Monday, March 8, 2010

How social media remixes public speaking

Public speaking comes with a lot of assumptions baked into it--forms, formats and formalities that have been used over and over again for centuries. Here's the basic recipe: Someone, the expert, strides to the front, gets introduced, stands behind a lectern on a raised platform and speaks for 30 minutes to an hour, perhaps taking a few audience questions at the end, but only if time permits. People in the audience listen, and clap at the beginning and end. There might be handouts to take away with more information, or business cards.

More and more, I'm seeing that standard recipe get re-mixed, thanks to the influence of social media--and not just one kind of social media, either.  Here are the six ingredients of speeches and presentations that are getting tossed and turned in the process:
  1. Who speaks:  Today's audiences expect to speak, share, question and contribute--so much so, I encourage my trainees to open their presentations with a Q&A session, to get the audience participating right away.  All forms of social media, from networks like Facebook and Twitter to online video and blogging, have given "the people formerly known as the audience" a series of microphones and platforms of their own, and they're using them. 
  2. Who shares: Once upon a time, only three people controlled what was shared outside the meeting room: The organizer, the speaker and any journalists who were covering the session.  Today, the tools for sharing what's happening, live and in real time, are right in your mobile phone or laptop. 
  3. Who stands where:  At a TEDx event in New York focused one education, speaker Jeff Jarvis told his listeners, "You should be up here."  He was speaking to the audience's expertise, but many speakers also are moving into the audience to hold listeners' attention, make a stronger connection and provide some visual variety.  Standing behind the lectern's falling more and more by the wayside.
  4. Who listens:  Listening in doesn't require being in the room anymore, thanks to the backchannel on Twitter and similar sites. That also means that "listeners" can scroll through an account of your talk hours, days or months later. You may need to provide more context online, including your slides, the text of your remarks or additional comments.  I've taken to creating blog posts with useful links after my major addresses--they become the "handout" and the context, all in one.
  5. Who watches:  With a webcam on a laptop, a cellphone or a Flip camera or other ultralight camcorder, your audience can record and upload your remarks within minutes--or choose to livestream it.  Speakers who address audiences with "just between us in this room" remarks, beware. 
  6. And for how long:  The instant gratification, speed and variety of information available in social media can't be matched in most formal speeches.  Attention spans are getting shorter, which is why I recommend that speakers need a strong, fast start.  No matter how much time you're allotted, use far less for your formal remarks. Open it up for questions, take some Twitter breaks and get the audience involved.
Related posts:  Tweeting at meetings gets controversial

What speakers can learn from Twitter hecklers

Creating tweetable presentations

Rebooting your events

Handouts no more!

I'm cross-posting this on both the don't get caught blog and The Eloquent Woman blog.