How Facial Recognition Will Upend Public Speaking

I used to work for a know-it-all of a boss.

When I mentioned the notion of public speaking coaching at our company, my boss would counter with the cover story of “show me how we can measure the impact and results of that program…

It was a smarmy way to shut down the idea of improving the communication skills of our colleagues. Any attempt to draw a direct line of sight between public speaking and presentation performance and tangible business results that weren’t supported by futuristic software, an avalanche of data, qualified opportunities and new revenue was merely swept aside.

Never mind session evaluation forms. Or engaging prospects, customers, partners, analysts and the media across presentations, media opportunities, webinars, podcasts, sales pursuits, investor relations, conference calls, streaming video or internal communications.

Never mind the attendance numbers one would or should draw to a speaking opportunity.

Never mind the mind-numbing pubic speaking performances given to distracted audiences.

Never mind the money spent on all of that… all of that pubic speaking stuff.

Just … never mind any of that.

No matter what common sense dictated.

Not even Peter Drucker could measure any of that.

Not to the satisfaction of my former boss.

You may recognize the condescending attitude today at your company, and hear:

My presentation and public speaking skills are good enough.”

Besides, you can’t really measure my performance, so it’s good enough.”

Let’s get back to more digital marketing and content creation.”

There are more important things to do.”

How much does that cost, anyway?

I don’t have time to waste on improving speaking skills.”

Or you may not hear anything at all. Some in management feel as if sweeping issues under the rug is the better way of doing business.

So, to the data-driven know-it-all at your company who doesn’t need or want public speaking help, who won’t spend a penny and won’t help you or your coworkers with your communication skills…

Meet Facial Recognition, for the Public Speaker in you — itching to crush your next performance.

This recent story about facial recognition in a London bar caught my attention. The contention in that article is that facial recognition will serve multiple business purposes at the bar; one purpose is letting the bartender know who’s next in line for service.

Interesting…so I did some homework on how facial recognition may already be in use at conventions, events and trade shows — and how it’s being used in ways to interact with audiences.

I discovered that film producers have used facial recognition to tell how an audience enjoyed a movie. Or how a comedian could tell if the audience laughed. Or how exhibit hall attendees felt during and immediately after a visit to a trade show booth.

(Compelling trade show tech reading by Michael J. Shapiro in this article from Northshar Meetings Group, with a special shout out to Zenus. Great piece. Even better innovation.)

It’s indeed possible to watch, listen and zero-in on audience facial reactions; reactions on exact time stamps, content, delivery, presentation, etc. Who was doing what throughout a session, demo or presentation. And with the permission of members of an event audience, a comprehensive process for privacy protections should already be in place.

I may be late to the facial recognition party, but I wish to expand on use of the technology to improve public speaking performance.

Allow me to upend everything, without hesitation.

If in charge of a global marketing effort, I would not approve another dime in departmental expense for any sponsorship, exhibit, trade show booth, webinar, demo, speech, event, sales enablement technology or public speaking engagement of any kind unless robust, integrated facial recognition technology was employed as extensively as possible.

And unless the necessary, ongoing processes to perform at an exemplary level are also employed.

(Adhering to all data and personal privacy rules and regulations, of course.)

In any presentation environment, I’d insist on (at least) two synced cameras using facial recognition technology: one trained on the audience, and one focused on our company presenter(s).

Facial recognition tech at any public speaking event should tell me precisely:

  • Who attended our company session
  • What the audience was doing during our session (paying attention or playing on their phones?)
  • What portions of our session they enjoyed, and the ones they didn’t
  • What our speaker did and how portions of the session were delivered
  • Use of company speaker’s vocal range and audio skills
  • Use of physical skills and body language
  • Use of content and visual aides

… and that list of presentation intelligence is just the beginning.

Smart, integrated facial recognition will, of course, tie into a database of actionable customer interactions. This would tell me exactly how company’s public speakers are doing in front of live audiences.

And it’s about damn time.

Because I know what goes into a great presentation, and the benefits.

And I know the opposite, and the disastrous results.

I know the cost sinkholes of sponsorships, presentations, webinars, demos and sales pursuits when poorly prepared speakers step into the spotlight.

And I know the dodge of the data-driven know-it-alls who avoid taking the business of public speaking seriously.

Facial recognition technology will change all of that.

New performance measures for public speaking performance will be implemented.

New attitudes toward presentation skills will be recognized.

I imagine new competitions and scorecards among public speakers will be formed.

And the balance of power within marketing will sway from over-producing mindless content, lifeless digital marketing and seasonal event money pits to endeavors where storytellers can engage effectively audiences in an omnichannel fashion.

It’ll sway from the ‘hot air’ of CMOs and CEOs who remain stagnant in their communication abilities, oblivious to their coworker oversights and tout their boring panel discussion appearances — to engaged investors, leaders, entrepreneurs, techies, storytellers, marketers and sales enablers who seek to advance the public speaking discussion away from the arrogant, redirecting to top performers.

Marketing leaders and public speaking innovators will welcome facial recognition opportunities. Laggards — such as my former boss — won’t.

It’s a tough pill for some to swallow knowing that when they speak, audiences are playing on their phones and attention is spent elsewhere.

But don’t take my word for it.

Soon, we’ll have a look at the data-driven results from everybody’s next presentation. Results that will stick.

Time to prep your public speaking skills, with or without your boss.

Facial recognition will upend the business of public speaking and presentations.

And it’s just getting warmed up.

Tony Compton holds two degrees from Loyola University Chicago: a 1987 B.A. in Communication and a 1995 MBA. He has held a number of marketing and business leadership positions over the past three decades.

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