Friday, August 27, 2010

Are we in the third era of presenting? Yes, we indeed are!

In her Speaking About Presenting blog on August 12, 2010 Olivia Mitchell asked Are You Ready for the Third Era in Presenting? She identified three distinct eras:

1. Era of the Orator (ancient times to 1990s)
2. Era of the Slide (1990s to the future)
3. Era of the Audience (2000s to the future)

I agree with Olivia that we are definitely in the third era. However, I think things actually began to change much earlier, perhaps around World War I.

One of her critics, David Murray claimed that:

“One of the beautiful things about oral communication is that it resists technological intervention.”

That clearly is utter nonsense. What audiences expect for both length and style has changed repeatedly as a result of technology, as illustrated in my yellow graphic.

First, consider presentation aids. For millennia there was no amplification, so we were in the Stentorian era. When public address systems were introduced early in the 20th century it became possible to speak softly, whether or not you also carried a big stick. Also, the theatrical gestures employed by speakers became less necessary. More recently the presence of live video presented on huge screens gave a stadium-sized audience a close-up view of any gestures.

Second, consider the reusable media a speaker can easily use to add his own material. Two centuries ago all we had was blackboards. More recently we have both audio and video recording. What you have heard or seen can now be saved and passed on.

Third, consider the broadcast media for spreading a presentation instantaneously. Radio, and then television have forever changed the reach of a presentation.

Fourth, consider the recorded mass media for delivering and commenting on a presentation. Newspapers and magazines can describe a text, but miss the nuances a record or a sound film can reveal. Emmylou Harris once said that:

"Talking about songwriting is like doing card tricks on the radio."

Reading a transcript of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a pale shadow of what a sound film will show you.

Today on his Public Words blog Nick Morgan lamented the disconnect between old styles and current reality when he discussed Public speaking and the audience: we’ve got a problem.

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