There has been no shortage of exciting speaking topics that clients have requested from AAE in the past year. While largely anticipated to be the year that corporate events returned to “normal,” this year turned out to show us that normal is still an evolving concept for events.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the trends that shaped our world in 2023 as an indicator of what we will see for speaking requests in 2024. Employees are somewhat reluctantly (or boldly refusing) returning to the office. There are many global crises happening: some environmental, others humanitarian. We are changing how we approach and talk about diversity. Technology is moving faster than companies can build tools to leverage its power. And, if this wasn’t enough, we are all still feeling overwhelmed by all of these things.

We are hopeful about the year ahead, however. At AAE, we strongly believe in the power of the spoken word to inspire, educate, and spark change where it is needed. Regardless of the many wide-reaching speaking requests we receive, these are the speaking trends we’re most closely watching as we head into 2024, and why.

1. Artificial intelligence

If 2023 was the year that the mainstream gained access to generative AI, then 2024 will be the year we all figure out how to use it for efficiency, process improvement, and streamlining operations. Companies around the world are planning to leverage the capabilities of generative AI and machine learning (ML) to grow and improve at scale. While these technologies are not new, their mainstream access and adoption surged in 2023.

This surge in popularity doesn’t come without its share of risk. As tools evolve into image generation and voice simulations, there are inevitably going to be more concerns about copyrights, trademarks, and the like. This is already a concern for authors who have raised lawsuits against Big Tech and this is a trend that will cause disruption for any industry that relies on creative licensing of products.

For most of us, in 2024, we’ll be focusing more on how we make AI work for us, not against us. Learning ways to leverage technology in daily processes to bring improvements, reduce time, save money and grow scalably will become more important. Speakers who can educate audiences on AI with specific use cases in various industries, such as manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and financial services, will be in demand.

With emerging technology also comes increased concerns for cybersecurity, and we’ll likely see that topic continue to be a strong option for speaking events in 2024.

2. Belonging

While events are returning to full-capacity again, attendees are still longing for something that’s been missing for a few years – connection. Connection happens when people feel included, heard, valued, and important to others.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) topic. Organizations who responded quickly to the events surrounding George Floyd, BLM, and racial protests in mid-2020 quickly adopted new policies, hired dedicated DEI leadership positions, and took a much-needed stand against racism in doing so. Similarly, speaking requests surged for education and awareness surrounding diversity and inclusion.

Soon after, we saw a rise in violence against the Asian American population, the End Asian Hate movement, followed by an increase in demand for greater racial understanding. More recently, the topic of gender identity has emerged as another hot topic for debate. And while all of this has been going on, books that highlight these differences are becoming banned in some parts of our country, causing increased polarization and sometimes heated discussions for all of us.

Diversity-related speaking topics have topped the Speaking Industry Benchmark Report for the past two years as the most sought-after theme for event planners and meeting organizers. We are, however, expecting to see a shift in 2024.

As debate ensued about the DEI philosophy, it became clear to us that everyone has a different sense of what the word ‘inclusion’ means. In 2024, we will start to see a shift in terminology, away from the terms diversity and inclusion which can sometimes be polarizing. Instead, we will see more messaging focused on the concept of belonging, which better represents the desired outcome of all initiatives — for attendees, employees, students, and guests to feel they belong.

At AAE, we strongly believe that the best way to increase belonging in our industry and across all of our event audiences is to empower you with choices. You should expect, regardless of where you search for speakers, to see different genders, races, ages, and abilities no matter your speaking topic or where you search for speakers. You will continue to see more diverse speaker options available on an ever-growing variety of topics. The more we include all voices, the more our audiences will see themselves in the speaker and know they belong too.

3. Neurodiversity and accessibility

In 2023, we saw a much needed increase in discussion in the events world around neurodiversity while progress was made towards making events more accessible to learners of all types.

From creating plans to better accommodate visual or hearing-impaired attendees, to creating events that are preferable to autistic and neurodivergent populations, we experienced a much-needed shift in our industry to consider those who might not look different, but who have very different needs and preferences.

We believe this momentum will translate in 2024 into requests for educational topics embracing neurodiversity speaking themes like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. Additionally, we are excited to watch neurodiverse speakers take the stage on a variety of mainstream popular topics, like motivation, business, finance, and technology. These differences between us will become more accepted and valued.

Lastly, as 2024 is another Olympic year for our world, we’re also looking forward to the 2024 Paralympic games slated for this summer, showing all of us that greatness can be achieved far beyond our physical limitations.

4. Mental health

We might be on the other side of the recent pandemic, but the world is still far from normal. Fortunately, as discussions about the need for attention to our mental health have become more common the past few years, organizations have continued to recognize the value of providing mental health resources and inspiration to audiences.

In 2024, we expect mental health to remain a popular theme for event speakers who cover such topics as suicide awareness, antibullying, addiction and recovery, resilience, and mindfulness. These critical topics need to continue to be discussed and destigmatized by society. While these can present some of our most challenging topics of 2024, we are fortunate to have impactful and experienced speakers on all of these mental health themes. We also expect to see continued demand for topics around happiness and self-care that support mental health initiatives.

5. Corporate culture

If 2022 was the year of the great resignation, then 2023 might be called the year the tides have shifted.

In recent months, employers have regained the upper hand. Many organizations aren’t just asking employees to come back to the office, but they’re requiring it and threatening jobs when compliance is not met. Combine this with a job market adjusting to the impact of AI on many of our jobs, large corporations doing mass layoffs, and a questionable economic and political outlook in 2024 As a result, we now find ourselves in an employer’s market.

For employees, there is an overwhelming amount of fear and uncertainty. As we know, fear can be a motivator but it’s not a strategy. Working every day in a state of fear causes stress, which causes illnesses, reduces productivity, and ultimately is bad for business. Consider all of the customers that one single employee interacts with on a daily basis. If employees are unhappy, businesses will soon after feel the ramifications as revenue declines and lack of morale spreads.

Organizations have been paying attention to corporate culture in recent years, and this will continue to be a priority for management and HR teams alike. If top employers in 2024 want to keep employee productivity high, stress minimized, and morale in check, they can’t rest on their laurels that people need their jobs now more than ever. Instead, they’re going to need to continue to provide programming, education, and motivation that inspires their employees to be brand advocates and champions, encourages and supports loyalty to the organization, and takes time to reward their teams.

6. Learning & development

As event organizers, you know that there are a lot of events returning to the industry. This means there’s increased competition for a limited amount of attendee’s time and travel budget.

A trend that’s emerging and expected to continue in 2024 is the importance of learning & development for the audience. The shift here will see event organizers offering increased event value in exchange for taking valuable time to attend an event. Organizers will offer attendees unique (or even exclusive) training opportunities, tangible skills, and memorable experiences they can’t get anywhere else. Providing more practical tips and valuable takeaways will allow attendees to immediately implement what they’ve learned when they get back to work, achieving quick impact, and demonstrating a measurable ROI for attending the event.

An event I recently attended followed this approach. There was increased focus in the agenda on skill education, while still providing some very motivating keynotes. The practical tips shared in one session were applied to Marketing campaigns immediately and we saw a positive impact in results by the end of the week.

An association I’ve spoken to recently explained why they were approaching their annual event next year with a similar shift in programming. They hope to take their event in a more value-focused direction for attendees. They want attendees to feel as though they received so much education and learning from attending the event, they can’t help but want to return again next year for the strength of the learning opportunities, combined with their already successful networking experiences. This seems to be a winning approach in my book.

7. Futurism

There is no shortage of challenges that we’re facing in 2024: economic uncertainty, a presidential election year, increased conflicts globally, climate change, to name a few. That’s why futurism will be an important topic for speakers in 2024.

Speakers who excel at analyzing past market behavior or possess a deep historical understanding of political conflict will be called upon to help all of us understand what to expect in the years to come. While not a guarantee, simply having the ability to explain patterns and identify trends can help all of us face these challenges with the power of information.

One area that I expect to see evolve within futurism is around the ethical use of generative technologies. As mentioned earlier, the challenges for content creators who copyright their work are already being examined. How we further expand our world through generative technologies while testing the limits of legal and ethical boundaries will be an evolving debate to come.

While these won’t be the only topics for which we book talented speakers in 2024, we are excited to watch these 7 trends emerge in the year to come. Like you, we are optimistic that 2024 will continue to bring experienced, inspiring, and entertaining voices to events, creating memorable experiences for attendees and sparking the next wave of innovation.

Looking for more projections into 2024? Check out our list of 2024 Speakers to Watch here.