Public Speaking Through the Ages (Part 2)

Published on 07.14.2021

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Follow Winning Feathers’ blogger Allison Hartzler as she takes us through a two-part short history of public speaking through the ages. This part focuses mostly on modern speaking and how technology makes it possible to follow a speech from anywhere.

***

On January 20th, 33.8 million of us watched the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. We saw the field of 200,000 flags, representing those who lost their lives to COVID-19. We listened to Amanda Gorman recite her poem, “The Hill We Climb.” We heard Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez sing classic American ballads.

Yet, how many of us were actually in the audience sitting in the socially distanced rows of seats across from the Capitol? I’m guessing very few. If you’re like me, you were sitting in your pjs on the couch with your laptop, phone, or TV in front of you, casually sipping coffee and maybe crying a little over Bernie’s adorable mittens.

Still, nobody would give a second thought over whether or not the speeches delivered that day were true or authentic.

***

Last week, we covered the history of public speaking and how the driving force behind this new artform was democracy. Men in robes would stand in trials, over court, even on street corners, advocating the voice for the people and the need for change.

While live speeches are still quite prevalent today, virtual interactions are arguably much more common and even sought after. TED Talks, virtual press conferences, and digital town halls are great examples of how public speaking has adapted and conformed to today’s needs.

Primarily, there is still an audience which the speaker is presenting to. The speaker sees them react and is able to engage with them. However, as many TED Talks that I’ve seen, never once have I experienced one in-person. I have the ability to take in their message from the comfort of my home. I also have the ability to rewind and watch it again.

Before our world went online, audience members had one chance to hear the message and take in whatever information they could during that time. Now, with platforms like YouTube and Tiktok, we have the ability to pause and rewind; swipe and start-over. This gives much more power to the audience and, arguably, more pressure on the speaker. If a speaker makes a mistake, that mistake will be recorded and set in stone for the world to see over and over again.

On the flip side, because of our new virtual world, there doesn’t even have to be an audience present when delivering a speech. According to this study by the Washington Post, public speaking ranks above death in greatest fears. The idea of crowds giving you their sole attention can be terrifying. Luckily, with programs like Skype and Zoom, you could give a speech to thousands of people from the comfort of your living room without ever having to see them. 

Besides providing greater comfort and ease for speakers and listeners, public speaking in today’s climate allows a much farther reach as well as a longer life span. 

When activists like Greta Thunburg gave her speech at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in 2019, she was not only speaking to her live audience, but also to the thousands of others who will be sent or find links to her speech. Her speech has a much longer life and reach when compared to the Sophists back in Ancient Greece. 

Modern day public speaking is also a great way to get your information out as quickly as possible.

***

Earlier this year, we witnessed an insurrection at the U.S Capitol. Even between the ongoing pandemic and continuing racial justice protests, this was major news. The insurrection lasted a few hours and for the entirety, news outlets were sending live updates to spectators around the world.

Consider, for a moment, if this had happened in the early 1900s. Instead of listening to live updates from BBC or CBS, most of us would be ignorant until the papers reported on it the next day. 

The invention of film and the internet had many amazing impacts on our lives. One of the most influential was the ability to send and receive information around the world at a moment’s notice. 

Especially in today’s climate when racial justice and human rights are being brought to the forefront of our minds, speakers like Malala Yousafzai and Angela Davis have such a large platform to get their message across.

While the presentation and overall reach of the message has drastically changed over time, the skills involved in public speaking remain the same as they did back in ancient Greece. Eye contact, clarity, and delivery are still key when delivering a good speech, whether that’s to a live audience, or your laptop camera. 

Public Speaking Through the Ages (Part 2)

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