I blog all the time about the latest neuroscience as it affects communications and public speaking. It’s also important not to neglect the bigger trends, so in this post I’m stepping back from the fray to identify the three mega-trends that I see affecting professional public speaking today. If you’re a keynote speaker, then you need to have a reaction, at least, to these trends or you won’t be au courant. In order of least surprising to most. First, authenticity. Second, brevity. And third, anger.

Authenticity. So far have we gone on the pendulum swing toward authenticity that the lack of it now surprises me more often than authenticity itself. When I see a corporate announcement that just spouts the same old corporate BS, saying they put their customers – or is it their employees – first, I’m truly surprised, because who do the folks involved imagine is interested, or believes it? Or when I see an ad that offers features or benefits that look like re-engineered features, I compare it in my mind to some of the witty, authentic, fun ads out there and I’m just baffled. Why spend the time and money creating crap?

If you’re not being authentic in some way about yourself, your company, or your topic, then no one is going to care. That’s a difficult challenge to meet, but it’s table stakes, people. Get with the program or don’t bother.

Brevity.   More and more clients report to me that they’ve been asked to give their usual 60-minute keynote in 30 minutes, or 20 – or even 10. The fact is we’re moving faster and packing more information in than we ever have before. And TED taught us that a 20-minute speech could work just about as well as a longer one and you could fit three in where you could only get through one before. Any professional speaker needs to have, at the very least, a TED-length version of her speech ready to go, as well as the longer, more traditional one. And you’d better also have a coherent, persuasive three-minute summary ready to go as well, not to mention those several 8-second soundbites for TV.

The pressure on everyone to say more in less time is intense, and a speech is an inherently garrulous genre. So it’s a shame, in a way, because when a speech gets too tightly crafted you risk losing portions of your audience – to a dead brain moment, or a lapse of attention, or a rabbit-rabbit distraction.   And the sequential nature of speeches means that it’s hard to get back on the train once you’ve been derailed as a listener. But it’s the reality of the era. Get brevity or go home.

Anger.   I grew up at the tail end of the 60s, so I learned that “Love is all you need.” But today, it’s not, alas. You need fury. You need to be angry about something – what was done to you, what some group is doing to some other group, what injustice is being committed by what authority, or simply that you didn’t get the upgrade that you wanted. Much of this anger, of course, is real, and some of that is certainly justified. I don’t mean to make light of genuine injustices around the world. But there’s also a lot of loose anger floating around in the idea-sphere just because anger is attention-grabbing and, like a train wreck, pulls our eyes away from quieter and more valuable conversations.

I can bemoan this sorry state of things, but I’m a realist, and so I have to advise you that if you don’t have something to be angry about, you won’t be taken seriously today. The sad truth is that heroes of mine – and many other people – like the Dalai Lama are increasingly marginalized because they don’t put anger at the center of their message. So you’ve got to respond accordingly.

There you have it. Figure out how to make your message authentic, brief, and angry and it will command attention today. Make it otherwise at your peril.

We’ll be talking about these mega-trends — and what speakers should do about them — at our first public one-day conference in six years on April 22nd, in Boston.  Space is limited so that we can be interactive.  Find out more and sign up here.  

4 Comments

  1. That’s another insightful post, Nick. I’d prefer you to be wrong about the anger part, but I’m open to what you’re saying, especially when it’s tied to authenticity. It reminded me of Molly Ball’s tweet after a GOP debate:

    All the other candidates say “Americans are angry, and I understand.” Trump says, “I’M angry.” (https://twitter.com/mollyesque/status/687852860227325952)

    Regardless of what someone thinks about Trump, it’s an interesting distinction that may have some application outside the political realm for us as speakers. Are we talking about other people’s opinions or are we passionately showing our conviction…..

    Your post is good food for thought, as always. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Andy — I wish I was wrong about the anger, but it’s real and I’ve seen it everywhere, so it’s hard to deny. I think that’s why Mr. Trump has gotten so much attention — anger, as a powerful emotion, is charismatic, and it reflects what at least a percentage of the populace is feeling right now.

  2. Anger, when unleashed is a crap emotion regardless of it’s “popularity.” It’s reactive. How charismatic is the angry person that harms another human being in that split second because they don’t have the capacity to reign it in?
    Anger should never be promoted as charismatic. Sure promote annoyance , frustration, or outrage but not ANGER.
    The Dalai Lama is loved in Australia because of his peaceful manner and message. He is respected and mobbed wherever he goes. A shining beacon in a world gone mad with anger and power.
    Perhaps we would have less violence if certain people used their brains instead of anger emotions. Donald Trump is a scary scary man, more caricature than charismatic.
    Well it has to be said 😉

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