Over Reliance on Writing is Hurting Our Ability to Speak in Public

A good statement says more

It's no secret than most our day to day interactions are based on some form of text—from sms to social media inside and outside organizations, and the elephant in the room, email—we get things done by writing.

Which explains the popularity of products that help us write better and edit our own material or that of others. The reasoning is that information is just one search away and we can compare our version to many more and borrow the best words, or data points, and so on.

But to make the information truly ours, at a minimum, we need to elaborate and adapt. Without this simple step of having the conversation within ourselves, we have a hard time standing out. More and more, we go with the default and eliminate the best reason to connect—what makes us uniquely who we are.

Do you know how to write an email that stands out?

Meetings are broken

When we use email and text as the most conversational aspects of our days, we end up sitting in long meetings checking our inbox. Why have the meetings? Do we even know who needs to be there? Very few make the effort to design a conversation of impact—winning teams do that.

Even in the current format, we often have the wrong people in the room, or the wrong meeting structure to accomplish what we came here to do, maybe there's no objective, worse if there's no agenda. Say we get all of that right, we may just not know how to be effective at sharing the right information verbally.

It is especially painful for introverts to speak up publicly in a room full of extroverts. And in certain situations, we are all introverts when the risk is looking foolish.

Interviews are lottery tickets

Interviews become excruciating affairs with us longing for a winning script to follow as we could do by writing and asking all our friends to check it before sending. By using automation systems, organizations have created big incentives for gaming the system.

While some companies are rethinking recruiting, and technology is changing the career market, and some businesses are now shifting the application to video submission, the process is still a lottery. A one take video interview submission may get us a candidate who is the best on video—and not the best candidate.

Making people jump through bureaucratic hoops will screen in candidates high on compliance for jobs that would require high imagination. 

We chat, except we don't really talk

In person dialogue is reduced to mere transaction were we hope to close a sale and move on. We don't know who we're talking with because we take no time figuring it out. And we don't know who we want to talk with either because we spend little time making clarity about what we want to say.

We attend conferences and events often just for the program, and in our hurry to run from one session to the other, we miss the opportunity to interact with what the speaker is teaching us. And there is always something to learn there, even when the talk is an obvious pitch.

We don't prepare for events. Even when good event organizers focus on ideas, after the event we jump right into the daily grind. Without some sort of debrief at a minimum, the energy we got from the experience is hard to hold onto.


Many opportunities develop from organizing meetings, interviewing candidates, participating actively at events and conferences, when we take the time to talk with people.

For example, I used to conduct market and brand research while interviewing candidates for certain types of jobs. Because they had researched the company, we got into scenarios, perception issues, what they saw working and not working, and so on.

There is much more we can do at conferences to get our money's worth than dragging ourselves from room to room in a hurry to get a seat and checking email on our way there.

The point is the next big thing is not a technology at all, it's us. Most progress in the developed world in this coming century—economic, social, hedonistic—could in fact come from improvements in the social sciences.

There's something else. The reason why we've come to rely so heavily on the written word is that we want to sound smart, protect ourselves from mistakes, and plain fear speaking in public (see ref. of which public speaking is a subset).

Which one would we rather be, the lab rat under scrutiny, or the person actively seeking to improve the ability to use conversation as a tool to become more effective at influencing outcomes in meetings, negotiations, and relationships?


I'm starting something related to using conversation as a tool to help us get more of what we want (and stay away from what we don't want). If you're interested in learning more, you can sign up and get first dibs here. Or use the form below.

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