We’re watching a great deal of video on our computers these days, and seeing fewer live human speeches.  That’s a perfectly understandable trend, born of time and money issues, but it’s important to understand that something is missing when you don’t attend the live event.  If you have decision-making power over a travel-and-conference budget, you need to know that shutting event-going down altogether will have some ugly unintended consequences.

Here’s why.

1.  A video is only two dimensions; an event is three.  Until we have 3-D on our computers, we rely on a series of camera angles decided on by a director to show us what the event feels like, and that’s a very limited view.  You miss all the body language that a TED speaker gives you without you being aware of it, because the director has cut away to a slide, or a view of a prop, or simply to a close up.  All of that makes good video, because we need the variety to keep it interesting – precisely because we’re not there in person.  But it lacks the full spectrum awareness you get at a live event.

2.  A video only occupies two senses; an event engages all five.  We take most of our information in through our sight; that’s why people invented movies before they invented smelloriums.  But we do have five senses, and video only engages sight and sound.  Taste, touch, and smell can all be engaged in person, and they’re all important, and they’re all lacking on video.   

3.  A video can’t engage as strongly emotionally; an event can change our lives. 

Watching video, we miss the full immersion of the event – we don’t feel it when the audience responds as one with engagement, anger, boredom, excitement, whatever.  We are a social species and we rely to a great extent, more than we realize, on our fellow humans both to identify and augment the ideas and especially the emotions that are important, or funny, or scary, in a speech.

It’s why funny movies don’t seem so funny without a full audience laughing with you.

And that’s why you have never given a video a standing ovation.

All hail TED, and YouTube, for being incredible educational channels, and for raising the bar on good speaking and good video.  But never mistake the experience of watching a video for the real thing.  You haven’t seen a speaker until you’ve seen her in person.



  1. Great post, Nick. There’s just something about an in-person energy transfer, I think.

    Seeing the Barenaked Ladies in concert outdoors in Fargo last week — dancing along with everyone in the crowd on the prettiest summer evening with the performers only a few feet away from us on stage — reminded me of that.

    It’s also one way artists are guaranteed the proceeds from their work, and I happen to think those live performances are worth the money. Not only that, but once you see musicians in concert it’s even more fun to listen to their music — because it conjures up the sweetest memories.

    1. Hi, Maureen — good to hear from you and glad that the Barenaked Ladies did the job:-) You’re right about the energy transfer — it’s a good way to put it.

  2. While of course I agree hundred percent there is nothing better than seeing something “live” and the extra dimensions that it brings, the way we can now access video and learn (ok, only 2D) when and wherever we like and in what format (phone/computer/tablet) is the stuff of “science fiction” of only a few years ago. It would be wonderful to attend some of the TED events but geographical and financial implications would prevent many people. Recently, which unfortunately I could not attend, was one of the local TED events http://tedxbrum.org/ in my nearest city. The buzz about this event from people who attended would back up completely what you are saying. These do offer people access to live speaking events and speaking at its best. It’s not only good for the content but it is also a great way to learn about public speaking and speech writing. Live is best of course, but I don’t video as a second rate option, just different.

    1. Hi, Peter, and thanks for your comment. It’s good to be reminded that we are indeed taking for granted — almost — something that would have been seen as magic a couple of decades ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.