• Scott Stiefvater

How do you measure a speaker's skill?

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

I'm occasionally asked who I consider to be a great speaker? Steve Jobs? Oprah Winfrey? I often answer with the story of a time I visited a public radio station in the West African nation of Ghana. I was there as the official speaking coach for a program to award grants to young innovators from around the globe.

Our group of twenty or so gathered outside the main building in the shade of a small, thatched-roof pavilion. Two chickens pecked around the dirt floor as we sat in our plastic patio chairs. The radio station's founder stood to the side talking quietly on his cell phone. Upon ending his call he walked over to us, surveyed the group with his eyes, and began to talk. I was rapt.

The measure of a speaker's skill has nothing to do with the size of the stage.

I have seldom felt a presence like his – so powerful and engaging. When I think of great speakers I think of the founder of a little public radio station located in a small fishing village in Ghana. I also think of my swim coach growing up, and a family friend who I get to dine and converse with on occasion.

You don't have to look to public figures to find great speakers. It's likely you have personally met or know one. It is possible that YOU are one, or will be one in the future.

How do you objectively rate something inherently subjective?

The idea of scoring or grading speakers and talks makes me wince. No two people experience a speaker in the exact same way. It's impossible to be objective because of the way we derive meaning as listeners. We each have different memories and experiences. If a speaker says, "...a small, thatched-roof pavilion...", the images and emotions your mind constructs will be different than those that my mind constructs.

So I feel much the same way about rating speakers and talks as the mentor in the movie Dead Poets Society feels about rating poems.

Measurement is still integral to your speaking skill development.

Despite the inherent subjectivity, it's almost futile to set goals for yourself without some way of measuring your skill level. So I developed a tool for speakers to measure and track their progress.

This tool doesn't directly address content crafting, but rather the physical act of speaking. If you would like to use it to track your progress, or that of your colleagues, you are welcome to download the template from the Progress Zone.


© 2021 by Scott Stiefvater,

(anti) Presentation Coach


Tel: 925-586-3517

San Francisco Bay Area


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