When in-person presentations come back, let's not get back to normal.
In-person presentations all but disappeared as the pandemic took hold in March of 2020. Since then, we deliver virtually all of our presentations...well...virtually. We can debate how well we've adapted, but I think we'd all agree that we've lost something in the videoconferencing realm – a visceral part of human communication that can only be experienced when we are in one another's physical presence.
In the U.S., the first COVID vaccines were recently administered. It's a hopeful step toward getting back to in-person events and the natural human connection only they can provide. But let's be honest; the in-person presentations we were delivering before the pandemic were not all that conducive to human connection.
The normal in-person presentation is mechanical and distant.
How many times have you heard this phrase over the last year? It's a frequent reminder that the videoconferencing realm is a mechanical one and that those mechanics take a toll on our minds; Zoom fatigue is real.
Now, recall a typical in-person, business-conference presentation. Big glowing screen. Often dense and wordy slides. There's a sort of mental fatigue, similar to that of Zoom fatigue, that sets in as listeners strain to process wordy slide content while also trying to listen to spoken words. Even when the slides are more "visual", the listeners' attention is constantly pulled away from the speaker who is not just talking with words but with facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and movement – the ever-present, digital display competing with the human element.
And then there is the artificial nature of the speaker's scripted delivery. The speaker engages in a type of performance, trying to appear to be speaking extemporaneously while clinging to the rails they laid out with their slide progression. The listeners remain in the present while the speaker is stuck in the past and in their head trying to recall what they had rehearsed and what slide comes next. The speaker talks to the room (and often to the screen) while many listeners are daydreaming or on their phones – not all that different from the disengagement many of us are sensing in the videoconferencing realm.
Where do we go from here?
I have a vivid vision of where I think in-person presentations should be. The big picture includes:
the replacement of our write-and-recite approach to presentations with an approach based on our natural conversational design for talking and listening.
the replacement of the notion that public speaking is its own skill set with the realization that it is simply a subset of the skill of speaking to others.
What all this comes down to is being more human and connected in how we think about and do presentations. And, the truth is, we don't have to wait until in-person presentations come back. The three big ideas above apply to virtual presentations as well in-person ones.
What's the first step? If you haven't already done so, join the Presentation Warrior Community. If you are already a member, rededicate yourself to the mission and make your next presentation different. Better.