The other day I read an interesting article about the World Championship of Public Speaking. The winner, a young man named Darren Tay competed against 98 regional winners from around the world. This event has always been sponsored by Toastmasters and it seems that in spite of our electronic age, public speaking is having a major resurgence. Toastmasters now has roughly double the chapters they had 20 years ago. The popularity of TED talks and other public speaking forums have also blossomed.
From the beginning of mankind, humans have huddled around the campfires listening to elders provide wisdom or to share stories. Oral histories of cultures were passed down and the young learned lessons needed for survival. As we became civilized we gathered together to plan and to seek entertainment but it was always that all important human voice or voices that pulled us in. There is something primal about sitting attentively and listening to a good story or an important lesson. That is part of the allure of TED. Spoken stories stay with us far longer than a series of spoken facts. Unfortunately, public speaking doesn’t come easily, especially these days. Rhetoric used to be taught in schools but that is no more. Toastmasters help people overcome their fear of public speaking and help them polish their skills so that they can make corporate presentations, teach or just entertain.
The twentieth century brought us mass communications but the microphone has always been closely guarded. That has all changed with the internet and social media. Today, the right message delivered well can fly around the world in literally seconds. That speaker might be anywhere in the world with internet access and using WebEx or another service and with an upload to YouTube the message is available to all. The speaker can go from obscurity to celebrity in minutes. YouTube is a tremendous resource for education and entertainment but there is much wisdom to be gained, as well. A few hundred years ago one person’s message never got past those gathered at the campfire. In more recent times there have been larger venues but you either attended in person or read about it. Today, the internet can take you there, “in person”, sometimes to witness history.
Chris Anderson, in his book TED Talks, says “the campfires of old have spawned a new kind of fire. A fire that spreads from mind to mind, screen to screen: the ignition of ideas whose time has come”. Social Media can be used for entertain and for business but we must not forget that there is much wisdom and experience out there. All we have to do is seek it out and gather around the social media campfire.