What kind of presenter do you want to be? Some say they want to be a great presenter. But what does “great” mean? That can vary from person to person. Also, some people are fit certain presentation personality styles than others. So, the question should better be what kind of presentation personality are you? And which path do you want to excel at?
Do you want to be an artful explainer, a fiery motivator, playful entertainer, or an inspirational visionary? These are the four styles (or personalities as Jason Teteak calls it in his book “Rule the Room.”) that any speaker could use. No one is completely one or the other. However, people tend to have a natural preference for one or another.
- Are there four basic types?
- The three levels of presentation quality
- The motivational speaker
- The visionary speaker
- The entertaining speaker
- Some fit better than others
- Do you need to be good at all presentation types?
Are there four basic types?
Some people make great entertainers like the Moth GrandSlamer Amanda Gorman. Others are fiery motivators like Les Brown. Others like to be artful explainers like Neil deGrasse Tyson. Still, others can be great visionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr.
I felt that these four quadrants set out by Teteak were a close approximation of all of the presentations, but there was something missing. It didn’t fit exactly well with sales presentations or internal corporate presentations.
Sure you could put the persuasion-type presentation in either the motivation or visionary category. But you would be hard-pressed to say that one of the best platform closers, Russel Brunson, or one of the best webinar speakers in the US, Jason Fladlien, would be in the same category as Tony Robbins or Elon Musk.
The three levels of presentation quality
I felt there was one more dimension in speaking that was going on. Then I came across an article by Maria Popova on her site called “Brain Pickings.” The title was “Explainer, Elucidator, Enchanter: A Gradation of Great Writing.” Her concern was with the quality of science writing, but I felt you could expand it to the other categories of speaking.
Level one: clear and comprehensible
She basically divided the quality into three categories. The first one was to make a topic clear and comprehensible to the audience. Suppose you came across some mushrooms in the forest and wondered what it was. You did a quick search on the Internet. You found an explainer video on that mushroom.
Before watching the video you had a vague idea of what it was. After watching the video, you have a better understanding of what a mushroom is and you feel you could probably explain it to another person. That is the power of the first level.
Level two: connecting the dots
The next level would be to not only be clear and comprehensible but to also provide greater context so you understand how it connects and effects other things. So called connecting the dots.
Maybe the idea of “magic” mushrooms are in themselves are interesting, but going into how that compares to other mushrooms, the history of mushrooms and the forest environment where it is found is far more illuminating.
This is because nothing lives in a vacuum. By understanding the bigger context you come away with a deeper and broader understanding of the thing than just understanding the thing by itself.
So see how level one and level two differ, look at the nine-dot problem. On the left side are nine dots in a 3 x 3 square. That is can be explained simply and easily to anyone. But if you were to start connecting them in a broader fashion, you see an umbrella. The difference in meaning and understanding is like night and day.
Level three: transcending your understanding
The third level is not just good at simply explaining and putting in a greater context, but utterly transcends and transforms our understanding. You could understand what that mushroom is and maybe by understanding its context in the area of environmental biology, but so what?
It’s not like you run into wild mushrooms every day, nor would a most explanation of the mushrooms would upend your understanding of the universe. But a really great explainer or as Maria Popova put it an enchanter would connect that to something more fundamental to us. It would be used as a trigger to reexamine our understanding of life, the universe, and everything.
One great example of that is often the episodes of RadioLab. If you checkout “From Tree to Shining Tree” you hear a kind of storytelling that draws you in. It lays down the facts one at a time that slowly illuminate each part. Then boom, the entire picture is revealed to be more than just the sum of its parts.
In fact, that picture could probably change your image mushrooms are in the forest forever. It might even change your view of the forest itself. To give you the TLDR explanation, the fungus form a sort of network between the trees of the forest. It transports sugar and minerals and manages resources almost like a living organism.
But, that explanation doesn’t give the way RadioLab draws the user to this conclusion justice. So, you should just hear it to believe it. It is worth listening to and dissecting.
Moving to surface, systemic, and transcendental
Since the Explainer, Elucidator, and Enchanter only seems to be applicable to informative writing and speechcraft, I thought that it would be better to use the labels, surface, systemic, and transcendental. Please remember that each layer builds on the other.
What is done well in the lower layer is also carried over into the next one. So considering all that, what do these three layers means for the four different types of speeches?
The motivational speaker
If we look at motivational speeches, what does surface, systemic, and transcendental mean? In the case of surface motivation, the motivation is only for that point in time. You may feel great. You may have laughed, cried, and felt “That was the greatest speech I have ever heard!”
However, your fundamental motivation is not really changed. After the speaker leaves, you forget about it the day after. The effects are not permanent. Most low-level motivation speakers and pep talks fall into this class.
In the classic pep talk, the coach is in the locker room with his team. The team is feeling down due to the fact that they are being trashed by the opposing team. The coach’s job is to at least get the team fired up enough so that they can go and play a lot better.
There is no big need for insight or introspection. All you need is emotion and hitting the right buttons for that moment. You take a look at the speech by Al Pachino’s “Inches” speech in “Any Given Sunday” as an effective example of that.
Another level of motivational speakers uses a series of techniques, information, and storytelling that brings new insights and new realizations about our own internal motivations. Their motivation lasts for a much longer time after the speaker is gone.
Taking it up the highest level
The highest level of motivation speakers actually is effective in changing people’s perception of themselves in the long term. After the speech, people come with a new sense of identity, and a new sense of passion, and a strong willingness to take action. Not only do powerful motivational speakers like Tony Robbins fall into this category but really good salesmen can also be found here.
If you look at what Russel Brunson does, he is not about selling his product Click Funnels at the beginning. He is about getting people to accept a new identity of being a Funnel Hacker. He is about destroying false beliefs that are holding people back from succeeding and making a permanent change. It just so happens that his product is the perfect vehicle for that kind of thing.
If someone like Russel does their job right there is no buyer’s remorse. There is no procrastination and a lack of good use of the product. There is no recrimination that the product doesn’t work. What there is a steady determination to succeed, effective use of the product, and finally success.
The visionary speaker
I tend to look at the “motivational” speaker class as one speaker going after individual and personal change for the audience. But, there is another side. This I would classify as the visionary type. The visionary type is more focused on getting multiple people to buy into some sort of vision and make it a reality.
A surface vision presentation is often a one-hit wonder. It’s something that makes people feel good about that particular project or moment. The vision may not be large or tied to any certain thing.
Many crowdfunding videos can fall into this category. People feel good about putting a bit of money into a simple cause, but that is it. There is no big emotional investment and there is no feeling of a bigger commitment. The person who “bought” into the vision may forget about it weeks or months later.
When we move to systemic vision speech, we are looking at something larger in scope for a group, a community, or a country. A systemic vision people will start to connect us to a set of personal values. It will be sweeping enough to last several years and bring various groups together.
These speeches tend to affirm and not change people existing beliefs. Also, different parts of the vision are often logically linked like a well-designed puzzle. Good political speeches can fall into a category. Bad ones look like a laundry list of things to be accomplished in the future.
I would point to Kennedy’s Moon speech at Rice University as a good example. That did a good job of pulling a lot of people together to accomplishing one specific mission.
Tribe building and the visionary presentation
The next is the transcendental vision speech. This is the type of speech where the listeners are again transformed into accepting a new identity and a new mission. Where there was fear, there is no hope. Where there was despair, there is now a relentless determination, etc.
The speaker could paint a vision that no one thought was possible or even realistic at first. But by the end of the speech, the listener is ready to be all in, join the cause, and do what it takes to make that vision a reality. I guess you could also call it a tribe-building speech.
The transcendental vision speech tends to be rare. Or to be more accurate rarely widely heard. Good visionaries are not always good speakers. Also, visions that are effective in turn a local organization, a company, or a community around are not widely known. Even looking back into history it is really hard to find the one particular historical character that actually nailed this speech.
The entertaining speaker
The last category can seem to be the least important, but it does have a role. That category is the entertaining speech. The surface entertaining speech is like watching a good show on TV or YouTube. You were entertained for a while.
It made you feel good or whatever emotion that was required. But after it is over, it is over. You forget about it and that is that. Most stand-up comedians and entertainers give this kind of speech. You might even see this in after-dinner speeches.
The next category is the system of entertaining speech. This type of entertainment tends to include very good storytelling. But it also has a message. You might get so engrossed in the characters, the plot, and all that surrounds it that you rarely notice the point. But after the speech is over you do remember the story and you do get the point on some level.
Learning from the Moth
There are some good storytellers on the podcast called “The Moth.” Depending on the person you will find the storyteller falling into the previous or this category. The good ones weave several parts of an episode together.
New facts are brought up and overall you may learn something do you didn’t know. In any case, everything fits together like a well-crafted jig-saw puzzle. The best ones are the ones with the ending and key message that you didn’t see coming but agree that it makes perfect sense to be there.
The last one is the entertaining speeches that are not just entertaining but transformative. These are the stories that really deep down touch not only our hearts but our souls. We become different human beings after we have heard the story. Unlike the systemic entertaining is not just about convincing the brain and making the heart feel good. The transcendental entertaining speech also transforms the heart, mind, and soul.
You can look at books and movies that started cult-like fans. For example, the book “Atlas Shrugged” was a piece of fiction by Ayn Rand. It may not have been the best example of fiction writing, but it started the objectivist movement and many people adopted that line of thinking. It was a small “movement” all of its own at the time.
On the other hand, a transformative entertaining speech like this doesn’t mean that you need a powerful or deep and meaningful message like “Atlas Shrugged” seemed to provide. There are plenty of entertainers who just pull the listeners into their world and create a community of fans.
Some fit better than others
Personality-wise, I would say that there are some styles that are easier than others. For example, I tend to be very comfortable with the explanation category, perhaps too much. This in turns means that I tend to be weaker in the other three styles.
In particular, I am definitely not a fiery go-getter. Nor do I get super passionate and go 120 mph about something. I tend towards soft power than shock and awe. And that is fine. If you look at all the great presenters not everyone needs to deliver shock and awe to be powerful. Simon Sinek is not like that. Neither is Sir Ken Robinson, and his TED talk is the most popular video as of this writing.
Also, I would not put myself in the big visionary category because I tend to more interested in analyzing current problems rather than dream up new solutions. I can be entertaining, but for me it takes effort. Also, I’m probably nowhere near as humorous as I could be. But, that is fine for me right now I can get the job done. That is what matters.
Do you need to be good at all presentation types?
In fact, not every presentation requires a Les Brown or a Steve Jobs. The question is can you modify your preference enough so that you get the job done? The answer is yes to a certain extent.
Think of it this way. I live in Japan. Japan has a very different culture than the US were I was born. I order to connect to the audience, I have to adapt. That means turning down some dials and turning up some other.
You can think of your presentation personality as a rubber band that can stretch and contract as the situation demands. But like any rubber band, if you go too far you break. You lose credibility with the audience and you just fail miserably. So what can you do?
Coming from two different directions
Suppose you enjoy giving explanations like me. However, you also need to be entertaining, because most people demand edutainment. In that case, I suggest you follow RadioLab. If you use them as a starting point, learn their techniques and structure, you will be able to both explain well and entertain.
On the other hand, if you are more of an entertainer at your core than an explainer, then I would suggest you look at someone like Atsuhiko Nakata. He made the jump from TV comedian to Educational YouTuber.
RadioLab and Atsuhiko Nakata are coming to almost the same thing but from two different angles and with two different mixtures. Anyone could do this with any of the others.
What this means is even if you feel super comfortable in one area, I would not pigeonhole yourself into one category. You can stretch and bend. Also, it not like you will be married to one particular style for the rest of your life. People do change, albeit slowly.
Humor and Joe Friday
For example, even if you are not a humorous entertainer, there are times when going to that playbook is useful from time to time. I remember when I was called to give a presentation at a dinner gathering.
It was supposed to be light and casual. I tend to prefer speeches that are though-provoking. My style was more Joe “Just the Fact`s Mam” Friday than the comedic Chris Rock.
At the time this would put me on the 1st level of explanation speeches or surface explanations. But, I knew the occasion and I knew the audience, I couldn’t pull my Joe Friday routine. It would bomb for sure.
So, I set about collecting some cute stories that I had from childhood and strung them together. I talk about the time I had to chase after my dog, my problem with losing practically every toy I have ever been given (not at once mind you), etc.
They were all light and puffy and also tagged to the point. Everyone was satisfied, including me. I had grown as a speaker. I was able to reach a little bit out of my comfort zone.
Jack of all trades and …
Even though I do teach presentation skills, I have yet to master each quadrant. I`m not sure there is any particular human being who is almighty in every area, but there are some who are close. But for a vast majority of speakers, it isn’t necessary and it could even become a problem.
How could it become a problem? Simple, you will be a jack of all trades and a master of none. People would prefer to call a specialist who can fix a specific problem than a general practitioner. As for me, I feel I can be decent enough in each area so I can point people in the right direction.
I think that is fine. The important thing is to find out the best starting point and grow from there. If you don’t know which one fits you the best try all four. When you deliver in each style one type will feel “right” more than another. Get good at that and then branch out as needed.
If you are interested in learning more about more presentation personalities and other tips on public speaking, etc. please continue looking at other articles on this site. If you have questions, comments, etc. Please leave those feel free. Also if you have a need for more specific help on presentations, debate, etc., please feel free to contact me here.