Communication: then and now

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.          

– Dale Carnegie 


We celebrated 15 years of 15 Minutes this month with friends and clients.

A lot has changed in a decade and a half in the world of public speaking and media interviews; some truths are constant while others have evolved swiftly.

Back then, Facebook (b. Feb 2004) and LinkedIn (b. May 2003) were just barely beginning to connect any person lucky enough to have a big chunky computer at work or home while Twitter would not flit onto the scene till 2006. No one had smartphones.

Think about that. Personal branding, messaging and the ability to share expertise with a wider public was tough and usually meant you had to get past some gatekeepers. If you were an expert in your field or an author, you had to score an interview in a print or broadcast interview. True, blogs were starting to sprout up as a form of self-expression, and some media clips began to reside on the internet, but nothing compared to today.

As communications specialists, we have spent 15 years watching media trends, public speaking evolution, interviewing techniques and presentation styles, and here are a few things we notice:

— Very few public discussions disappear into the ether anymore. It used to be that a panel discussion or even an on-camera interview would be seen once, and likely not be captured for long-term consumption. The word “viral” was limited to health matters. Now, everything from company videos to panel discussions have a very long shelf life and — for better or worse — are easy to Google (another term barely a verb 15 years ago).

— Media interviews are expected to be short, tight and powerful. The length of the soundbite has shrunk — as has patience for anyone who speaks without making a salient point.

— Audiences are less forgiving. With so many savvy people speaking on camera with aplomb and skill, those who do not prepare thoroughly appear sloppy and amateurish. Audiences scrutinize looks to a different degree today, too: it used to be that on television, whatever you were wearing from the waist down didn’t really matter. Now, there are sometimes three cameras on most news sets moving, panning and swooping — now, you have to expect that viewers will get a glimpse of your socks if you are being interviewed. Oh, and if you agree to have the BBC interview you in your home office via Skype, shut that door first! Viewers expect all television to look like professional television.

— Live stage events have a fresh new value. You may be connected to 500+ people on LinkedIn, but how often do you get to shake their hand or pat them on the back? The in-person experience is seeing a renaissance, which is why sponsors are jumping to slap their branding on events featuring well-known speakers. Seemingly paradoxically, people will take time out of their busy schedules to sit in the crowd at a panel discussion on a well-lit stage, simply to pick up the vibe in the room, and for the chance to meet like-minded people in the flesh.

— You get to be your own producer without having to land a network interview. Taking part in live events puts you in control of your messaging and tone, as well as your own public relations. You can create your image on what looks like real television and share your performance with the audience of your choice after the fact. We work with communicators to master Facebook Live, complete with guest interviews, taking live questions, keeping pacing steady and engaging and sticking to time limitations– now that’s the closest thing to producing a live television broadcast that any non-broadcaster can expect.

— Podcasts. Never before has such a wide-reaching niche-based platform existed. Where, 15 years ago, could you speak for up to an hour on one given subject, knowing that your audience was hanging on your every word? After all, podcasts listeners don’t tune in half-heartedly — they have identified a podcast because it relates specifically to their interest. They target content like the Dewey Decimal System: they’re here for a reason, and they are willing to listen to very specialized content. Podcasts don’t necessarily have to please a wide audience like radio does.

One thing that has not changed? Communication skills that are easily adaptable: strong, convincing orators shine no matter the size of the audience. With confidence and clear goals, practicing your messaging will reap rewards in the boardroom, at staff meetings when addressing a crowd, or chatting at a cocktail party. Let’s check in another 15 years from now to see whether that fact still holds true.