Congratulations. Someone has asked you to speak about the future of your area of expertise. Are you a futurist or a foresight practitioner? Have you received any training in thinking about the future? If you answer yes, then this post isn't for you. If you answer no, read on.
1. Talk about the future, not today. Talk about 10-20 years out not 5 years. Speak to your brief which is not necessarily what you know in detail today. This may require you to do some scanning in areas that you don't normally research. Go there, have fun, blow your mind, find how your audience's future is being shaped and how many possible futures there might be and talk about that.
2. Admit the uncertainty that surrounds the future and explore that uncertainty. Being asked to speak doesn't mean you have to know everything about the topic. It does mean you have to give people a way of making sense of change shaping that future.
3. Challenge today's assumptions and platitudes about how your audience's industry works. Tell them you are doing this to challenge the linear future they all have in their heads and assume to be true. Tell them if they don't like what they are hearing, they have hit an assumption wall and need to open their minds a little. Remember your job is not to make friends, it's to help people think about those possible futures.
1. Tell people in your audience that you know what the future will be - you don't, no one does, unless you have a crystal ball (hint: they don't work).
2. Provide lots of data about today to take up 90% of your talk - that's not meeting your brief, that's you in your comfort zone. If I am in the audience, I will get annoyed and tell you so. :)
3. Try to keep the audience in their comfort zones. That's not your job. The future is not a comfortable space because we don't know what its nature will be. There are no future facts, no data about the future. Ask people to come on a journey with you that might upset them, confuse them or anger them. If you get those reactions, you have met your brief. And every so often you will see a light bulb go on and it's all worth it.
Speaking about the future of anything comes with great responsibility. Your job is to help people take a step towards the future, beyond the status quo. Some people will get it, some won't. That's not the point.
The point is that too many people at too many conferences with 'future' or 'futures' in the title talk about today when they are asked to talk about the future. They talk about a linear future based on today's data and because they are 'experts' people in the audience believe them. People will like that but that's terrifying when you know the reality of the change they face.
Your job if you are asked to talk about the future is to help people see that they need to move beyond their comfort zones, to see change not as reaffirming how they work today but as an opportunity to respond proactively to change. To face the future, to be futures ready. The future isn't pre-ordained, isn't narrowly defined, and there are options. That their images of the future are as important as anyone else's. That their action and decisions today matter. That the language they use about the future matters.
As a speaker, you job is to open up the future for your audience, not close it down. Good luck.