Public speaking is about the idea. Some people think that there’s a formula to give a great talk. They say “Share an inspiring story.”, “Reveal a personal secret.”, “End with a comprehensive call to action.”. In fact, if you overuse those techniques, you’re just going to come across as clichéd or emotionally manipulative.
Over the past 5 years at TEDxTehran, I’ve had the chance to audit many hundreds of speaker proposals. For the selected ones, I’ve helped them prepare their talks for the conference and learned directly from observation. Whether we are giving a talk or amplifying one, we all have a responsibility toward our audience’s time and trust. So I have created a tool (in the form of a matrix) for
- Public speakers who want to self assess and thrive,
- Speaker selection juries and curators who want to share-worthy ideas to their audience
- Those who listen to public speakings to actively assess and analyze what they are hearing.
In my understanding, there are two major factors that make a speaker worth listening to. One is the richness of his idea and two of his presentation skills.
- the richness of his idea and
- his presentation skills.
TED’s Curator, Chris Anderson says “even though TED speakers and their topics all seem completely different, they actually do have one key common ingredient. And it’s this: Their number one task as a speaker is to transfer into their listeners’ minds an extraordinary gift — a strange and beautiful object that we call an idea. But — what is an idea anyway? Well, you can think of it as a pattern of information that helps you understand and navigate the world. Ideas come in all shapes and sizes, from the complex and analytical to the simple and aesthetic.”
Presentation skills, on the other hand, are a double-ended sword. They can lead to an inspiring talk or just amplifying foolishness. You may find tons and tons of public speaking tips and tricks online.
How Does The Public Speaking Matrix Work?
My Public Speaking matrix assesses a speaker’s state, by placing his talk on a 2×2 grid. How does the matrix work in detail? The placement of talks on the grid is done by investigating two dimensions. They are the axes of the grid: the richness of thoughts and suggestions the speaker shares (idea) and his presentation skills. Since both criteria are rather hard to quantify, proxy values are used to illustrate these two dimensions. Based on the position of each talk/speaker/proposal, sharing or acceptance decisions can be taken. The graphic below shows the Public Speaker matrix.
The Dimensions/Axes Of The Public Speaking Matrix
How does the Public Speaking matrix work? To understand this, you first need to understand what the BCG matrix actually shows. The two axes have been introduced before. On the vertical axis, the speaker presentation skills rate provides a measure of the talk’s attractiveness. On the horizontal axis, speaker ideas serve as a measure of the richness of the speaker’s thoughts and suggestions in the talk. These are explained in detail below.
If you want or have to conduct a talk analysis using this matrix, you need to know where to get these two numbers for each speaker. The presentation skills rate can easily be seen: usually, you can analyze the speaker’s background, other talks online to see how he moves his audience. The richness of his ideas needs to be judged by your understanding of the domain’s challenges as usually ideas are the answers to our ongoing challenges.
How To Use The Matrix
Now that we have plotted the talk on the Public Speaking matrix, we need to know what to do next. So how do the matrix work and help to derive strategic decisions? To arrive at these decisions, we need to understand the four types of speakers that are distinguished by the Public Speaking matrix.
Suiciders are low skilled speakers with poor content to share. These people are killing themselves and let everyone watch! They may find an opportunity to stand in front of others and have their attention for a moment, but as soon as they start talking they lose people’s attention. The Suiciders have the following characteristics:
- Low topic relevant experience and low improvisation skills,
- No background in public speaking,
- Don’t have a clear vision of what they going to aim for their talk,
- The jury or audience should reject The Suiciders, and push them to practice harder or encourage them to find a topic that they feel enthusiastic about.
Frogs with their big mouths are those who say nothing, but say it in a good way. In my experience almost 85% of extroverts who see public speaking as a tool to show off their success and grow their brand, fall into this category. There are numerous famous motivational speakers and politicians that can be put into this category. If public speaking was music, these guys play the pop songs! Frogs have the following characteristics:
- They talk to gain something from their audience, it can be money, attention, trust, etc,
- They talk about the same topic over and over on different stages and their audience can remember their name more than their ideas.
- Usually, they look into public speaking as a profession
- Careful analysis is needed to determine whether to trust or not.
Treasures are thinkers and doers who dedicated part of their life to a valuable topic, yet they can’t express their solutions in a lack of presentation skills. Writers, poets, artists, and entrepreneurs usually fall into this category. Activists like conference curators and reporters need to find and unlock treasures and the key to unlock these treasures is curiosity. have the following characteristics:
- They usually have other sources of income, other than public speaking,
- Their work is mostly admired by others than themselves,
- They can back their arguments by science, data, facts, and figures,
- The audience and curators need to push treasures to unlock and reveal their findings.
Suns are those who have worthy ideas to share and know how to share them in a pleasant way. They have tremendous amounts of knowledge and they shine in front of their audience. The ultimate goal for the public speakers is to become a Sun and share as much as they can with the audience. Suns have the following characteristics:
- They limit their talks to just one major idea snd give their listeners a good reason to care,
- Suns build their idea, piece by piece, out of concepts that their audience already understands and use the power of language to weave together concepts that already exist in their listeners’ minds,
- They constantly ask themselves “Who does this idea benefit?”, and they make sure the idea doesn’t only benefit themselves or their organizations.
The ideal course of actions toward the Public Speaking Matrix
The ideal course of action toward each cell of the matrix in my experience is the following: We all need to invest time and energy in promising Suiciders to turn them to Treasures. Big Mouth Frogs, on the other hand, need to be identified by the conscious audience and curious event organizers as they absorb all attention. While they rarely have the potential to turn into the Suns, it is our responsibility to encourage them in any way we can. The event organizer’s curiosity and hard work can discover a treasure and turn it into a Sun. This is an ideal scenario for a conference to discover bright minds and help them share their ideas. The suns also need to know that they can always be better, shinier and more thoughtful.
The table below summarizes the characteristics of the four types of speakers in the Public Speaking matrix and shows the strategic implications for the event organizers and audience in a long-term period.