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Speakers who surprise, educate, and impress their audiences (by definition) keep their audience’s attention. If you’ve ever listened to a cool story or listened to a speech about a favorite subject, it is harder than normal to distract you. Bad speeches tend to cause the audience to drift, daydream, and otherwise lose interest.

Educating the audience on something they have not heard, and find interesting, is a surefire way to keep your audience’s attention. News articles and clickbait live primarily off this human instinct. They prey off people’s insatiable curiosity.

Thus, finding stories, examples, historical imagery, and anecdotes can be a fun way to impress your audience. While the story or knowledge can be general, the speaker or debater can draw conclusions or use the example to fit whatever various point he or she is advocating.

Tell the audience a story, or a parable, that makes them try to guess what is going to happen next OR where they are unfamiliar with the end/purpose. This keeps them listening, and it informs and educates them on something they want to hear, but don’t yet know. Everyone is down to hear a cool story they have never heard before. Everyone.

So if you didn’t already know this one, here is a cool tidbit of information that most of your audiences probably will never have heard. Use it as you see fit!

The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived: John Von Neumann

Spoiler: If you Google “The smartest man who ever lived,” John Von Neumann is not the first result. That’s because Google has listed the man with the highest IQ ever recorded (William James Sidis). Scroll to the bottom if you want to know why most experts consider this fallacious.

John Von Neumann is universally considered one of, if not the, smartest men to have ever lived. He was born in Hungary in 1903, and made gigantic contributions to the fields of math, physics, quantum logic, the Manhattan project, and computing. Here are some of the more impressive parts of his life:

  • He could do 8-digit division in his head by age 5
  • By the age of 8, he was familiar with differential and integral calculus. He had also mastered the language of Ancient Greek
  • His first math teacher, the famed math analyst Gábor Szegő (one of the lead mathematicians in his generation) was moved to tears the first time they met, because of the boy’s grasp of math at the age of 15.
  • He graduated as a chemical engineer from ETH Zurich in 1926, and passed his final examinations for his Ph.D. in mathematics simultaneously (because one degree at a time wasn’t a challenge)
  • “Von Neumann was also a founding figure in modern computing. He was the first to describe a computer architecture in which the data and the program are both stored in the computer’s memory in the same address space. Von Neumann also helped develop the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), the first electronic general-purpose computer. One of its first programs was a study of the feasibility of the hydrogen bomb. Von Neumann’s team also performed the world’s first numerical weather forecasts on the ENIAC computer.” – Atomic Heritage Foundation
  • He coined the phrase “Mutually Assured Destruction” theory
  • He created Game Theory

Just let that sink in for a second. He built on the governing principle that would DEFINE, and EXPLAIN the Cold War, as well as the most referenced theory of brinkmanship ever used in the modern age.

His contemporaries said that trying to keep up with his brain was like “riding a tricycle while chasing a car.”

I encourage you to continue your research on John Von Neumann’s life, and then maybe use it to impress someone! Random facts are never useless, and when employed correctly, they can be extremely beneficial. Personally, I keep a journal of random stories and facts. Ironically, it is the one resource that I use MOST in public presentations. The journal has quickly turned into a binder, as I start to memorize some familiar and well-worn stories while adding new ones for future use.

This tactic helps every speaker in several ways. First, it adds a level of spontaneity to the speech, since you have dozens of stories and facts to draw on at the drop of a hat. Second, it also gives any impromptu speech the benefit of sounding more structured and prepared, which is pure GOLD to an audience.

A speaker who speaks off-the-cuff, as if they were ready and prepared, stands above the competition.

Author’s Note:

The problem with Sidis is that most of the claims made in favor of his high IQ are loosely verifiable. One researcher stated, “I have been researching the veracity of primary sources of various subjects for about twenty-eight years, and never before have I found a topic so satiated with lies, myths, half-truths, exaggerations, and other forms of misinformation as is in the history behind William Sidis.”

Neumann’s IQ and accomplishments are verifiably documented and measured in great detail.


Biography, John Von Neumann: https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-von-Neumann

MCS St. Andrews: http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Von_Neumann.html

Atomic Heritage Foundation: https://www.atomicheritage.org/profile/john-von-neumann

2015, Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-1903-mutually-assured-destruction-man-is-born-1.5382586

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