Speaking Online: Public Speaking in the Social Media Age

Social Media is defined by Merriam-Webster as forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content. Of course “social media” existed prior to 2004 when the term was first used. In its current form however, just eight years old, it has revolutionised communication. Social media is changing the dynamics of public speaking. No longer are speeches one way forms of communication. People are interacting and engaging even while the presenter is on stage.

There are a myriad of social media networks and technologies in Trinidad & Tobago, the most widely used are Facebook (473, 460 users)1 and the Blackberry BBM Instant Messenger application (2)(3). The launch of 4G wireless networks and business conferences held in the last twelve months suggest that social media usage will increase over time.

What can you do as a speaker to prepare and confidently deliver your messages given this environment? Here’s a list of tips and tactics:
Know your audience: Find out beforehand from the organisers how integral a role social media will play at the event. Get familiar with what is expected of you during your presentation. Clarify if there will be a social media stream (called the Backchannel) and inform the technician of your keynotes as this should influence the types of posts displayed.
Structure your speech for social media: Ensure the sentence structure of your key points allows for tweetable quotes (i.e. say it in less than 140 characters)
Social media breaks: If the presentation is a longer one, give the audience an activity to do, this break also allows the more social listeners the time to post / tweet. After the break, use posts with your hashtag to summarise and clarify details before you move on.

Even after preparing ahead of time, there are still challenges speaking to an audience that is “online”:
Challenge 1: Losing the Audience
As toastmasters we are learning about structuring speeches that engage the listener. It can be disheartening to look into your audience and find it hard to make eye contact with anyone in the front row because they are all on mobile devices.
Social Media Age Perspective: Discussion is going on. Tweeting/posting is a form of engagement with your crowd. If people are not tweeting etc. you probably are not connecting with the audience. Provide your twitter handle and a hashtag for your presentation before you begin so you and others can review the comments and dialogue after the presentation.
Social Media Perspective: Don’t insist on the suspension of all mobile use while you speak (especially if the audience is a tech savvy one). Tablet users may be making notes just as people do on notepads.
Challenge 2: Negative Posts
Toastmasters are trained to receive evaluation. Our community is predicated on being mutually supportive and fostering a positive learning environment. How do you deal with negative tweets/posts directed at your speech?
Social Media Perspective: Be an authority on what you are going to speak about and get your facts straight. Always remember that in the age of smartphones people can verify information presented to them instantly. Most disparaging comments tweeted are challenging the content of the presentation. Some people tweet comments due to a fear of speaking up (In which case tweet them an invee to a Toastmasters meeting ^_^) Tweeting gives otherwise comment-hesitant persons the opportunity to add value to the discussion.

How to incorporate Social Media at a Club meeting:

  • Include twitter handles on the Meeting Agenda. Include the Toastmaster of the Day and main speakers.
  • Create a hashtag for the Word of the Day and theme of the meeting. Table Topics can also have a hashtag but only divulge this at the start of that session.
  • Hold a Social Media Themed Club Meeting: Use a projector to show the Backchannel. This will give speakers practice speaking in a situation where social media is integrated with the live presentations such as a conference.
  • While this post used Twitter to illustrate the application of social media to public speaking, keep in mind that Facebook and Blackberry BBM instant messaging are the more prolific social media networks in Trinidad & Tobago (July 2012). The same strategies and tactics apply.

    All the great leaders in history spoke; and their messages spread. In the Social Media Age ideas spread across the globe at the speed of a click. As T&T enters the 4G era of cellphones and smart devices prepare yourself as a toastmaster to deliver speeches and presentations with confidence and grace.

    1. http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/trinidad-and-tobago
    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackBerry
    3. http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2012-03-25/buyers-choose-trend-over utility%E2%80%94analyst

    Join the discussion! Have you ever presented to a group where social media was actively being used? Post in the comments below.

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