Humans who speak

Considering the impact of the “civilian professional” speaker

In a world coming to grips with the content and ‘insights’ of non-human entities, do we as speakers still have real value to add to our fellow homo sapiens?

There’s little doubt that Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg and similarly high-profile speakers have changed history with their messaging. But what about civilian professionals? What about normal people?

Like… me?

Introducing the civilian professional speaker

The civilian professional speaker (this isn’t a thing yet; I made it up) is a subject matter expert who is trained in speaking but is not a celebrity in the traditional sense.

Civilian pros are not TV presenters, comedians, musicians, social media stars or even heads of industry. They’re not famous, not household names, not A-listers.

When we, civilian pros, take to the microphone, we can’t rely on renown (or infamy, in some cases), media buzz, or that bizarre credibility that accompanies obscene wealth in a money-driven world. We must bring our own ammunition.

What is this ammunition? It’s the ability to translate what we know into content that connects with people; that helps them navigate the swirling eddies of modern life.

It’s the capacity to help strangers see things in a new way or feel compelled to take action. It’s the magic of concretising, credibly, the fears, hopes and aspirations audience members have inside themselves, en route to making them feel seen.

If this is what we do, and if we can use our access to big stages and/or virtual platforms to effect positive change in these ways, we become largely irreplaceable.

Take that, generative AI!

What’s more, I believe that the value of diverse civilian pros will become more and more obvious over time – because ‘normal people’ now enjoy the potential to become leaders more quickly…thanks to dynamic media, social and otherwise.

Consider Malala Yousafzai, whose speech at the United Nations in 2013 was a powerful catalyst for the world to fight for education for girls. Her first audience was a Peshawar press club, where 11-year-old Malala protested school closings and gave her first address, “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?”

Greta Thunberg’s positions on climate change have sparked a global movement and inspired young people worldwide. She gained global recognition at age 15, when she started spending Fridays outside the Swedish Parliament to call for stronger action on climate change. Greta’s sign, Skolstrejk för klimatet, was an unmistakeable reprimand of world leaders for their failure to address the climate crisis.

Yes, Malala and Greta came of age as social media exploded, while many of us were around long before that. But in a similar way, technological advancements during and since the pandemic have enabled us to reach fresh audiences.

We had to adapt rapidly (and in many cases, without knowing what we were doing) to a changed landscape. We learned – or tried to learn – to engage listeners and viewers in original ways. And, in addition to the more obvious technologies, like streaming platforms and podcasts, we participated in digital conferences, summits and events in far-flung places and spaces, exposing new publics to new messaging.

Is the speaking profession strong and growing? I believe so. Is there room for everyone? Yes! And is there is enough ‘stage space’, if you will, to accommodate speaking talent of all types – both established and emerging? Definitely. The robots are coming, but if anything, they have the potential to make us better. Not worse.