Can A.I. Make You A Better Public Speaker?

I may be a little late to this party. 

Like many people in the services professions, I have started to wonder how long it will be before a machine can do my job as well as or better than I do. What is my professional runway before an AI-driven avatar can fully coach a leader to develop and deliver an effective pitch or presentation? In other words, how long before I am extraneous and irrelevant? A more positive spin on the question can be ‘how long before I retire?” 

Communication skills often fall into the backwater of “soft skills,” even though it is one of the most fundamental capabilities for leaders. The abilities to persuade, motivate, and inspire are some of the most sought-after leadership capacities. A LinkedIn study put “communications” at number two out of ten in-demand skills.

After 20 years of working with leaders and emerging leaders to improve their communication skills, I have built a bank of resources and experience on which to base my coaching and feedback. Disciplines like cognitive science, persuasion theory, and psychology — among others — contribute to a vast body of research on the topic. 

Generally speaking, to be persuasive requires a combination of factors:

  • An understanding of your audience, including their motives, psychological and behavioral profiles
  • A clear, compelling narrative
  • Competent and confident delivery (think voice and body language)

How does one measure communication skills? What are the objective metrics to measure them? What are the levers one can adjust to become more persuasive both in content and delivery?

Very often “effectiveness” is measured not by the delivery but by the results — a survey of the audience on messages that resonated, or whether someone changes their opinion or behavior. In high stakes communications — an investor pitch, for example — after-the-fact measurement is too little, too late. You need to be reasonably sure that your pitch will land before you deliver it.

The work is in advanced preparation — analyzing the audience and their expectations; creating a cohesive narrative and organized flow to the presentation; practicing the delivery with strong body language and vocal cues that express confidence, clarity, and charisma.

A.I.-assisted public speaking training and coaching have been around for at least ten years. The market has seen an influx of AI-driven apps, promoted as digital public speaking coaches. Technology can count the frequency of vocal fillers like “ums” and “uhs.” It can measure eye movements and hand gestures. It can evaluate cadence and tonal qualities. Algorithms have been trained to measure gestures and vocal speed that suggest confidence or nervousness.

Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT can easily bang out an investor pitch deck. There are already several pitch slide design AI tools. I tried one out with a concept I’ve been entertaining for some time (sorry, I’m in stealth mode…no hints). A few carefully written prompts later and I had a 14-slide pitch deck that outlined the problem, solution, concept, market opportunity, differentiation, target audience, revenue model, etc. The AI tool created slides from the content.

I can’t say the slides were amazing, as they pretty much just included all the copy I fed into the online prompts. I’ll conduct a more thorough analysis of these online tools in a future article.

Right now it seems we have a lot more questions than answers. (And to be perfectly candid, any so-called, self-proclaimed “expert” with absolute answers about the future should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.) 

I can envision a time when an AI-generated pitch may be delivered by an avatar to an AI VC, which then automatically draws up term sheets reviewed by an AI attorney, which then funds a cryptocurrency account. No humans need apply.

A growing community of social science and computer science researchers is looking at how AI systems may impact human behavior. They are evaluating how our social relationships with and perceptions of others are affected when we let algorithms communicate on our behalf.

Communication is a most human act, even if it’s not unique to humans. Will AI diminish the fundamentals of human connection and trust down to key algorithms and metrics? What is the future of communication training and coaching? What value does a human, such as yours truly, provide beyond what the machines can do?

All questions worth pondering…

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

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