Article Category: Speaker Habits

Six Thinking Hats
and the Public Speaker


The act of speaking in public and the process of improving one’s speaking skills are wrought with conflicting emotions, exhilarating highs, and frustrating lows.

There are times when applause makes you think you’re the greatest speaker in the world, and there are times when the silence of the audience makes you want to crawl into a hole.

In short, the mental game for speaking in public is a jumble of thoughts, experiences, and emotions.

In this article, we apply the wisdom of the Six Thinking Hats to provide a framework for sorting out this jumble and gaining useful perspectives which can help us improve.

What are the Six Thinking Hats?

Six Thinking Hats is a thinking framework for use by groups or by individuals. It was popularized in the 1985 book Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono. Dr. de Bono is a world-renowned author of dozens of books on lateral thinking. In the last 25+ years, the Six Thinking Hats method has been adopted by organizations around the world as an aid for individual and group decision-making and other problem-solving applications.

To apply the six hats method, an individual (or a group) looks at an issue from a series of perspectives, one at a time. Be separating the perspectives in this way, a much more complete and balanced view is achieved.

In Six Thinking Hats, de Bono writes:

The main difficulty of thinking is confusion. We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in on us. It is like juggling with too many balls…
The six thinking hats allow us to conduct our thinking as a conductor might lead an orchestra.

The six hats each represent a frame of mind or a perspective that one should adopt:

  1. White Hat - Neutral and objective; facts; figures; missing information
  2. Red Hat – Emotional; gut feeling
  3. Black Hat – Caution; points out the weaknesses
  4. Yellow Hat – Optimism; hope and positive thinking
  5. Green Hat – Creativity and new ideas
  6. Blue Hat – Control; organizing the thinking process and the other hats

When we wear each hat, we focus entirely on the goal for that hat. The entire process involves moving from one hat to the next (and quite possibly revisiting hats as we move along) until a complete, well-rounded understanding is reached.

Applying the Six Thinking Hats to Public Speaking

I was introduced to six thinking hats framework six years ago, and I have turned to it in a wide range of situations to help sort out my thinking. I’m now preparing to deliver seminars on how to apply the six thinking hats. (Interested? Contact me.)

You, too, can apply the framework to a diverse range of situations. Let’s look at how the six hats can be used to sort out our thoughts and feelings around public speaking.

The six thinking hats allow us to conduct our thinking as a conductor might lead an orchestra.

-- Edward de Bono

Blue Hat – Organizing the Thinking Process

When you wear the blue hat, your task is to define the situation, set the parameters, decide how you will proceed with the other hats (which ones to wear, and in which order), and otherwise control the process until a satisfactory resolution is reached. Thus, the blue hat is generally the first and the last to be worn.

Example: A speaker wearing the blue hat might produce one of the following:

  • I am an okay speaker, but my growth seems to have stagnated. I’m looking for answers about how I can jump start my progress again. I’m going to start with the white hat to establish the facts, explore my emotions with the red hat, and then wear the yellow, black, and green hats, and then I’ll decide whether to continue or stop.
  • My audience feedback is outstanding, but I’m getting very few repeat bookings. I’m going to go through the black and yellow hats first, and then use the green hat to discover possible causes I had not thought of before.

White Hat – Objective Facts and Figures

When you wear the white hat, you take an objective perspective. List facts that are known, and identify facts which are not (but could be helpful).

Example: A speaker wearing the white hat might produce information such as the following:

  • I have been delivering presentations regularly for 11 years.
  • Most presentations I deliver are half-day or full-day courses.
  • Feedback forms show my average rating is 3.6 out of 5.
  • My current fee is $1000 per appearance.
  • About 20% of my speaking engagements results in a future booking.
  • I don’t know the industry average for repeat bookings.
  • I don’t know the cost of running an ad in the local chamber of commerce directory.
  • I don’t know what the Lessig Method is, or whether I could adopt it in my presentations.
  • I don’t know the nomination process or the criteria for selecting speakers for the annual industry conference.

Red Hat – Emotions

When you wear the red hat, you explore your feelings and intuition, whether they are “positive”, “negative”, or (most often) somewhere in the middle.

Example: A speaker wearing the red hat might produce the following:

  • I get energized by feedback from the audience, both during my presentation and after a successful presentation.
  • I’m frequently afraid of making mistakes in front of my peers.
  • I enjoy being up at the front of the room and sharing my knowledge.
  • I am sad and embarrassed when I am asked a question that I don’t have the answer to.
  • I am amazed when I watch other speakers who seem to be so eloquent and effortless.
  • I feel shy approaching high-profile clients.

Black Hat – Caution and Pessimism

When you wear the black hat, you are cautious and careful, and looking for reasons to retreat. You are seeking weaknesses in the available options, and thus have a bias toward inaction.

Example: A speaker wearing the black hat might produce the following:

  • I tried a speech coach two years ago, and that didn’t produce any tangible results for me.
  • I am too busy right now to spend more time on speech preparation.
  • I cannot afford to put more money into marketing.
  • I don’t have any experience in developing keynotes.
  • If I raise my fee, I might get fewer bookings.
  • Client X has a reputation for not paying on time, so it may not be wise to commit to their event.

The mental game for speaking in public is a jumble of thoughts, experiences, and emotions.

Yellow Hat – Optimism, Hope, and Positive Thinking

When you wear the yellow hat, you can find the silver lining in any situation. Your glass is half full! You can see all the positive benefits which might be realized by action, and you are optimistic of a successful result.

Example: A speaker wearing the yellow hat might produce the following:

  • If I raise my fee, I might garner more serious attention of event planners with larger budgets.
  • If I volunteer to teach a course within my company, it will raise my profile.
  • I’m reading a great new book, Resonate. I can be more effective if I apply the lessons to my own presentations.
  • Adding video clips to my presentations will add excitement.
  • Improving my slide design skills would improve my overall effectiveness.
  • Updating my website and increasing my marketing efforts may result in more bookings.

Green Hat – Creativity

When you wear the green hat, your challenge is to seek out creative ideas that you have not thought of before, regardless of whether these ideas are feasible in the end. To borrow a tired cliche, this is thinking outside the box.

Example: A speaker wearing the green hat might produce the following:

  • What if I quit my day job to focus on a speaking career full-time?
  • What if I found a partner to co-facilitate with me?
  • What if I stopped speaking to live audiences and focused exclusively on webinar presentations?
  • What if I threw out my current slide deck and started from scratch?
  • What if I started my next speech out of view of my audience?
  • What if introduced music into my presentations?
  • What if I changed the “standard” seating arrangement in the room?

Trying Out Six Thinking Hats

The above examples were varied and intended to give you a flavor of what types of contributions are made while wearing each of the six hats across a range of scenarios.

The real value of this method is when you or your group focuses on a single specific scenario (e.g. Should I raise my speaking fee, lower it, or leave it unchanged?), and wears each of the hats in that context.

I encourage you to learn more about Six Thinking Hats and applying the methodology to your personal speaking challenges, whether your priorities are on developing delivery skills, designing better presentations, or shaping your speaking business.

Give it a try!

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