Are you a speaker? You are probably average.

Update 7/28/2010: here’s a brilliant post on Tim Ferris’ blog that goes deeper into how to get to that far left extreme: From CEOs to Opera Singers – How to Harness the “Superstar Effect”

I love watching speakers present.  I am a student of presenters and often find myself writing down two things:

  1. Things to do: what is the speaker doing that is amazing and awesome, and something I need to incorporate.
  2. Things to never, ever do: what the speaker does that discredits the message, causes a negative reaction, etc.

A few weeks ago I was watching an awesome person speak. This person speaks often, so I had high expectations because:

awesome person + speaks frequently = should be awesome presenter

That formula is flawed, of course, and the presentation was… well, also flawed. It was average.

What does “average” mean? Check out this drawing I came up with:

NON Professional Speakers

Note, this is for non-professional speakers.  I consider myself a professional speaker because people pay good money to have me speak, and I speak frequently.  More on that below.

For non-professional speakers, some thoughts:

  • Most presentations are average.  You will likely be just average.  You would have to work pretty hard to really suck, even though that’s what you are most stressed about (sucking). Don’t worry, expectations are low and you probably won’t suck bad enough to be in the red circle on the right.
  • Most self-confident speakers (like me) think they are awesome, and awe-inspiring.  But they really are just at the left side of average, in that pinkish box.  As great as you think you are, you are just as average as you would have been anywhere else in the yellow.
  • You *can* do a presentation where you are in the green circle and be awe-inspiring.  But it takes a lot of work.  Presentation skills, your appearance, your message, the stories, jokes, etc.  How you connect… there are so many things to get into that circle that if you ever do, consider quitting your day job and becoming a professional speaker.    But you won’t get there by just practicing a few times… it takes a LOT of work.

Here’s a similar image for PROFESSIONAL speakers.  These are the biggies that get paid to do this for a living.

Professional Speakers

Some thoughts:

  • Since the expectations are much higher, there is no pink box.  You are either average (“yeah, he was like all the other speakers we’ve paid”), or you are awesome.  Getting to awesome is equally as hard as it is for non-professional speakers because you don’t get any slack… the bar is HIGH.
  • Average is different… you can’t go too far to the left or else what would be average for anyone else becomes below average for your audience.  Once again, the bar is high, so you can’t do just okay… just okay, for a professional speaker, is not even close to good enough.

Rarely do I ever see a presentation that I would put in the awesome side of this bell curve.


4 thoughts on “Are you a speaker? You are probably average.

  1. Mark L. Clark

    This is right-on!!

    The more experience I gain, the more it takes to have my socks knocked off by a presenter. The way information is presented is just as important, if not more, than the information itself

  2. Haneef N. Nelson

    Great post Jason! Great information with poor delivery is just a poor presentation. Being a better speaker is something that really does require lots of work!

  3. Van J Walther

    Excellent post, Jason. But isn’t this how most things play out? The really good end up at the extreme end of the bell curve. For speakers that would be Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Dan Clark, et al. For those of us aspiring to be like the speakers on the long tail of the curve takes lots of work and lots of practice, just as you pointed out. So if you want to get there, practice, get a coach, get feedback so you can move out on the long tail.

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