Public speaking in lockdown

I’ve given lectures, talks, and taken part in discussion groups during lockdown, and the experience has been very different to in-person events. For me, giving a talk is more like appearing in panto or performing stand-up than recording a TV series – there are jokes, sci-fi references, provocative comments (e.g. PHP is the best programming language), and I thrive off the audience interaction, both during and after speaking. Not having an audience who I can see and hear has made public speaking harder, although some formats have worked better than others.

Discussions and Q&A formats: These seem to work really well, and I’ve received positive feedback from all of them. The good thing is that the audience tend to have their microphones and cameras on, so there is still some visual and audible feedback, and audience interaction is higher than it would be for a normal talk.

Lectures: These aren’t quite as good, but since they usually consist of talking without interruption or feedback, they work reasonably well, though I have noticed fewer questions are asked. I think it helps that they took place on Zoom and most people had their camera turned on, so I still have an audience.

Talks: I’ve given a few talks and each one fell flat, at least from my perspective. They were all for groups I’d spoken to before, so it wasn’t a case of nerves or not knowing the audience. Nothing went wrong as such, they just felt lacking in energy during and after the talk.

Recording: I was asked to record a short clip (up to 2 minutes) of me talking for a podcast-related audition and boy was this difficult. Apart from the crackling background noise from having an imperfect microphone, having to play my own voice back to myself repeatedly was a very strange experience. It took me about an hour to get 2 minutes of audio that I was happy with.

I have mostly avoided being ‘Zoom bombed’, although one talk got disrupted when some people joined and started writing extremely unpleasant messages in the chat (which I didn’t see until the end).

I don’t know if my experience is typical, or whether it’s clear after my talks that they didn’t go well from my perspective. I’ve attended some fantastic online talks so some people seem to thrive in this environment.