Qualities of a Great Speaker – Educational Value of Content

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As noted in my previous blog post on this topic, the first quality I believe is necessary in a great speaker is for them to be educational in some way. In my recent bout of conferences, I have seen speakers who fall all over the quality spectrum, but the ones that were truly good ensured they shared something new with an audience.

In the interest of a clean comparison, I will use the same list of speakers — covering the spectrum of topics — across all three categories. A few of these speakers I saw more than once, in which case my ranking takes into account each time I saw them in a public speaking setting, even if the format changed (i.e. if they were a solo speaker in one case vs. on a panel with others in another).

Charlene Li

Charlene Li

Educational Value of Content: B

Details:Charlene’s background as Forrester analyst gives her access to a lot of information. This is certainly helpful when pulling together a presentation. While there wasn’t anything tremendously earth-shattering in her information either time I saw her speak, her content was solid and her examples were clear and well-presented. Particularly in her main address at SXSW, however, she made at least one leap of logic that she was clearly hoping the audience would share, and seemed a bit surprised and unsure how to respond when there was a difference of opinion. Her assertion was that Google “wouldn’t dare” violate their user’s trust by compromising their personal data. She left this as a blanket statement without explaining on why she felt this was the case. An audience of 1,300 people were not as universally quick to buy into her belief as she was.

Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson

Educational Value of Content: A

Details:Though probably best known as the Editor of Wired and the author of The Long Tail, Chris was on-stage at SXSW (with Guy Kawasaki) principally to discuss his new book, Free. From a content standpoint, Chris knows his stuff. And I was in a constant scramble to jot down notes of things he was saying that I wanted to research in more depth later, because he was making some great points and doing some very interesting historical and economic comparisons. He clearly had the material for a graduate seminar that would have been very interesting, and it was too bad the schedule and format did not allow him to share more.

Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan

Educational Value of Content: D

Details:In the multiple times I saw Chris speak in the month of March, I am not sure I honestly remember once where he shared a piece of new information. He gets props in other areas, but educational value was very low. He had a couple of anecdotes that were insightful, and the questions he had for Guy Kawasaki during their “fireside chat” at PubCon elicited some good discussion, so he gets a bit of credit on that front. By and large, though, the strengths Chris demonstrated during the times that I saw him were not in the educational value of his content.

Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk

Educational Value of Content: B

Details:Gary is a sneaky devil who walks the line on content. In a perfect situation, he will spend his entire talk on audience Q&A and entirely avoid the need to generate original content himself. He’ll ‘crowdsource’ his content by leaving it up to the audience and simply answering their questions. So I’d mark him down points on that, but then give him high marks for providing good, detailed, tactical answers that are chock full of actual educational content. And, as a person with a tremendous curiosity and range of interests (and deep expertise in some areas), he ends up being a font of juicy nuggets of information — assuming someone thinks to ask questions in the right areas.

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki

Educational Value of Content: C

Details:Aside from good anecdotes, Guy seems to reserve most educational content for his written efforts (Twitter, blog, books, etc.), and uses his speaking engagements for the “lighter-weight” aspects of personal branding. To be sure, some of his anecdotes are phenomenal, but they usually play more towards humor and simply being “good stories” than being truly valuable, reusable lessons or insights. Though, to be fair, he did toss out a few gems here and there, and out of the handful of times I saw him speak, I did get a few particularly good ideas — though these seemed to be very tool-specific, based on the opinion of a self-avowed technology lover. He did also do a good job of eliciting good content out of Chris Anderson during their shared event at SXSW.

Larry Lessig

Larry Lessig

Educational Value of Content: A

Details:Larry is a lawyer, a professor, a writer, an activist and the founder of Creative Commons. He is all about the content (literally and figuratively, as a matter of fact). I’ll cover style in a subsequent post, but his content was detailed, specific and entirely relevant to the topic at hand. If you could write fast enough to keep up with him, you’d easily get valuable information when he speaks.

Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts

Educational Value of Content: A

Details:Matt knows his stuff cold. Inside and out. And he is there to share information. So Matt gets all A’s when it comes to content. As a developer, Matt can give super technical information (and did); but as a smart speaker, he knows how to de-geekify his content when his audience is not developer-centric. So he gets double-points on content: not only is it valuable, but he also de-mystifies what could easily be intimidating material and makes it extremely accessible for non-technical audiences. He also has a great advantage over some speakers when it comes to content: because his main topic (search) is a constantly evolving field, his material is always being updated, so there is no real danger of content stagnation with Matt.

Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh

Educational Value of Content: A

Details:From what I heard from people who’d seen Tony at previous speaking events, his content didn’t really change much, so if you’ve seen him once, you may have already heard most of what he had to say, but if you haven’t seen him yet, make sure you do at the first available opportunity. His message on leadership, management, building a company, brand and culture is packed with valuable information. Like Guy Kawasaki, he uses lots of anecdotes. The difference is that his are targeting a point, rather than merely being entertaining. His stories are well-selected to illustrate his points, and his points are insightful and compelling. I found it common that he would speak on topics I knew a lot about, and still managed to say something new.

So these are my scores for the educational value of the content. As I’ve mentioned before, I saw tons of people speak over the course of conference season to date. I selected these examples here because they are well-known names most people have heard of. I also selected them because they represented a great cross-section of public speaking strengths and weaknesses in the three areas I outlined as essential: educational value, authenticity and emotionally connecting with the audience.

Have you seen any of these speakers and have different experiences about their content?

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on “Qualities of a Great Speaker – Educational Value of Content
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  1. Pingback: Qualities of a Great Speaker | Life-in-Progress

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