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Where has all the civility gone? Public Speaking isn’t easy already

One of the early discussions I remember in terms of learning how to act in public was taught to me on the Muppet Show.  It was a weekend night and I was probably like 6 years old and the conversation went something like this:

ME: Why are those Muppets interrupting and mean?
Mom: Well son, some people are just jackasses
ME: Yeah, it’s just Rude
Mom: If you don’t like something just leave, since other people might be enjoying it and it would be disruptive to those people.
ME: These courtesy, kindness and respect things are so complex.

One of the most challenging things for people to do is speak in public and it is not getting any easier.  For some the larger the crowd, the more stress.  Others don’t flourish well in small interactive groups and some people are just plain bad at speaking, but they did have the courage to get up there and apparently have the ability to write a good abstract.  Regardless if they got the slot they may have some experiences to share and more than likely have something you can take away. Good or bad, you should take some lessons away from most pitches.

I get the opportunity to speak occasionally, I’m horribly mediocre and I ultimately appreciate the thoughtful feedback and the posts on Twitter as well to learn from.  I think as audience members, we have an obligation to allow the speaker to present his or her materials and provide constructive feedback.

#dontembrarassurself  indeed!  But, apparently I’m a little old school and this is not cases in today’s social media world and it’s ok according to Jeremiah Owayng, in fact you should just deal with it and adopt some new skills which will even further limit/intimidate more speakers from sharing their content/ideas.  Here are his recommendations:

Prepare More Than Ever– This is one I buy without issues, not being prepared is a lack of respect in some aspects to your audience.

Know Your Audience’s Social Technology Adoption. – While interesting for a technology conference, not that relevant – really.  If you have good content and are prepared, technology adoption shouldn’t be in your thinking.  You should just be thinking KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Monitor the Backchannel While Speaking. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Guy Kawasaki keynote a large conference, he monitors the body actions from the crowd and commands attention of the audience, he’s making micro-tweeks to his presentation to engage and react.   Just as speakers do this in the real world, they must be monitoring the verbal, explicit reactions in the backchannel like Twitter or a chat room.   Ask coordinators to display a monitor on stage facing you to see hashtags, use your mobile phone, or have your computer on stage to quickly see the stream. – I wouldn’t recommend this, stay focused, tell your story and feel the vibe is complex enough, plus the online chatter gets multiplied by folks that aren’t even in the room.  Noise to signal team.  Real-time content/conversation adjustments to unknowns typically doesn’t have an upside.  If they are a known entity that you can actually physically see in the room and not some random in the hallway, you may be able leverage it into the discussion.  Could be fun for all if integrated well.

Develop Backup Resources to Monitor. Some speakers have told me this is nearly impossible for them to do as they are focused on presenting content, here’s two tips for you. Speakers who are unable to monitor the backchannel should have a buddy attend the speech, sit in the front row, or off stage, and indicate if there’s something out of the ordinary they need to respond to.  If your speaker content is rehearsed –it should be second nature to present it.   Scoble is known for taking “Twitter breaks” during his presentation every 15 minutes to gauge the audience feedback.  — If Scoble is doing it must be a great idea, social media sourcing at it’s best.  Cite a social media personality and a ok speaker, naturally and who has the ability to integrate the stream into his pitch.  We call that part of his shtick, Gallagher smashed watermelons, Carrot Top had weird props and Scoble does real-time online sentiment integration/adjustments. I wonder how many people can pull off that speaking prop?

Interact with the Audience: If your speech is going well, a majority of the tweets will be echos of what you’re saying then retweets.  However, some speakers should monitor and look for questions, comments, or interesting new information that would add to the presentation.  For example, at the Web 2.0 expo, I saw an audience member say my panel was boring on twitter, so I immediately shifted to Q&A which kept the audience interest.  It probably was boring for that person, but I wonder if others were digging where you were going?

Practice Two-Fisted Speaking. In the future, we may start to see presenters with two devices in hand: the presentation clicker in right hand, and cell phone in right hand, monitoring the flow of conversation.  Once this is a universally accepted reality we will have distracted audiences, speakers and slowed flow of information sharing and learning.      People will adjust the tempo, the tone and miss the message/run out of time. Remember, not all people learn from reading and for some, these conference things are learning events, not filler until the Google party.

At the end of the day, public speaking is definitely in transition and the real-time conversation is out there, but use it as feedback, just as the comments you get from event after your presentation is rated.  Learn from it, integrate it into your next pitch and try to continuously improve.

Vote with your feet and side on trying to add value to the discussion, rather than jumping on the Twitter sentiment bandwagon.  The funny thing about negative comments, is they encourage more – not sure why. In all fairness, Jeremiah was really cool which his outreach.  Empathy is so much better than criticism.

I guess we all like a good beating, kinda like fights in high school.   I think we should all find a way to encourage active participation and sharing of information in real-life, we are just a little too good at it from behind a keyboard.  Myself included.

Full Disclosure

  • I check twitter about 50% of the way through when presenting to an audience which would more than likely tweeting – know your audience.
  • I tweet at conferences – good and bad
  • I leave presentations, rather than watch a train wreck
  • I also fill out the survey and always try to find something positive to say in the additional comments

CONSULTING NICHE ALERT: Effective Presenting in a technology enabled world.  This could be the new Social Media Guru segment.