Face to Face

Face to Face

Like almost anyone of my generation, I love watching videos online. I watch livestreams of people playing video games, broadcasts of TED Talks and commencement speeches, tutorials to fix problems in my house, concerts; you name it, I’ve watched it. All of this access to high-quality streaming media can make it tempting to say in-person interaction is a thing of the past, but nothing could be further from the truth. When you’re in a crowd, watching someone on a stage, the results can be absolutely captivating.

Take a concert, for example. Sure, you could sit at home and watch it, but then you’re missing out on so much of the experience! There’s no way the acoustics in your house will match the venue they’re playing at, and your sound system probably pales in comparison to the pros. The ambiance is totally different too; sitting at home listening to a livestream in your headphones is nothing like singing along with a whole crowd of thousands of people who have been touched by the same music you have. Chris Merritt, a clinical psychologist, posits two other reasons being in a live crowd differs positively from an online crowd. The first is that online crowds are asynchronous; the feedback you receive from comments is delayed, and you can’t read the emotional responses of other crowd members immediately. The second is a reduced richness of interaction; body language, facial expressions, and vocal cues are unavailable in the online world.

This holds as true for concerts as it does for keynote speakers. When you’re looking to hire event speakers, you’re looking to create an experience for the members of your organization that’s more meaningful than, say, an online webinar. There are three dynamics to consider: speaker to audience, audience to speaker, and audience to audience, and each of them bring something important to the overall experience.

The most obvious of the three is audience to speaker. A great speaker feeds off of the feedback from the audience in a way that’s simply unavailable during online conferences. They can see when the audience is enraptured or bored, what jokes are landing and which aren’t, which stories have captivated the most attention, what turns of phrase get the best reaction.

The second interaction, audience to speaker, is just as important. The speaker reacts to the audience instantaneously; remember, live speeches are synchronous, and reading emotions happens subconsciously before you can even think about it. That means the audience can feel the effect of their reactions on the speaker, and that the speaker’s emotions influence the audience in turn. Everyone feels more involved.

That brings us to the third key interaction, audience to audience. When an audience is bored, the boredom spreads; it’s our natural reaction to emulate the emotions of our peers. Conversely, when an audience is enraptured, the joy and excitement quickly spread to even the most stoic of audience members; soon, everyone is involved, and after the speech, everyone will talk about it. With these three interactions, all parties are engaged with one another, and that engagement brings about change.