Since the internet rush of the 1990’s which meant going online wasn’t just for nerds, the way we communicate has changed significantly. Email helped us record and organize conversations, text messages helped us zap quick notes to each other and social networks allowed us to reach people from all over the globe. Teleseminars, podcasts, blogs and webinars now give us the ability to potentially communicate to millions of people. So where does public speaking fit in to all of this? And more importantly, will there still be a need for public speaking as the internet continues to change the way we communicate?
Public speaking is a method for people to communicate to groups that has been around since the beginning of recorded history. Prior to the invention of the radio, giving a speech was the only way to simultaneously verbally communicate to a large group (newspapers and other printed publications allowed for the written word for centuries). With the adoption of the radio, and eventually television, the rules of communicating to groups changed. Speaking into the microphone and looking into the camera became a part all talks that used these mediums, but most interestingly, an audience was no longer needed at the time the talk was delivered.
Of course, only a limited amount of people were able to communicate on the radio or TV because not everyone could walk into a studio and go on the air. But now, the internet allows just that. Podcasts, video blogs, Youtube and other Web 2.0 applications allow anyone with a fast internet connection and minimal hardware to reach large groups. And many of these services and technologies are free or open source, so your only costs are for a webcam, ISP and PC.
So let’s say you own a small kitchen remodeling business. Prior to Web 2.0, you’d sign up (possibly months in advance) to give a talk to your local Chamber of Commerce titled “How to update your kitchen to increase your home’s value.” You then write out your talk, practice it, brush up on your public speaking skills and if you really wanted to get fancy, use slides, overheads or PowerPoint. These days, you could create the video in your office with a $50 web cam, edit it to correct any mistakes using free software and host it for free on one more of the many free video sharing sites out there. You could then post a link to it on your web site so all your customers and potential customers can see it, and get your local chamber to link to it on their web site (probably for a fee).
So which option is better? The second option is certainly faster to produce, requires a lot less effort and can reach a much wider audience. So as technology continues to evolve and improve, imagine what possibilities interactive content, high definition video and integration of multimedia can add to the experience. So why would someone who is petrified of speaking to large groups spend hours upon hours practicing a speech just so they can do something they dread?
While we are certainly headed in the direction where future generations will continue to communicate less in person, a society that communicates rarely in person is still a long ways away(if it ever happens). While these new technologies help us conduct business on a more global scale and reach people faster and more efficiently than ever before, there’s still no substitute for in person communication.
Yes, you can make friends and connections, do business, hire people and even meet your future spouse on-line. And now there are several e-learning products out there that create virtual classroom environments where you can get a degree from the privacy of your own home. All of these breakthroughs serve their purpose of helping us get more done with less time and effort but it’s still no match for face to face encounters.
We all can probably remember at least one experience where we were in a room (or stadium) that was full of energy — and by energy, I’m not talking about that new age stuff but that excitement that comes along with being surrounded by a cheering crowd. It could have been an inspirational talk, a crowed bar during a sports event or a political rally. If you’ve ever experienced it, you know there’s no substitute. Most of us have that need for inclusion which is why people pay hundreds of dollars to watch a live sporting event that they could otherwise watch for free on their high definition TV with surround sound — not to mention the on-screen stats, close-ups and replays. You’re there, live, a part of the event and a member of the audience. In some cases, you feel like you’re a part of history. If you’re watching at home on TV, you’re one of millions of viewers and even if you feel like you’re witnessing history being made, you’re not there.
So while the digital age does provide some great opportunities to help people communicate, there will always be some situations where “being there” is desirable. And I’ll reiterate something I say all the time about public speaking — the skills you’ll learn to be a great speaker are transferable to other forms of communication. So learning how to prepare your talk, research your audience, speak clearly and present like a pro will help you with podcasting, video blogging and conducting webinars or e-learning sessions. Enjoy the technology but don’t forget that there’s still a lot situations that require face to face communication.