Online versus Face-to-Face

Learning Objectives

Explain the similarities and differences in speaking to face-to-face and online audiences.

We might think speaking to a virtual audience would be easier than speaking to an audience in person. After all, many of us regularly use online tools like social media to communicate with others. And speaking online would seemingly remove the anxiety many of us feel when speaking to a live audience.

So, online should be easier than speaking in person, right? Well, maybe not. As speech communication scholar Stephen Lucas writes, “In an online speech you have to do everything you would do for an in-person speech—and more.”[1]

In this section, we’ll explore how speaking online is both similar to and different from speaking in person. We’ll get into the “and more” Lucas refers to so you can be better prepared to succeed when you give an online speech.

In many ways, a speech presented online is just like a speech presented in person. As a speaker you want to have a clear purpose (to inform, persuade, or entertain) and a focused thesis. You will want to support your thesis with well-developed main points supported by evidence. You will also want to adapt the style and delivery of your speech to your particular audience.

One of the biggest differences between speaking in person compared to speaking online is that when you speak online your audience is not right in front of you in the same room. In some online speaking situations, you may have the faces of your audience available to you, but more often than not you won’t be able to see your audience.

Not seeing your audience means you are missing the nonverbal cues that help a speaker understand whether their audience is engaged and understanding the speech or is instead disengaged or confused.

Try It

  1. Lucas, Stephen, and Paul Stob. “Presenting Your Speech Online.” The Art of Public Speaking. McGraw-Hill Education, 2020, pp. 356–356.