In the everyday world, speaking is speaking, is speaking. We open our mouth and we talk. Our friends understand us, the person at the till knows what we want to buy. We may subtly shift our accent or change our vocabulary in given environments, but we tend not to think too deeply about the actual mechanics of talking.
When it comes to speaking in public, however, we have to consider very carefully how we speak, to whom – and how. A keynote address requires a very different tone, and therefore different techniques, to an internal pitch situation in a small room. Understanding how to speak in different contexts is a key skill for any speaker to develop over time.
This has become more and more true as technology has changed. Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a microphone. That meant that speakers were only as good as their projection, and that voices tended towards the “stagey” as a result. The introduction of the microphone enabled speakers to adopt a more natural tone even in a very large room.
The camera is perhaps second only to the microphone in its effect on public speaking. Sometimes, of course, cameras merely record a speech that is happening anyway – think TED Talks. In other words, there is a speaker, a stage and an audience … and the camera simply, records what happens.
As technology has developed, however, cameras have become more integral to the process of delivery. Speeches are now often made to camera, with no audience in the room with the speaker. Just as introducing the microphone into the town hall changed the way speakers delivered their content, so does the camera alter the character of making a speech.
The camera adds the impression of intimacy. Delivering to camera is a tricky skill, but with practice speakers can look directly down the lens – in other words, straight at the person watching the video.
You need to think about this if you take the direct-to-camera route: how can you look at the lens without seeming too intense? How can you break contact with the viewer without seeming nervous or aloof? Do you want to use an autocue to help keep you on track, or will that make you too formal?
Equally, the sense of intimacy that straight-to-camera pieces allow requires a very natural speaking voice. Any of the theatricality of the stage seems out of place; higher volume is unnecessary. Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone you know. Speak as if they are in the room with you.
Digital tools – which are, of course, developing and changing all the time – have made live-to-camera broadcasts possible, This means you can often be making a speech in real time to any audience anywhere in the world. Technology transforms public speaking constantly – imagine, for example, giving a speech online to an audience who do not share your mother tongue, and how you might handle that. The trick is always to think about how you speak in every context – even those at the cutting edge.