Has COVID-19 Changed Public Speaking? An Honest Discussion
When COVID-19 first arrived at our doorstep, the priority in everyone’s mind was whether they can continue their day-to-day routine. As we grew comfortable with how our main activities have changed (mask-wearing, anyone?), we started to see the tensions in how COVID-19 has changed our comfortable habits. As communicators, COVID-19 represented an opportunity to adopt a fresh lens on how soft skills such as public speaking are practised.
We have discussed the specific impact of COVID-19 on public speaking settings, such as modifying our existing communication habits for an online setting. The mid-point of 2021 serves us another chance to re-visit the topic and explore whether (and how) public speaking has changed in COVID-19. Are we really moving into a virtual stage in the long run? If so, how can we connect with our audience in the same manner?
Today, we will consolidate and explore how public speaking has changed (or not!) with COVID-19, drawing from our training experience with our clients.
The “Obvious” Change
The consistent change that has persisted since the COVID-19 situation is the constant refrain that the virtual stage is, simply put, not enough. For example, one learner was lamenting the difficulties in conducting online interviews (as an interviewer) in selecting and onboarding a candidate over an online platform. While challenging, this was an “obvious” change that was bound to happen with the physical element made impossible.
That said, were there any other changes? We believe that COVID-19 has changed three other aspects of communication. First, there is now a premium on physical interaction – meeting or speaking to someone face-to-face stands out as a sincere gesture. Some even take the view that certain event types “cannot go virtual”! (Source: Why diplomatic events like the Shangri-La Dialogue cannot go virtual). Second, the storyboarding process takes a higher relevance now – speeches, presentations, or training sessions are no longer an off-the-cuff event. A 1-hour online session will be different from a 1-hour face-to-face session – what will you change for the former? Third, re-definition is now the name of the game. Instead of sticking to the same habits/activities, we need to return to the drawing board and create something more versatile!
*** Certain events saying to Zoom: “This is a bridge too far…*sobs*” ***
The “New” Normal
Let’s move on to tackle one of the biggest buzz phrases during this period – the “new normal”. The phrase hints at a new routine or habit that is unlikely to change soon. Beyond being “new”, the allusion to normality also suggests that the routine would be acceptable to the larger audience (e.g., food delivery, mask-wearing).
With that starting point, it may seem that online speeches, presentations, or public speaking have not reached a “new” normal yet. The perception still appears that a soft skill, such as public speaking, can only be taught face-to-face. Online or virtual training is nothing more than an interim, albeit uncomfortable, alternative. Most of our learners continue to look forward to physical classes and interaction. As we grow as communicators, the challenge is not to remain comfortable with the hope that the virtual stage is temporary – the challenge is to evolve and find a way to replicate that same experience in a virtual setting!
The Way Forward
On that hopeful note, the way forward is paved with huge potential! Instead of wallowing in a doubtful or uncertain state, communicators and public speakers can start exploring the exciting future ahead. Organisations are already exploring the new realm of “virtual events” and how to make them a pleasing experience from the comfort of their homes. We can continue expanding on this by exploring how traditional concepts, such as body language or stage presence, can be redefined on the virtual stage.
While we are no time-travellers, here are 3 possible exciting areas to look forward to! First, speeches or presentations may soon be a dominantly two-way setting. The speaker and audience play rotating roles as contributors in the discussion. Second, a multi-sensory approach can be a “new” normal, with experiences that engage all the senses (e.g., a Zoom cooking class with the ingredients shipped to your doorstep and the teaching done with live practice). Third, the growth of technological tools can help provide more value to your audience (mobile applications focussed on providing feedback or facilitating coaching sessions).
Let’s Continue to Communicate!
COVID-19 was a difficult transition, and we are still finding our way as communicators through this new, uncertain stage. That said, the pandemic has allowed us to take a pause, reflect on the changes, and pursue a revolutionary path forward in communication. How will you change your speaking experience for the audience? We hope that our sharing today will help you in that process!
Here’s how we at the Public Speaking Academy are adapting: WATCH “When Training/ Education Taps On Tech To Meet Challenges of COVID Pandemic”:
By The Way…
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Feel free to reach out to us to curate your own public speaking corporate training programme for your team, company, or organization! Let us help you develop them into highly effective public speakers at work, empowered with effective presentation skills & storytelling skills – them giving speeches with charisma, influence and impact is something you can look forward to!
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