The primary concern of most public speakers is, “what am I going to say?” But how you say what
you’re going to say, and what your body is doing while you are saying it, are just as important.
If you’re doubtful, consider the following statistic. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, did a study stating that there are three elements to any face-to-face communication: words, tone of voice and body language, and we are influenced by these things as follows:
- 7% of our influence comes from the words we say
- 38% from our tonal quality while saying it
- 55% by what our body is doing while we’re saying it
from "Being a Gifted Speaker Isn't a Gift" by Frances Cole Jones (ChangeThis Newsletter)
Tom Hoffman at SVC Tuttle (fairly) recently posted a mini-rant about how most conference presentations "suck" and observes:
There are myriad reasons why, but the bottom line is that it doesn't take a little more effort to go from a meh presentation/conference to a great one. It takes three, four, five times as much effort -- that is assuming that you've got something interesting to say at all.
And over at The Thinking Stick, Jeff Utecht questions "the reason for f2f:"
There is a reason we like going to conferences, there is a reason why students like coming to school (and it’s not to be by oneself), there is a reason we want students in a class. What is that reason?
- What is the reason we gather face to face when content can be found 24/7/365?
- What is the reason when research can be done outside face to face time?
- What is the reason when reading/listening/gathering/analyzing content can be done outside of school?
- What are we doing with face to face time to maximize the learning potential for students?
After a month of conference going and lots o' F2F experience, both as a perp and as a victim, Tom's and Jeff's observations resonated with me. And yes, as Tom suggests, many conference presentations do "suck." But I'm not so sure it really does take five times as much effort to create a good session.
I've made suggestions about improving F2F workshops and improving panel discussions. Maybe it is time to take a whack at those ubiquitous 45-60 minute "concurrent" sessions. What separates the dismal from the delightful?
On a basic level, having a limited topic, sharing new information, resources and practices of practical value, or espousing a challenging POV combined with experiential or academic expertise may seem to be all that is necessary. Of course, preparation helps. I am always amazed by some presentation teams that seem to be working out speaking order and such as attendees file into the room. But these things seem to be basic requirements for effective teaching and can be met through virtual learning experiences as well.
One thing that a conference session - or the conference environment itself - produces is superior peer-to-peer communication. As I remember, studies show that one has a better chance of learning through "lateral learning lines" established by visiting with fellow attendees than one does from the presenter. Yes, back channel communications are making inroads into online teaching, but I somehow find that running chat window more distracting than helpful. Most speakers establish a separate window for group interaction that enhances rather than detracts from the presentation.
But my observation is that the reason F2F is so powerful is simply that passion is easier to convey. A really good concurrent session does not need a smooth delivery, great PowerPoint slides or even radically new information. But it MUST have excitement and enthusiasm. The presenter has to convince me that she/he truly has something important to say. If that happens, I am engaged and learning. And inspiring such passion is awfully hard to do in impersonal media.
Maya Angelou once observed:
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
The "feeling" bit comes through when human beings interact in person. Somehow electonics drain it away.
Hoping F2F is here for a very long time.