Five Ways Technology Ruined my Career
Nostalgia. It ain’t what it used to be (a nod to my friend Mick Magic for that terrible joke).
I’m old enough to remember when we humble consumers of popular music had no other format choice than the largely unportable, fragile but still glorious vinyl.
When cassette tape, and then the Sony Walkman, arrived it was so exciting.
More formats and their devices followed.
Then minidiscs (only joking).
Then iPod (‘solid state’ – there’s a phrase no-one uses anymore) came along and suddenly I could carry the entire contents of my record collection around the world with me, all killer no filler (yes I’m one of those people who takes the time to edit out uninspiring album tracks).
Now the pundits are saying that iPod is in its last days, iPhone and iPad having rendered the 13-year-old wonder technology obsolete (“because it doesn’t have apps and you can’t make a phone call from it”).
In the technology game there’s plenty of room for nostalgia but you’ve got to keep moving, keep relevant and keep getting your market to spend.
Public speaking – unaffected by technological change?
You might be forgiven for thinking that the professional life of a public speaker is largely unaffected by technological change. That the art of speaking has been constant for centuries and will remain so for centuries to come.
You’d be wrong.
Technology challenges us constantly but I’m not talking about the tech that’s on stage with us.
No, it’s the technology, particularly the web-enabled devices, in the hands of the members of our audiences that ensures that even public speaking is a constantly evolving art form.
I can think of several occasions when presentations of mine have been upstaged, interfered with or ruined by someone in the audience casually wielding a web-enabled device.
1. Phones (in general)
Obvious. How long has the general public had mobile phones now? 15 years? Yet it seems that the vast majority still has no idea how to put their phones onto silent for the duration of a presentation.
You can politely ask them to do it all you like. I’m telling you, most of them don’t know how.
Haven’t you noticed that some actually manage to make their phones ring while they attempt to put them on silent? That’s what I’m talking about.
Some (and I have a special name for such people) will actually take a call while you’re speaking.
What is wrong with you people?
2. 3G (web access on a mobile phone)
Londoners. Do you remember where you were on 7/7/05?
I do. When four terrorist devices exploded on the London Underground network I was on a tube. Thankfully, I was nowhere near the location of any of the devices (though that’s a story in itself).
I was on my way to speak at a conference.
On arrival, the media was still reporting the incident as ‘a power surge’. However, over the course of the morning the press started to report that the explosions on the tube network that morning had probably been caused by bombs.
As this news formally broke, I was on stage, facing my audience. I could see the looks of horror on their faces as they read the news on their mobile phones.You don’t forget something like that.
We were shortly thereafter informed that we were not permitted to leave the building, so had to carry on with the conference despite the growing tension in the room (some of the delegates feeling angry that the event hosts hadn’t told them what was going on outside before they’d read it for themselves online).
This is my earliest memory of events in the world outside a conference room permeating an event via the technology in the audience members’ pockets.
3. Camera phones (still)
I’m not a celebrity. I don’t expect to be chased by paparazzi wherever I go.
Yet when I’m on stage, the audience thinks nothing of taking my picture and uploading it to the internet as a way of telling the world ‘I’m here, you’re not’.
Not to put to fine a point on it, this used to really piss me off. Now, I try to be pleased about it (I’m not).
4. Camera phones (video)
Although public speaking is ‘in public’ you won’t be surprised to learn that we public speakers do like to retain the copyright of our own performances if we possibly can. How about I follow you to work, film you and post the footage on YouTube?
The ability of the audience to film and publish footage from your presentation (without your permission and usually before your presentation has even concluded) has had serious consequences that go beyond vanity or our desire to protect our own work.
Ten years ago, I was a popular speaker because I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind. Now, knowing I may unwittingly be broadcasting to the world, I heavily self-edit. Is this to the good? You decide.
Some of the intimacy between myself and my audience has been lost for good. Camera phones are killing the public speaking star (I can’t blame Mick Magic for that one, it’s all my own work).
5. Social media
Last but by no means least, the trend for ‘live tweeting’ from the floor at conferences has had the greatest impact on public speakers than any other technology I can think of. At least when filmed you can be sure that your quotes are verbatim. Social media, and in particular Twitter which restricts each message to 140 characters, requires good editing skills and keen attention to detail on the part of the person doing the tweeting. In most cases, the tweeters in your audience do not possess these skills.
On numerous occasions I’ve stepped off stage only to be immediately remonstrated with (via email or Twitter) by someone who wasn’t even at the event but who has taken exception to something I allegedly said according to whoever has tweeted it.
Beat them at their own game
There are, of course, two ways to look at this: either as a massive pain in the arse or as an opportunity to engage at a deeper level with an audience beyond the one that is sat immediately in front of you.
I try to do the latter. I get misquoted (and I’ll be honest, I’ve misquoted other people). I don’t like it. But at least it starts a dialogue that goes beyond the formal presentation and isn’t this exactly what public speaking seeks to do?
There is a way to turn the tables in your favour. If I suspect my audience may include secret tweeters I ask them up front to tweet using a particular hashtag. This means that after the event I can search Twitter using the hashtag and automatically read a list of all the tweets about my talk. This enables me to respond to any compliments or criticisms quickly and directly (it also makes me seem very, very clever).
Another tip: get someone you know, trust and respect to live tweet your talk for you. You can also ask them to challenge anyone who tweets inaccurately.
The future is already here
You can’t stop progress; you can only embrace it or be left behind. But do not be mistaken, the technology in people’s pockets affects all of us now, so be wary and remember that when you speak in public however small the audience in front of you may seem thanks to them the world may indeed be watching.