LIVE GUEST SPEAKERS and trainers have long been a valuable component to direct selling industry events. More companies are making their C-level corporate leaders accessible to the field through live videos, weekly training and updates. As more in-person events such as annual conventions, training and business presentations resume, virtual events still have their place. Many companies are re-evaluating the positives and negatives of utilizing live vs. virtual speakers. Likewise, professional speakers are reassessing their strengths, weaknesses, and overall strategy as they navigate in-person and virtual opportunities.
Saana Azzam, a professional public speaker and founder of the coaching program MENA Speakers, told Fortune magazine, “Those who have had long careers speaking onstage were not necessarily good at speaking virtually. And rookies, who were very tech-savvy, all of a sudden did great in a virtual format. Even people with a fear of public speaking do well.”
Positives of Virtual Speaking
Depending on the platform, virtual allows you to reach a larger audience. The audience doesn’t have to travel and typically can access the virtual event from anywhere and with multiple devices. Virtual events can incorporate audience participation such as feedback, a live Q&A or real-time action steps. Connecting with an audience requires slightly different strategies. For example, since there’s no stage, virtual speakers find that facial expressions are much more important, and projecting their voice isn’t necessary. Not having a live audience requires a different way to be energetic and engaging than on stage.
Negatives of Virtual Speaking
Speakers in virtual events can feel like the audience is “out there somewhere.” Reading a live audience and harnessing the energy of the atmosphere is a major benefit of in-person events. Laughs, cheers, and physical participation are absent from the virtual. The audience’s experience greatly changes as well, typically only seeing the speaker’s upper body as opposed to experiencing stage presence and body language. Since the audience typically has an up-close view of the speaker’s face, eye contact is even more important. A more communicative dialogue can be more effective and personal than delivering a prepared speech.
Authenticity and unique personality are key in virtual experiences. As Azzam adds in the Fortune article, “Today’s most powerful speakers are authentic and approachable, sharing knowledge with a laid-back, conversational approach that makes the audience feel like their friends.”
Public Speaking Challenges for 2022
LinkedIn recently published its top six public speaking challenges for 2022. Here’s a summary of what was covered:
1/ Participant attention levels are decreasing
This is due to the overwhelming amount of digital information, especially since the rise of post-pandemic digital meetings. “Nature has not designed us to deal with this volume and this way of communicating,” the post mentions. More frequency of virtual meetings doesn’t equate to more effectiveness.
2/ More spectators in virtual conferences
Virtual events allow the audience to be less engaged, sometimes to the point of turning their camera and microphone off or just walking away for a while. An Intercall study in 2020 showed that more than 65 percent of participants in online events do something else such as check emails, browse social media or even participate in another conversation.
3/ Professional speakers adjust to silence
While most people fear public speaking, professionals thrive on the energy of a live audience. The silence of virtual conferences can take speakers out of their comfort zone, and they may need to adjust their content and delivery strategy.
4/ Loss of motivation and support
Because of the silence of virtual events, speakers can be left guessing if their message is connecting with the audience. A benefit of live audiences is real-time testing of the message. This can cause some speakers to lose motivation to adjust their delivery or overuse voice inflection and gestures.
5/ Learning curve for technical concerns
Speakers typically don’t have to worry about the technical production of live events, but virtual events require a few concerns. Video quality and positioning, lighting, microphone quality, background noise, Internet connection and—of course—that pesky mute button can cause problems.
6/ Keeping audience interest
Communication styles might need to adjust in a virtual setting. Offering too much information in a monologue-style delivery can bore audiences. Speakers must interact differently than they would with a live crowd. Asking them to type a number or word in the chat or comment section can help keep them engaged. Briefly bringing audience members on camera can also help to maintain engagement.