Three things that public speaking and online engagement have in common

It always amazes me the number of folks who have impressive and commanding social presences online who admit a fear of public speaking.  In response to those facing these challenges, I started to think about things that an engaging online and public speaking have in common. Here are  some highlights of what to keep in mind.  

1. “Play to the crowd”: 
Whether you are interacting with a community online or engaging with a real-life audience, you have to meet your people where they are.  For example, when I am teaching college students I have to make sure that I am presenting new information in a clear and understandable way that is suitable to their level of knowledge and experience on the subject, which differs from me as a subject matter expert.  I have many friends who are DJs and work in music, and they frequently talk about how to reach the crowd through their art; a common theme of these conversations using a medium to create an experience and to bring the crowd to a certain place. In many ways, this is no different than what many of us seek to achieve through our online and public speaking presence.  With engaging online, a goal might be to become established as an influencer or thought leader, or perhaps just using the tools to promote your brand or services. With presenting, you are often sought to present based on expertise, so you are able to claim authority and ownership over your knowledge and experience. A common goal between the two is the ability to achieve shared meaning and understanding with the people in your network (i.e. “your crowd”) so by being authentic, proving value, sharing knowledge, and building relationships both online and offline you are better poised to make this happen. 

2. Keep it conversational: 
Another common thing that I hear, especially about public speaking, is that people who have no problem facilitating a conversation in a small group or talking in front of a team of peers, but as soon as they hit the front of the room their energy changes.  Like you have to meet your people where they are, it is important that you maintain a conversational presence when you take the stage. Yes, you should be prepared, have a well-informed and well-organized message, and use a more formal tone and language (depending on the audience), but you should approach the speaking engagement as if it is nothing more than an enlarged conversation.  Conversational tone can make all the difference between a stiff, underwhelming presentation, and engaging interactive, dynamic delivery that your audience enjoys and benefits from. The same philosophy applies to creating an engaging online presence. If you are conversational in the way you present online, you are typically perceived in a more credible way than when you are inauthentic or force yourself into a delivery style that is not genuinely yours.   

3. Be confident in what you know (and transparent about what you don’t):
We are under a lot of pressure, especially on social media, to appear like we have it all.  This is unrealistic and breeds unhealthy expectations within our relationships and of ourselves.  It is important as we build ourselves up professionally and personally that we take ownership over what we know and remain open to what to what we don’t.  Use these knowledge gaps as opportunities to learn and possibly collaborate with others in your network. Don’t shy away from questions, online or when presenting, because these inquiries can inspire new opportunities for you. There is no problem with admitting that you do not have information in response to their question at this time, but you should always invite the opportunity to connect and follow up based on what is presented to you.

About the Author:
Margaret C. Stewart, SMS, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Florida (UNF) where she teaches courses in communication theory, professional public speaking, mediated communication, and strategic social media in the School of Communication.  She is also a certified Social Media Strategist (SMS) and trainer through the National Institute for Social Media (NISM) and a consultant for Socially Inspired, LLC. She offers training and coaching on social listening, social media for crisis management, public speaking, interview training, and communication in leadership. Margaret is passionate about sharing her knowledge with students, practitioners, and fellow educators, and is committed to providing training that is engaging, valuable, and empowering.  Contact: [email protected]