Between TED talks, the wild popularity of PechaKucha and the multi-million-view results for such videos as Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford, there’s good reason to think we should be entering a new Golden Age of Public Speaking.
(That’s as opposed to what it would replace, the PowerPoint Age, which probably isn’t so much golden as some alloy of tin, plutonium and urinal pucks.)
Yet awful presentations still seem to be alive and well (if “well” is the word), including in the tech sphere. And there’s a beast I’ve noticed emerging: the really well-delivered godawful speech.
The speaker engages! Makes eye contact! Moves purposefully about the stage! Projects themselves throughout the room! And powerfully, magnificently presents bad, bad content: a laundry list of features or cases. Vague generalities about the obvious. Meandering anecdotes that never really lead to a point.
Maybe it’s because people have learned the wrong lessons from the best TED videos (“Ooooh! It works because she paces across the stage!“). Or they’ve spent all their time trimming the words from their slide decks and replacing them with compelling iStockPhoto images, without asking what message those slide decks are trying to get across.
Great speeches and presentations work because they’re focused on a single message, because they connect with their audience at an emotional as well as an intellectual level, and because they couple dramatic narrative with surprise. If enough of us can hit those marks — even if our delivery is just north of adequate — we’ll be well on our way to that golden age.