Like many people, I’m addicted to my smartphone and all the incredible things it can do. However, as a communicator and public speaker, I’ve seen firsthand how this great technological advance has impacted peoples’ ability to communicate in person. It’s now much easier to deliver stories from behind a shiny device than to stand up in public and present your point of view. And, for those who’d rather face death than face an audience, public speaking has become a lot scarier.
I was one of those people. I had a massive fear of public speaking and, ironically, I was just launching a career in public relations. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) pointed out how it was an unfortunate career choice when public speaking would play such a significant role. Thanks.
Instead of hiding, I decided to join Toastmasters though and tackle the problem head on. It was a great chapter that met on Tuesday mornings in downtown San Diego. This was 30 years ago and some of the people in that group are still friends of mine today. We were all just starting out in our careers and recognizing the importance that public speaking would play. I gradually overcame the fear and recognized that I enjoyed speaking. I started to do it competitively, and ultimately became president of the local Toastmasters chapter.
As my career evolved, I realized I could take the skills I had learned and help others who were uncomfortable speaking. At Allison+Partners, I’ve had the opportunity to work with colleagues to assist many CEOs, filmmakers, marketing executives and even high-school students with their presentation skills. I know we’ve made a material difference in helping them find their voice, build authenticity and over-come roadblocks. I’m proud of the impact we may have made when I see people like filmmaker Peter Ramsey, who we media trained when he directed “Rise of the Guardians,” give a compelling speech after winning a Golden Globe Award last month.
At the end of the day, technology cannot replace or even enhance one’s ability to give a powerful in-person presentation. Sometimes you must stand and deliver, and I worry the frenzy on digital and mobile platforms is detracting from building human interaction skills. I’m grateful for the time I’ve invested on my public speaking skills and I believe what I learned was essential to advancing my career, and is also important for others. Technology is amazing, but not everything can be disrupted. People spend a lot of time focused on their “personal brand” which is largely focused online. But how about the real brand … the brand people see when you stand up and speak?
Many, many people are still terrified of public speaking and most are doing nothing to improve these skills. However, at some point in time, almost everyone will need to stand up and deliver a presentation to colleagues, a sales target or group they’re involved with. Their mobile won’t be there to save them.
Scott Allison is the chairman and CEO of Allison+Partners