This is going to be a strange week.
The Democratic National Convention is being held this week, and there should be highly motivational speeches intended to galvanize the citizens of the U.S. to favor the Democrats in the upcoming national election.
These conventions are intended to be boisterous, exciting, highly charged events featuring dynamic speakers, avid fan bases and rooms filled with cheers and applause at the end of every momentous statement. This week’s convention begs the question: If a speaker speaks in a room and there’s no one there to applaud, does it have an impact?
These conventions are made for prime-time TV. They are intended to tap into the zeitgeist and get people amped up. How do you show that excitement when there’s no audience? How do you match the energy of 60,000 people in a room when there’s barely six people in physical attendance?
Human beings like to feel connected, but it is very difficult to connect to a remote presenter. It is hard to remain excited when you have no audience to validate your point of view. This is but one challenge facing the political speakers this week.
I’ve participated in many town halls and large virtual gatherings the last few months, and there are only two pieces of advice I have: Focus on the content and delivery of your speech, and use the chat room to your advantage.
The best virtual speakers are the ones who are truly great orators, regardless of how many or how few people there are in the room. These people have conviction and it oozes from their skin. These are the people who know how to slow down their speech patterns, build to a crescendo and deliver a powerful statement. They know the value of “the pause.” They understand the strength in silence.
The worst public speakers are the ones who feel forced to fill every gap with a filler. Those fillers are typically “um,” “ah” and “you know.” Sometimes they are “actually” or “like.” When you have no true audience in the room, the possibility of these fillers increases because you may be uncomfortable with the silence. Filler words are unnecessary, and they serve to simply distract from the value of what you are trying to say.
The best orators are the ones who can look at their audience, no matter the size or whether they are simply embedded in a digital world, and deliver the point. The best speakers believe completely in what they are saying and don’t need that validation. This week I expect to see well-rehearsed speakers, but I hope they are genuine, authentic and clear and that they do not need a studio audience to prove and validate their POV.
The second piece of advice is to use the chat function to your advantage. This tactic may be hard for this particular event, but it is advice for the remainder of the campaign.
I’ve done a few webinars the last few months, and while having a direct view of the chat room is extremely distracting, it can also provide insight into whether your words are resonating. People will throw questions at you. They will drop emojis into the flow. There will inevitably be hecklers, but they can be drowned out by truly engaged audience participants.
Sometimes it’s good to acknowledge these people by name and bring them into the conversation. It offers a human integration element that is otherwise missing in a virtual event.
Chat offers real-time feedback and helps presenters know they are on the right track. The challenge is if it’s your first time, it is almost impossible to do this well.
I don’t recommend the DNC speakers try this tactic during their first, grand presentation. I recommend they do it in their town halls and ongoing engagements. Those are the better place to interact with the audience and connect in a genuine manner. If you’ve done it before, you are more well-equipped to be successful in the future.
Let’s hope that there are some galvanizing moments this week to drive us towards a more inclusive, more respectful future.