Talking Big Ideas.
“Software is eating the world, but AI is going to eat software.”
~ Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia
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AI will increase the importance of public speaking.
Maryrose and I discussed this idea over lunch recently with the economist Tyler Cowen. While he may be best known for his writing – as the author of several bestselling books, an influential blog, and a Bloomberg column – he’s also a prolific speaker.
We talked about how AI is changing the way people communicate with each other. And how, as AI’s writing capabilities make it harder to earn money and distinguish oneself as a writer, it will likely build demand for high-quality, authentic public speaking.
Tyler said: “I think about this for myself. I think I have more of a future giving talks.”
Building your brand as an effective speaker will help you rise above the noise to differentiate yourself, expand the reach of your ideas, and leverage your impact. AI will help you do this.
Humans have long incorporated new tech into our communication. Writing this article with a quill or typewriter instead of a laptop with Google Docs seems inconceivable to me, although at one point both the quill and the typewriter were cutting-edge technology.
Likewise, AI will seamlessly integrate into how we speak – especially when the stakes are high. Many scholars and entrepreneurs I work with are already using AI to improve their talks. Even the president of Israel used Chat to write part of a recent speech.
Below are several ways AI can help you get ready for your next talk. This is by no means comprehensive, but rather gives a peek into how AI can already assist with everything from research and writing to practice and iteration.
Begin by capturing your ideas. Ray Bradbury nailed it when he wrote, “When people ask me where I get my ideas, I laugh. How strange – we’re so busy looking out . . . we forget to look in.” That’s why I encourage my clients to begin their research on upcoming talks by first capturing their own thoughts. AI makes this easy.
Simply speak out loud in a natural way while brainstorming with yourself. Use a tool like Otter or Whisper to record everything you say, transcribe it in real time, and upload to the cloud.
Don’t worry about structure or eloquence. Just verbally process your ideas out loud. If possible, do this while walking outside as it can help stimulate ideas. You can then combine your spoken transcripts with any of your previous notes you have on the topic.
By allowing you to focus entirely on your thoughts without worrying about eloquence or the mechanics of transcription, AI makes it that much easier to do the ‘looking in’ that is at the heart of genuine creativity.
Use Chat to better understand your audience. The more a speech is tailored to a specific audience, the more likely it is to have an impact. As the tech writer Ken Haemer famously said, “Giving a speech without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it to whom it may concern.”
I encourage you to answer these three questions before you build your presentation:
Who specifically will I be speaking to?
What are they interested in?
How can I help them?
Once you have the answer to the first question, ChatGPT (Chat) can assist you in answering the other two. For example, say you are the founder of a nonprofit economic research center and you get invited to speak at Stanford:
Who specifically will I be speaking to? Undergraduates at Stanford University that are majoring in economics and computer science.
Ask ChatGPT (Chat) something like this:
PROMPT: I’m giving a talk to undergraduates at Stanford University that are majoring in economics and computer science. What are they currently interested in?
Here’s a condensed response from Chat:
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning . . . Students may be interested in learning about how machine learning algorithms are used to predict stock prices, analyze financial data, and improve economic forecasts.
- Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Technology . . . Students may be interested in exploring the potential economic implications of this technology, including its impact on financial transactions, investment, and regulation.
- Behavioral Economics . . . Students may be interested in learning about topics such as prospect theory, heuristics, and biases, and how these concepts can be applied in areas such as marketing and finance.
- Game Theory . . . Students may be interested in learning about classic examples of game theory, such as the prisoner’s dilemma, and how it applies to real-world situations.
- Big Data and Data Science . . . Students may be interested in learning about data science techniques such as data mining, natural language processing, and machine learning, and how these techniques can be used to analyze economic data and inform policy decisions.
PROMPT: As the founder of a nonprofit economic research center, how can I structure my presentation to be most useful to them? What should I discuss and what should I leave out?
Here’s a condensed response from Chat:
When giving a presentation to undergraduate students majoring in economics and computer science, it’s important to tailor your presentation to their interests and level of understanding. Here are some tips for structuring your presentation:
- Start with an attention-grabbing opening: Begin your presentation with an interesting anecdote, statistic, or visual that captures the students’ attention and sets the tone for the rest of the presentation.
- Provide an overview of your nonprofit economic research center . . . Emphasize how your organization is contributing to the field of economics and how it may be relevant to the students’ studies.
- Discuss current economic issues: Choose a few current economic issues that are relevant to the students and explain them in a way that is understandable and engaging . . . .
- Highlight the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration . . . .
- Share success stories: Provide examples of research projects or initiatives that your organization has undertaken and share the outcomes. This will help the students understand the practical applications of economic research.
- Allow for Q&A: Leave time at the end of your presentation for students to ask questions. Encourage them to ask questions about specific topics that they are interested in or curious about.
When it comes to what to leave out, remember to keep your presentation focused and concise. Avoid technical jargon or overly complicated explanations that may be difficult for the students to understand. Also, be mindful of time constraints and prioritize the most important information that you want to convey.
Chat remembers your conversation, so you can ask follow up questions and prompts that build off previous prompts. For example, if I want Chat to expand on point #5, I can simply add, “Expand on point #5.”
Train the dog. Learning to prompt Chat effectively is like training a dog. You get better with experience, and a skilled trainer will yield impressive results.
Asking Chat a generic prompt may give you no better answer than Google or Wikipedia. If you ask, “What is behavioral economics?” Chat may even be rather boring and banal.
You’ll get a better answer with something like this: What is behavioral economics? Give an answer in 300 words that a leading expert in behavioral economics would provide if she were speaking to her doctoral students.
The more specific and conditional you get, the more useful Chat will likely be.
SPECIFIC PROMPT: How should undergraduate students at Stanford that are majoring in economics and computer science think about inflation differently than most people do today?
CONDITIONAL PROMPT: Give me ten answers to this question: What kind of ideas and arguments about inflation have they probably already heard?
Use Chat to role play: “Imagine you are an undergraduate student at Stanford . . . .” or create dialogues that ‘steel man’ various perspectives. Creatively tweak questions you already asked:
PROMPT: What is behavioral economics? Give an answer in 300 words that a leading Marxist economist would provide if she were speaking to her doctoral students.
Get summaries of entire articles by pasting them into Chat. And click the “regenerate response” button often, even when you’re happy with the results. It’s a quick way to double the answers you get.
Learn how to prompt better through trial and error – and conversations with friends that are also using Chat.
Ask Bing to look things up. Microsoft’s Bing can offer additional insights as you do your research. Unlike Chat it’s connected to a powerful search engine. Innovation writer Ethan Mollick explains how “something magical seems to happen” when you get specific with Bing about looking something up. For example:
PROMPT: Look up recent data on inflation in academic papers and in the news. Then use that to compare with data before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
PROMPT: Look up recent speakers at Stanford University and then use that to analyze their areas of focus.
Talk with dead icons and research papers. You can use Afterward to search classic books and ask the authors questions relevant to your talk. See what Richard Feynman has to say! Similarly, you can have conversations with research papers through ResearchGPT.
Don’t blindly follow the oracle. Not all of AI’s ideas will be good – or true. If you ask Chat for ten suggestions perhaps only a few will be helpful. Several may be hallucinations.
Think of Chat as an incredibly powerful oracle. It’s not an encyclopedia or a mentor, but a fascinating fortune teller you now have at your fingertips. Use often but don’t trust until you verify.
Write your first draft orally. The psychologist Daniel Gilbert is correct when he advises to speak the first drafts of your presentations:
“[W]hen you start with written text and try to adapt it for performance, you are basically trying to turn one form of communication into another, and odds are that your alchemy will fail.”
AI makes it easy to speak your first draft. Again, simply use a tool like Otter or Whisper. You’ll automatically create a written version in your own oral style that you can edit and refine.
Clarify your big idea. Your big idea is the key insight you want your audience to understand and remember. Even if they forget everything else, you succeed if you get this idea — this core essence of your message — to stick inside their heads.
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he said the word “reinvent” eight times. His big idea was clear: Apple is reinventing the phone. Five words, no jargon. Everyone in the audience clearly understood this.
By contrast, I once helped an economist prepare for a short Congressional testimony by practicing his remarks to a room of policy experts. When he finished his first run through I asked everyone to write down the theme of his testimony. Nobody wrote down the same thing.
Most speakers are like the economist. I encourage you to be like Steve Jobs.
You can use AI to help clarify your big idea. Paste a draft of your remarks into Chat and ask something like this:
PROMPT: What is the theme of this talk? Give me 10 examples without jargon that are as specific, simple, and as memorable as a proverb.
Find stories. Stories bring our big ideas to life. They’re essential components of effective presentations. We come across good stories all the time, yet most of them slip away.
I encourage my clients to make a habit of capturing stories in the wild and slowly building a catalog that is saved in the cloud and easy to access at all times.
Even without a personalized catalog you can quickly discover relevant stories for your presentations with Chat. Consider a prompt along these lines:
PROMPT: What are five stories from the past five years that I can share in a speech to Stanford undergraduates majoring in economics and computer science to highlight the importance of protecting free speech on college campuses?
You can push the regenerate button, ask follow up questions, and have Chat expand on any stories that resonate with you. And you can paste your remarks into Chat and ask for relevant stories to add.
Use analogies. The scientists Emmanuel Sander and Douglas Hofstadter (of Pulitzer-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach fame) explain:
Without concepts there can be no thought, and without analogies there can be no concepts . . . the human ability to make analogies lies at the root of all our concepts . . . analogy is the fuel and fire of thinking.
Injecting this fuel and fire into your speeches helps ensure your audiences understand the ideas you’re discussing. This is why excellent speakers throughout history have so often relied on analogies to bring complex ideas to life.
The problem with analogies is that they’re hard to design from scratch – until now. Ask Chat something like this:
PROMPT: Explain charter cities by using an analogy in simple terms that will appeal to government officials in Zambia.
PROMPT: Explain blockchain mining by using an analogy in simple terms that will appeal to an NPR listener.
PROMPT: Explain nanomodular electronics by using an analogy in simple terms that will appeal to a 3rd grader.
Try using different audiences. From someone very ignorant (like a 3rd grader) to a general layperson (an NPR listener) to your specific audience (government officials in Zambia).
For example, I asked Chat to create analogies on nanomodular electronics for three different audiences:
Appeal to a 3rd grader: Nanomodular electronics is like building with magical building blocks that are so small, you need a microscope to see them!
Appeal to an NPR audience: Nanomodular electronics can be thought of as a new way of building electronic devices, like building with LEGO bricks, but on a tiny scale.
Appeal to government officials in Zambia: Nanomodular electronics can be thought of as a new way of building electronic devices, like constructing a building with bricks, but on a very small scale.
The author Carmine Gallo suggests asking Chat to help construct visuals based on your analogy:
PROMPT: How can I visualize the LEGO bricks analogy on a PowerPoint slide?
You can then take Chat’s answer and plug it into an AI image generator. My favorite right now is Deep AI. Demand Sage has an excellent review of the top 16 AI sites for creating visuals and the best way to use each of them.
Fine tune. Does your opening immediately capture attention, or is it filled with blather? Do your closing words restate your big idea with emotion and leave a lasting impression? How about your key takeaways?
Copy the most important parts of your speech into Chat and ask it to rewrite along whatever parameters you’d like adjusted. Feed your entire speech into Chat and ask what’s missing. Analyze the structure of your presentation and offer suggestions for improvement. You can also see if Chat can come up with a better title. Ask for 20 and then regenerate and get 20 more.
Prepare for Q&A by having Chat help you brainstorm potential questions you’ll be asked.
Continue to capture your thoughts. Keep using Otter or Whisper until your speech is finalized. Many of your best insights will come when you’re not at your desk but rather in the shower, walking the dog, having a conversation, etc.
The more you think about your speech, the more your mind will create little ideas that you can quickly capture into an AI transcription app.
Consider AI writing tools beyond Chat. Bing, Grammarly, Jasper, and Notion AI are a few of the many excellent AI writing tools now available. Deep AI added a text generator and Claude will be available to the general public soon. Friends with early access say Claude is more literary than Chat.
PRACTICE & ITERATE
Embrace Feedback. Engineers understand that iterating based on feedback is the key to a successful product. This principle is universal. It’s how biology forms complex life, how markets create wealth, and how humans build new technologies – and skills.
You can use AI tools right now to begin iterating on your public speaking. Poised gives you real-time feedback on your filler words, confidence, energy, empathy, and more. You can integrate it into Zoom or Google Meet to run reps during meetings without anyone noticing.
Orai bills itself as a speaking coach in your pocket. You can practice for a few minutes during downtime and quickly get your daily iterating in. Speeko gives you advice from legendary voice coach Roger Love and offers “a complete toolkit” including useful feedback like this:
Yoodli is a free AI public speaking coach that is so popular and easy to use that even Toastmasters, the iconic century-old public speaking club, is teaming up with them.
Make sure to give yourself feedback as well. Shortly after every talk you deliver, take a moment to do a quick self assessment. What did you do well? What can you do better? What feedback did you get from the audience? Capture your thoughts in real time with Otter or Whisper.
Line up perception and reality. I was working with two executives on a big presentation, and after their first run through I asked them each to guess how many filler words they used. The president said, “about a dozen?”
She used 71. She was shocked. I turned and asked her colleague the same question. He twisted in his chair, looked down, and said, “oh man, I had at least a hundred!”
He had 7. This lack of awareness is common. Most people have little understanding of how they come across when they speak.
If you’re not actively practicing and getting feedback, you’re almost assuredly delusional. And it’s keeping you from fully building your brand – and the brand of your products.
Build clarity and confidence: The more you practice, embrace feedback, and iterate, the more clarity and confidence you’ll have. In addition to the AI practice tools above, you can ask Chat for context-specific techniques to help you manage anxiety and focus your attention.
Bookmark useful AI tools and sources. Consider the resources I describe above that may be helpful to you. And know that this space is rapidly evolving. Here are a few useful resources to keep learning about new AI tools as they develop, and how best to use them:
- Futurepedia (A large AI database that continuously gets updated)
- Marginal Revolution (Blog run by Tyler Cowen & Alex Tabarrok)
- One Useful Thing (Ethan Mollick’s excellent Substack)
- Rinehart’s AI List (Tech researcher Will Rinehart regularly updates this list)
A good reminder from Eli Dourado: “Today’s models are the worst that they will ever be—they will only get better from here.”
THE COMING WAVE OF CENTAURS
Focus on centaurs more than oracles. Garry Kasparov is the greatest human chess player in history. When he famously lost to an AI in the 1990s, people feared that computers would take over or perhaps even ruin chess.
Instead they made it better.
Today humans and AI are seamlessly integrated into chess. Players use AI to play games and build skills. And when it comes to dominating the game, centaurs rule.
Human + AI = Centaur
AI can beat the best humans. But several AIs teaming up together are no match for a team that combines humans and AI. Apply this insight to your public speaking whenever possible. Get feedback and learn from both humans and AI.
This wave is big – and just starting. World-famous experts like Daniel Huttenlocher, Eric Schmidt, and Henry Kissinger are calling Chat an intellectual revolution on par with the printing press. Legal expert Orly Lobel makes a convincing case that AI may become a tremendous equality machine by providing billions of people with a brighter and more inclusive future.
I think that ChatGPT is like the web in 1993 following the release of Mosaic, the first graphical web browser. It is fun to play with and there are many possible applications. This wave is going to be a big one. Jump on it.
The effort, and gains, are yours. AI can give you plenty of useful guidance, but it cannot give you the determination to build an excellent speech and step out under the lights and deliver it. The really hard work still has to come from you.
Consider this: If you crush a presentation that convinces a VC to give you the ten million dollars you need to fund your startup, how much was that speech worth to you?
The world will increasingly pay a premium to the people who can do it well.
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*I use several of the AI tools highlighted above, but I don’t get paid to promote any of them.
Gratitudes: To Tyler Cowen, Eli Dourado, and Will Rinehart for taking time to chat with me. Paul Sherman and Maryrose for your thoughtful guidance and additional feedback.
How can I make this article better? Please send me corrections, edits, new tools to add, and other advice at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave them as comments below. Thank you!