At Awesomeness Fest, Lisa Nichols was kind and generous enough to spend a full day with many of us. Among the many substantial breakthroughs she shared with us was her hierarchy of speaker types. She identified four types:
1. Informational (sharing information)
2. Motivational (gets audience excited from outside in)
3. Inspirational (gets audience excited from inside out)
4. Transformational (they leave the audience transformed)
The brief description above is enough for our purposes, and I don't want to give away Lisa's detailed explanations (and there is simply no way to explain them with nearly the flair or that Lisa has).
Almost everything Lisa said was remarkably well considered and complete, but her description of the types of speakers fell short: There is a fifth category.
The fifth type of speaker is the Exponential Speaker. An Exponential Speaker is able to incorporate what he learns from the audience into something that transforms the speaker. The speaker thus grows in ability and influence exponentially, as the feedback loop intensifies -- giving to the audience, getting from the audience, giving more back to the audience, getting more back from the audience, etc. The Exponential Speaker often leaves a talk with powerful new ideas, and is able to build on those new ideas in a way that is empowering to her and to her next audience (amazing Exponential Speakers, and Lisa is one, are able to build on audience breakthroughs on the fly, improving on their ideas and presentation during a single talk).
Exponential speaking is easy when presenting to children. Children have few compunctions about participating in a talk, and don't realize that they aren't "supposed" to suggest new ideas to a speaker. My favorite experience with exponential speaking happened during a talk I gave to a group of children about creativity. I had just finished telling them that "adults always try to teach you how to do things, but don't let them teach you that coming up with your own, creative solutions is a bad thing". I then moved into the "now let's invent stuff" part -- seriously my favorite part of presenting. A little boy raised his hand timidly, but he had a look in his eyes. I asked him what he was thinking about inventing, and he started in: "I want to invent a flying TV set." Ok. What do I do with this one? I just finished telling them not to let adults crush their dreams, but I also need to keep him from being teased by the other kids. Well... I decided to hear him out. "That sounds fun, but why do you want a flying TV?" He put my doubts rest: "You know homeless people? Well, they probably get really bored, and they can't really afford a TV, and we don't want the TV to get broken or stolen, but if the TV can fly above them, they can have something to watch." Oh, I got it. He was too inexperienced to know the energy cost issues on a high wall-mounted TV vs a TV hanging from a helicopter or some similar "flying" solution, but none of that mattered. He had invented a solution to a problem, and a really caring, giving solution at that (ignoring patentability issues -- remember, not all great inventions are patentable).
I incorporated his story and his inspiration into my talks. Now I had a terrific, personal example of how even a professional inventor can let his adult bias interfere with the creativity of a child. By telling this story to other kids (and adults), they were inspired to think about creativity in a new way, coming up with new ideas that in turn inspired me. It is this exponential cycle that differentiates a world-changing speaker from somebody with some great ideas.
Exponential speakers are likely to also be transformational speakers, but this is not a requirement. Like the Informational Speaker, the Exponential Speaker can exist in combination with other types. No matter what kind of speaking you do, if you aren't learning from the audience, you are missing your single greatest opportunity to make each presentation better than the last.
Exponential growth is an odd thing, in that it appears from day to day as if there is little change, but over even a moderate period the change is amazing. If you start out with one unit of "awesome" and you are able to double the amount of awesome in your presentation every twelve months, the difference week to week is barely perceptible. However, following that pattern, it takes just ten years for that one unit to become more than one thousand units. Obviously, personal growth is not linear, and some years will be better than others, but the concept is sound: If you are able to improve yourself by listening to your audience, the amount of improvement need not be enormous so long as you keep doing it.
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