Why public speaking is moving into a new, participatory era

My, how times have changed. Edward Everett spoke for two hours at Gettysburg, Lincoln for only three minutes. Everett was considered to have given the better speech. But sadly, neither man asked for audience questions. . .

There have been three distinct eras of public speaking and presenting. They are all still present today, but at different levels of maturity. The third era—the era of the audience—is going to be challenging for most presenters and public speakers. It requires a new attitude.

But first let’s review the first two eras of presenting and public speaking.

The era of the orator

Heyday: From ancient times to 1990s.

In this era, every speech is a performance. Each sentence is carefully crafted, and the speech taps into a vast repertoire of rhetorical techniques. I first learnt public speaking in Toastmasters, and I learnt to speak this way—paying attention to my words, my vocal variety and body language. In one of my first posts on this blog, I described how I had to unlearn this style of presenting so that I could connect better with the audience.

Politicians and other public figures such as Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and now Barack Obama are classic examples of orators.

The era of the slide

Heyday: From 1990s to the future

The era of the slide began in the 1960s with the projection of 35mm slides on a slide carousel, but it didn’t take off until PowerPoint came on the scene. The era of the slide still has a way to go before maturity:

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