly 1.5 million conferences will be either canceled or converted to virtual format in 2020 alone.

Don’t expect online conferences to disappear when COVID-19 does. Even before the quarantine, many Fortune 500 companies were planning to host more online events. Speakers bureaus expect companies to keep booking keynote speakers and using the online experience format for years to come.


Online events are less expensive to produce for businesses than in-person events. Instead of placing a deposit for a huge venue, providing craft service for hundreds, and paying travel for guests and presenters, the main costs are the keynote presenters and video platform.

Virtual keynote speaker experts are generally less expensive to book, plus there are no travel costs. Speakers bureaus are seeing keynote speakers being more flexible on pricing, since they aren’t spending additional days for travel or overcoming jetlag. While top thought leader speakers will still command premium prices, between $20-30 thousand an event, the good news is the keynote fee will be the biggest expense of the event now that conference halls and food are not needed.


Online events have upended the keynote format. Webinars have changed from the stereotypical 45-60 minute presentation with PowerPoint slides to the new “Unwebinar” format. Instead of staring at stale slides for an hour, audiences get a short introduction with an emcee and a shorter 20-25 minute lecture/presentation with a colorful deck, followed by a 15-20 minute Q&A, or sometimes with a panel.

The Unwebinar is also more interactive for audiences. Online video platforms allow the audience to engage with the presenters through surveys, polls, and chat. Attendees can even chat with each other to discuss the event in progress.


While the format has changed, the business topics are mostly the same. Fortune 500 companies are still interested in leadership, teamwork, motivation, happiness, and innovation. The difference is presenters now apply their secrets and takeaways to dealing with the effects of COVID-19. Keynote speakers show leaders how to apply old principles to the new remote working life and to dealing with downsized markets and offices.

Ken Sterling is the executive vice president and chief learning officer at BigSpeak, the leading keynote and business speakers bureau. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Sterling teaches entrepreneurship, marketing, and strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and hypergrowth sales and marketing expert.

This article was originally published on Business101 on May 20, 2020