Why 'now' might be your perfect time for public-speaking training (online)

Why 'now' might be your perfect time for public-speaking training (online)

Why 'now' might be your perfect time for public-speaking training (online)

Do you think you know your strengths and weaknesses as a public speaker really well? More than 300 conferences, congresses, debates and public-speaking workshops later, I have come to believe that, in a lot of cases, the answer to this simple question can be surprisingly complex and have some really deep roots. A lot depends, of course, on the key variables such as you personality, self-perception, ego, openness to constructive feedback and criticism. Finally, your creativity and (critical) observation skills. One of the astonishing ironies of the covid-19 pandemic is that while it may have shut down the world of events as we know it on a global scale (for months if not years), it may have also greatly improved everyone's presentation skills, from school teachers and academics, all the way to professional conference speakers, business executives and start-up founders. However, given the new dynamics as well as unique requirements of online event formats, it's only the beginning of a true event revolution, one where content quality, effective communication and public-speaking skills will see a true renaissance. Having emceed and moderated several dozen international online conferences in the last two months alone, I'm amazed to (re)discover that even today, with so much access to great learning materials, books and tutorials, a huge numer of active event participants (both occasional and regular event speakers) would still benefit greatly from even a small dose of tailored public-speaking coaching. The more adjusted to individual needs the better. Here's why!
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Even for someone so used to working on the stage, emceeing and facilitating events and debates on a weekly (if not a daily) basis, the last few months of the 'event world revolution' have brought the words new, freshdifferent and demanding back to the table. Moderating (in many instances the same, and yet so different) conferences, webinars and startup competitions online, with keynote speakers, industry experts and start-up founders representing dozens of countries, has been a great experience in its own right, but also an important learning curve, both in terms of the sheer volume of new variables involved and the creative potential unleashed by the new digital terra incognita that everyone has been forced into by circumstances.

Geography no longer a constraint

To begin with, some of the conferences I was lucky to emcee (and actively participate in) in the past two months spanned just about every continent and many different time zones, with speakers addressing their live audiences from the comfort of their homes and offices in Japan, the US, Nigeria, the UK, Italy, Poland, Brazil and Canada, all at the same time, all talking to one another within the space of a single screen, with next to no delays. All other aspects aside, it was fun to start some of those events with "Good morning", "Good afternoon" and "Good evening" all at the same time.

Since May, I have also emceed several dozen start-up competitions, each and every one of them held in a different country, with the PowerUp Challenge 2020 European Final organized in a professional studio and broadcast live to audiences all over the world. Most of these sturtups are active in areas such as energy, mobility, cleantech or smart-city technologies. This month, I'm emceeing another series of very interesting country finals for food-industry start-ups and entrepreneurs, organized by EIT Food. 

The one thing that is not only possible but easily-accessible and very user-friendly today (as opposed to 10 years ago) is that thanks to modern technology, the overall experience of organizing and (hopefully) participating in a 'virtual event' often feels smooth, problem-free and in many respects can be far more efficient than bringing everyone to a single location. Which is not to say that traditional events have no unique value proposition. Quite to the contrary.

A deep breath of fresh air for the planet

Much as we love conferences and events in general, the networking, the energy, the sense of belonging to the same tribe, just imagine the environmental impact of each and every one of them, the carbon footprint of a single international conference held in your city. Now pause and reflect on how much fuel had to be burnt only to bring everyone to the same conference venue, often, from dozens of countries. To make it feel a little bit more tangible, let's take Kraków's fantastic ICE Congress Centre as an example, where a few thousand people can easily enjoy an industry conference for 2,000+ participants. To understand the impact of the event industry on environment, multiply the figures that come to your mind by the number of major industry conferences held in your city annually, or only those you have heard of or attended personally, last year alone. And then, multiply that by the number of countries that organize major international events. To put things in perspective, every since it was officially inaugurated in 2015, about 250,000 people have attended events held at ICE Kraków Congress Centre alone. 

The future of conferences will likely help the best of the two worlds meet, by (a) making much better use of what the existing technologies (already!) offer, (b) creating higher content-quality expectations for those events that will continue in the on-stage format, and (c) developing new tools, formats and functionalities where creativity, content quality and discipline will be of paramount importance. I wrote a much bigger piece about this topic for a Polish marketing magazine, giving it a somewhat ironic title. For now, let's go back to public-speaking skills and their renewed urgency in the age of online events.

Old habits die hard, even in the new normal

Even though many of us participate in quite a number of online events these days (starting from school and university students, all the way to corporate employees and literally millions of professionals who have been forced into a home-office environment all the way to online event fans), without a shadow of a doubt, even today, in 2020, a lot of active event participants (both occasional and regular) would benefit (greatly!) from even a small dose of tailored public-speaking training. In many instances, great results can be achieved in a very short period of time and with very little effort (awareness raising & explaining fundamentals mostly). The only necessary requirement is: your readiness to accept honest and well-intentioned (albeit often blunt) feedback.

The promise on top

There are, in fact, many reasons why 'now' might be the best time for online public-speaking training.

  1. Money saved, to begin with. Custom-designed, individual online training is much cheaper than a full-day, in-company workshop. Moreover, conducting the training/coaching process online is not as good as in a real-life environment, but the flexibility it offers definitely outweighs the cons that, with the right approach and preparation, will be marginal.
  2. Logistics & Comfort. You can complete the training from the comfort of your home, which is especially helpful when tackling some of the more sensitive areas of your (self-)image and presentations skills. In short, there are things that even the closest of friends will (most likely) not tell you, for valid (friendship preservation ;) reasons, and if you really want to make progress, ignorance will be the worst kind of bliss you could opt for. 
  3. Training efficiency. Both online and on-site public speaking training are preceded by an in-depth diagnosis. In case of the former, a video interview a few days ahead of the training is all that is needed.

Group training or individual public-speaking coaching?

As a rule, group training can be more fun, as participants generally enjoy watching others perform and respond to different improvised scenarios in front of a group (and a camera), however, the process is (much) more effective when carried out in a one-to-one environment. Most importantly, perhaps, chances are your public-speaking coach will be much more inclined to give you unvarnished, blunt feedback when there are no witnesses around (usually your colleagues at work, which makes the experience potentially all the more embarrassing). And yes, sugar-coating criticism will make you feel better about yourself, but will hardly help you achieve great results over a relatively short time, not to mention sharpening your critical public-speaking instincts, which should be at the core of every effective public-speaking programme.

Onstage vs. online conferences

There are many surprising differences between these two, both in terms of the preparation process, the skill priorities and event-specific requirements. These differences apply as much to event facilitators, hosts and debate moderators as to audiences, participants and viewers. As it turns out, many experienced start-up founders, academics and jury members routinely fail to acknowledge these differences; not deliberately, I would imagine, but for lack of imagination and empathy. This, however, is too big a topic to be tackled in a single blog post.

To sum up, when it comes to public-speaking skills, in many instances, great results can be achieved in a very short period of time and with very little effort (awareness raising & explaining fundamentals mostly). The only necessary requirement is: your readiness to accept honest and well-intentioned (albeit often blunt) #feedback and a modicum of willpower to improve.


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