This post is written 99% by me, Dave Reed, and 1% by an artificial intelligence.
Disclaimers like the one above are going to become more common in the future. Or maybe not; whether it is necessary (or even good manners) to attribute an artificial intelligence that created a work is a question without a consensus. As of this writing.
“As of this writing” – that’s another phrase you’ll see a lot in relation to artificial intelligence because the rate of change right now (April 2023) is asymptotic. There are several companies making breakthroughs in AI, but the one getting the most attention is OpenAI. Founded in 2015 by several visionaries (including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel), initially as a non-profit, OpenAI has made major advances in software that can understand requests in plain language and create new content in words or images. You may have heard of “GPT-3”, “GPT-4” or “ChatGPT”. These are products of OpenAI that have been made available to the public (chat.openai.com) for amusement, business, and — in some cases — fear.
As I’ve demonstrated to friends and family what this AI can do, I’ve prefaced the reveal with, “Now don’t forget that what you’re about to see is not a search result. This is not a computer finding something that was written or drawn by a human. This is a computer creating something brand new just for us, right now.”
If you haven’t had a nerdy friend like me perform a ChatGPT parlor trick for you, here are a couple of examples for my speaker friends.
I typed this request into ChatGPT (exactly like this, no coding involved):
> write a limerick about the difficulties of being a professional speaker.
ChatGPT paused (thought?) for about 1 second and then produced this little jewel, which, I remind you, never existed until ChatGPT created it:
Being a pro speaker's no joke,
You must keep the crowd from a choke,
You need wit and charm,
To prevent any harm,
Or you'll end up completely broke.
Here’s another prompt that I typed into ChatGPT:
> in 2 sentences, explain why good public speakers will survive the AI apocalypse.
And the AI’s answer:
Good public speakers will survive the AI apocalypse because they possess the ability to connect with their audience on a human level through their tone, emotion, and authenticity, something that AI cannot replicate. Additionally, their adaptability and continuous learning will enable them to stay relevant and overcome any challenges posed by technological advancements.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Again again — that’s not a search result. The AI created that, just for me, right when I asked for it.
A little worried?
How will AI affect professional speakers?
AI with this kind of capacity will have a significant impact on the professional speaking industry. The good professional speakers that I know are all experts, content creators, and teachers. The content creator part of that mix will be the first to be affected, followed by expert and, finally, teacher.
Imagine an AI that has been fed the entirety of written human knowledge. We’re not quite there yet, but it won’t be long. Open AI’s GPT-3 model was trained on 45 terabytes of written data, which is about the same amount as 11 million copies of the encyclopedia Britannica. The average American reads fewer than 20 books per year. We’re not going to be able to compete on knowledge.
And the current models are already fantastic at taking what they’ve been trained on and distilling it, extracting meaningful information, and synthesizing new ideas. Sounds a lot like what a content creator does, doesn’t it? And the machine can do it accurately and faster than you can.
Here’s an example of how insightful the machine can be. I gave it this prompt:
> write 1000 words about the value of accountability in corporations.
The response was 9 paragraphs that included “thoughts” like these two:
... Organizations that are transparent and accountable in their operations are more likely to attract customers, investors, and other stakeholders who value ethical and socially responsible behavior. This, in turn, can lead to increased profitability and growth for the organization, as well as a positive impact on society and the environment.
... This is because accountability requires a cultural and behavioral shift within organizations, which can be difficult to achieve without the right leadership, incentives, and support systems.
Think about that next time you dash off a blog post or pen a chapter in your next book. Remember that these aren’t search results. What kind of value can your cheeseburger-powered brain provide that a solar-powered one can’t?
Those are the things that great speakers already focus on: the leaps that the human brain is (so far) uniquely able to make and the emotional connections that really make the lesson sink in. Speakers who want to survive as content creators will need to focus on the kinds of things they can write, draw or imagine that leverage those emotional abilities to do the job better than an AI. It’s going to take more work.
Lazy writing will rapidly be replaced with AI-generated content. In fact, if you’re going to do some lazy writing yourself, having an AI generate it for you is a good strategy.
What will happen to your consulting hours when your client can ask the machine questions, in natural language, and get back a “perfect” answer?
What will happen when a deepfake video (deepfakesweb.com), a convincing synthesized voice (speechify.com), and AI-generated content (openai.com) get together and have a baby? There’s probably a 14 year-old somewhere in Latvia who already knows. The real question is whether an audience watching that baby over Zoom will be able to tell that it’s not real. Or maybe the real question is whether that audience will care when they do?
Movin’ on up
In the 1800’s, a farmer worked a small field with hand tools or, if they were lucky, an animal like an ox or a mule to pull a version of that hand tool that tilled two or three rows instead of just one. One family could manage about 100 acres of food-producing land.
In the 1870s, self-propelled steam engines started helping with the wheat harvest. The farmers of the day likely felt enthusiasm for the new tool rather than fear they would lose their jobs. When tractors became popular in the 1920s, they sold like hotcakes to farmers who wanted to farm more land with less effort. Advances in pesticides and fertilizers similarly expanded the farmer’s reach so that the average farm size now is more than four times what it was 200 years ago.
Like a farmer, a smart speaker won’t be scared by new machines that can “do their job”. Instead, they’ll move up the food chain and expand their reach by focusing their time on things machines don’t do well, and by using the machines for things at which machines are more efficient.
How professional speakers will leverage AI
In the early nineties, ideas for new ways to use the nascent “world wide web” grew like wildflowers (or weeds, take your pick). In the coming months and years, clever speakers, trainers, and coaches will make use of AI tools in all kinds of creative ways that no one has yet thought of. Companies will add value to AIs and bring new services to the public.
In a year, the suggestions below will seem pedestrian.
Suffering from writer’s block? Hurdle over it by asking an AI to write about your subject. Use what the AI produces as inspiration or counter-inspiration.
> write the outline of a book for school administrators that will teach them how to improve student outcomes for those with short attention spans.
Writing sales email and proposals is a task that should be easy to turn over to an assistant, including an artificial one. Try a prompt like:
> write a short, compelling message to the event organizer for paste URL for conference here about why they should hire your name to be their keynote speaker. Include information about how your name will further the specific goals of the conference.
When it comes to grammar, AIs can top even your third grade teacher, Mrs. Williams. After you’ve written a few paragraphs, have the AI check it over and maybe tighten it up:
> act as an editor for the following text, pointing out grammatical errors and any sentences that are difficult to read: paste your paragraph/s here
Looking for a title for your blog post, book chapter, or article? Pull out the relevant keywords (or just use the whole thing if it’s less than a page) and ask for some title options:
> give me 3 good titles for the LinkedIn post about these keywords. Make the titles compel clicks. Here are the keywords: tiktok challenge, marketing, techniques, success
If you’ve backed yourself into a social corner and need a way out, just ask for some advice:
> You have ignored an email from an important colleague for more than 20 days. Now they are asking again for your response and you are embarrassed to admit that you forgot to reply to them. What would you say to them to let them know you respect them even though you neglected their request for so long?
Because ChatGPT can keep a conversation going (at least for a little while), you can ask for followup refinements on the answers you get back. After typing any prompt and getting back a response, try any of the following:
> make it longer
> make it shorter
> make it funny
> make it more compelling
> write that in the style of the King James Bible
> translate that to latin american spanish
There are so many useful things that ChatGPT (and others) can do for you right now. As professional speakers, trainers and coaches, we deal in the spoken word. But the spoken word usually starts as the written word.
Imagine meeting a speaker from 1970 who was plunking away at an IBM Selectric (look it up, youngster) to write their content, and you effusively describe to them your world with word processors, collaborative word processors like Google Docs, researching on the Internet, Zoom, and all the tools we now assume for our trade.
Now you’ve got another to add to the list.
Should professional speakers be worried?
At the same time you are making use of AI as an assistant, be aware that the bar has been raised for content. If your thinking / writing / speaking isn’t better for your customers than an AI, why should they pay you?
Lazy speakers who are unwilling to put in the hours and the effort to make it personal will, eventually, find their customers using AI instead of them.
Good speakers already customize their content for each customer’s needs. Good speakers already use their insight and intuition to turn their experience into unique and compelling content.
Perhaps, most importantly, audiences connect with a human experience. Your stories, more than anything else, have the potential to evoke an emotional response from your audience. To make them feel connected to you.
Like ChatGPT advised us at the start:
Good public speakers will survive the AI apocalypse because they possess the ability to connect with their audience on a human level through their tone, emotion, and authenticity, something that AI cannot replicate.