6 surprising lessons social media teaches speakers

The two communication channels have more in common than you may think.


In my blog post, “Tweet like you mean it,” I equated Twitter with public speaking. Last week, at Montecito Bank & Trust‘s B2B social media event, several speakers reinforced my belief that effective social media use applies to public speaking.

On Twitter, your audience consists of followers. On Facebook they’re called friends, fans or likes. And on LinkedIn, they’re your connections. Whichever social media platform you use, you have an audience. How you interact with them is critical if you want to grow relationships and build your business.

First up was keynoter Peter Shankman, PR and social media expert, author, entrepreneur and founder of HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Here are some of his social media tips that sound a lot like public speaking advice.

1. Having an audience is a privilege, not a right.

You need your audience as much as they need you. In your social media role, don’t abuse the privilege of having a group of ready listeners and readers by bombarding them with spam, commercials, or other one-way communication that doesn’t encourage interaction.

In your public speaking role, this equates to lots of selling, self-promotion, or talking too much about your own credentials and brilliance and not enough about what your audience needs, wants and cares about.

2. Own it when you screw up.

Shankman talked about being honest and forthright about your mistakes. He contrasted two politicians caught up in sex scandals and how one came forth and acknowledged his mistake, resigned and went away with perhaps a shred of dignity. The other denied his participation until there was too much evidence to deny, and went out in disgrace as a pervert, cheater and liar.

In a public speaking situation, can you admit when you’re wrong? Can you suck it up and apologize if you mess up? If you say something offensive or insensitive, can you read your audience, understand and acknowledge their displeasure or disappointment, and move on? You will earn the respect of your audience if you do, and their disdain if you don’t.

3. Bad writing sucks.

How you express yourself in social media is through writing. You don’t have the luxury of facial expressions and body language to enhance your tweets and status updates. Writing skills are important if you want to come across as a professional, articulate expert in your field.

As a speaker, you have more tools at your disposal, but the skeleton and structure of your presentation is still a result of writing. Bad writing can kill a presentation as much as poor delivery. Shankman’s point was partly that social media users need to learn how to write, but also that “Good writing is brevity… brevity is social media.” You will hear the same request from audience after audience (they won’t say it out loud, but they’re thinking it): don’t waste my time.

After Peter Shankman spoke, there was a panel of social media experts: Lynda Weinman from Lynda.com, Shawn Mulchay from Socialmash Media, and Nicki Gauthier from Web Marketing Therapy and UCSB Extension. The panel also made some excellent points that translate to public speaking.

4. Get out of your comfort zone.

I don’t remember which panelist said this, but it’s safe to say there was agreement across the board. As Ronny Cammareri says in “Moonstruck,” “Playing it safe is just about the most dangerous thing a woman like you could do.”

Maybe playing it safe isn’t exactly dangerous, but it’s not going to get you anywhere. If you want to stand out from the crowd and attract followers, fans and clients, you need to take risks.

What kind of risks?

Try something new that you’ve never done before. Do something that scares you. Incorporate some mild self-deprecating humor into your presentation. Sing a song, bring a silly prop, tell a startling personal story. Give something away for free and don’t expect anything in return. Be courageous. Speak from the heart. Push boundaries. Let go of inhibitions and have fun!

5. Control your voice and your brand.

This comment came from Gauthier, and stood out to me as a critical requirement of both social media and public speaking presence. Who are you? Do you know? What differentiates you from other speakers? You can’t always control how your followers, fans and audiences perceive you, but you can do a lot to take control of the situation.

Make your intentions clear when you use social media and as a speaker. Do you have a strong message, personality, style, look, and point of view? And I don’t just mean you, in person, in front of an audience; I mean your website, blog, Facebook page, business cards, voicemail message, media interviews, status updates and tweets. Your public persona should match your Web, personal, and paper personas.

6. Have fun… be human

This comment came from Mulchay, but was echoed by all the presenters. You’ll lose any trust you’ve built up with your audience if you pretend to be someone you’re not.

Don’t do or say things to be popular or to get brownie points; do and say them because they are meaningful to you and your audience. Be honest, authentic, and don’t be afraid to show your followers, fans and audiences who you are. You will be rewarded with true, real-world friendships.

Lisa Braithwaite is a public speaking coach and blogs at Speak Schmeak, where a version of this post originally appeared.

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