A: Staying abreast or ahead of trends, popular ideas, and new attitudes is a matter of being well informed. The savviest people network voraciously and read widely -- often choosing at least a few sources that are outside the mainsteam. Try paging through a variety of youth-oriented publications, which tend to be ahead of the populist curve.
There are also consultants who specialize in helping companies prepare for the future and professionals predict upcoming consumer attitudes, buying trends, and hot products. Check out the Web site of Faith Popcorn (faithpopcorn.com), a prominent futurist who has been prognosticating about social shifts and consumer trends for close to 30 years.
FROM THE HEART. Attempting to retool a core aspect of your business around a trend, however, can be risky and may be ill-advised for a number of reasons. Probably the most fundamental pitfall is that you may wind up choosing material that you're not personally passionate about or invested in, which will reduce your quality and effectiveness as a speaker. Experts generally recommend that professional speakers and workshop leaders choose topics that are personally important to them and material in which they have true expertise.
If you pick a topic simply because you think it is a hot new trend and may have high audience appeal, you're not likely to be really enthusiastic about it, and it will be hard not to let that show. When a speaker sincerely believes wholeheartedly in what he or she is presenting, the audience picks up on that genuine feeling -- and vice versa.
Another problem: It is extremely tricky to know which trends will be long-lived and the passing fads that will peak and fade before you'll be able to research and develop your material, let alone book speaking engagements. If communications skills are what you know best and are most passionate about, perhaps you should stay with that basic theme and start including some new curriculum, or research better ways to get across your points that will help differentiate you from the competition.
SPEAKING OF TERROR. To get some insight on what's happening in the speaking industry at large, look up the Speaking Industry Report (www.walters-intl.com/97report.html) recently
released by Lilly Walters, of Walters Speakers Services. The 70-question survey on trends and topics goes to professional speakers, meeting planners, and speakers' bureaus around the world and includes a section on content.
"Motivational topics were still the best-selling topics," she says. "Since Sept. 11, the topic of leadership has made a huge leap in popularity and, sadly, terrorism is now on the best-selling list." Speakers focusing on sales topics are a perennial, she adds. You can view a summary of the report for free, or purchase the full 122-page report on the Web site. Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.