The last 50 years in public speaking have been the JFK/Ronald Reagan era. The next 50 will be the YouTube/Talk Radio /iPhone era.
Indeed, to be a great speaker today, you must learn to connect with listeners who have been conditioned by the modern media.
Ancient Greeks to YouTube
The Ancient Greeks gave us Public speaking 1.0: public speaking as grand oratory. Indeed, for centuries audiences weren’t conditioned by television and were happy to listen to long speeches. Before the Gettysburg Address, Sen. Edward Everett delivered a well-received two-hour oration. That long-forgotten drone-a-thon was much more the norm than Lincoln’s 246-word masterpiece.
Television gave us Public Speaking 2.0. Taking cues from news anchors like Walter Cronkite, politicians like JFK and Ronald Reagan understood that the key to great speaking was connection, not grandeur. And for the last 50 years, speakers have been coached to imitate news anchors by making strong eye contact, and having a personal conversation with the audience.
Now comes Public Speaking 3.0, where social media, talk radio, and the internet have conditioned listeners to value interactivity, brevity, and informality.
The Future is Interactive
Indeed today, the best speakers embrace Q&A or risk boring modern audiences.
Talk radio led the interactive trend. Political talkers and sports talkers have turned the airwaves into an open forum.
Similarly, interconnectivity has made traditional presentations rare. Most business is conducted by conference calls that resemble talk radio. Interactive webinars have replaced windy continuing education lectures. Presidential debates where the public can ask questions get far more headlines than stump speeches.
The internet has further conditioned audiences – especially young audiences – to expect interaction. Hate Thomas Friedman’s column in the New York Times? Post an instant response. And don’t forget that audience members can speak with each other with text messaging and Twitter.
Monologue is out. Dialogue is in. Now and in the future, audiences will want to participate. The best communicators will save half their time for Q&A.
Brevity is Key
If you want to speak for more than 10 or 15 minutes in the future, you better be great. Otherwise, your audience can watch The Office on their iPhones.
No one wants to hear a long speech anymore. YouTube videos are 10 minutes max. Tweets are 280 characters max. Blog posts are two paragraph nuggets.
Great speakers today tell their story succincty. They dump irrelevant background and focus on audience issues. They will detail a plan and take questions throughout.
Informal Speaking Style
Along with interactivity and brevity comes an increasingly informal speaking style. Could you imagine Winston Churchill on a webinar? We associate him with eloquence and grand oratory.
But eloquence today is out. Thousands of YouTube videos and niche podcasts have made us tolerant of quirky individual styles. I listened to a podcast on fly-fishing hosted from a fly shop in Montana. The host was oddly delightful and passionate. He took questions for an hour and it was fascinating.
The best speakers in the future will rely on a style that resembles passionate dinner conversation. Most important, they will be themselves.
Joey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”