Master the arts of creating and performing talks

Video Instruction? Don’t do it. Unless…

Why are training videos so hard to watch? You know that after about 90 seconds, viewers are thinking of clicking on something else–football scores, goulash recipes, amusing cat videos–anything. Now in the pandemic world, many, many more videos and podcasts are being created. The amount of hard-to-watch stuff is expanding enormously.

Think of video micro-lessons idea. It was becoming common in the Before Times. “Wow!  You can make a video?  Then you can post it on that Internet place? That is so amazing!! Why I bet these millennials will just love that sort of thing. They love their computers and smart phones and I just know they will love watching us on those little screens!” The interest in online learning was growing. There were questions: Does it put trainees in charge of their own learning?  Is it more appropriate for new employees? Do trainees retain as much? I won’t answer those questions here. I am interested in another issue.

When the pandemic hit, there was no longer a choice. All travel suspended. All in-person training canceled. Everything had to move to Zoom, Webex, and whatever tool your company uses. It was no longer “Should we try this?” but rather “We have no choice.” Which brought us to a sad truth: most of us aren’t that good at online presentation.

That is a rough statement, perhaps even rude. But think about this: actors get paid well for a reason. They can do something that few people can do—they can be very impressive on a screen. Very, very few of us can command attention in a digital format. All media (radio, TV, podcast, webinar) require much more than in-person communication requires. When you digitize a live presentation, the nature of the small screen/small speaker makes a great presentation seem good; a good presentation seem blah; a blah presentation seem dreadfully boring. Who in your company has the chops to pull off digital presenting? Way less than you think. One out of twenty? One out of fifty?

And think about this: editors and special effects and foley artists and soundtrack people get paid well for a reason. They can do things that few people can do—they can enhance a presentation. No one wants to watch a trainer talk for an hour. Five minutes is pushing it. No one wants to listen to ten minutes of looped jingles added to your podcast from GarageBand as a soundtrack. No one wants to watch a Camtasia screen capture. No one wants to see or hear a podcast with weak verbal communicators. It is cruel to ask trainees and employees to watch some of the things being created, and when companies switch to digital instruction, forcing their employees to go home and spend an evening watching the junk created is beyond the bounds of reasonable. You go watch some the stuff out there and see how you like it.

I started out teaching students how to be better oral communicators. Now my work is with adults. Companies, schools, and universities are contacting me not to show others how to teach oral communication, but to show the managers, trainers, and educators how to be better communicators themselves. These institutions realize that to be effective educators, all adults need to be more effective speakers. They realize that in an era where digital media showcase oral communication skills, everyone needs to seriously improve those skills before attempting to use the new communication tools available. They know that before you use a tool designed to showcase oral communication, you better have oral communication skills worth showcasing.

At some point, this crisis will be over and we can meet people face-to-face. Then we’ll continue the discussion about whether we should change to virtual instruction for all time. I think the idea that online instruction is the key to all future learning will wane, and we will realize the digital lessons are not a magical cure for an organization’s problems. Maybe I am wrong. I know I am not wrong about this, though: Don’t even think of heading down that road unless you first absolutely master oral communication. Yes, online meeting tools, webinar presenting tools, and podcast creation tools are accessible to all and can be wow-inspiring, but to pull it off, your speaking needs to be wow-inspiring also. Start there.