Analysis of a Speech by Mark Bezos

I recently came across this TED Talk by Mark Bezos, the Senior Vice-President of Development, Communications and Events at Robin Hood, a leading poverty-fighting charity in New York City. He is also the Assistant Captain of a volunteer fire company in Westchester County, New York, where he lives with his wife and four children.

Firefighters are bona fide heroes. In this talk, however, Bezos recounts one of his unexpected acts of heroism that taught him an important lesson. Have a look — it’s less than four minutes — and then we’ll examine the talk from a public speaking perspective.

What I liked

  • What struck me very early in this talk was that Bezos is genuine. He’s the real deal. His style was simple and straightforward. There was nothing artificial in his presentation. He came across as sincere and likable. I was left thinking, “If my house were burning, that’s the kind of guy I would want to show up to help.”
  • I liked the fact that he wore his firefighting outfit. Wearing non-traditional clothing for a speech is a risky proposition. It can appear gimmicky or contrived and cost the speaker much in terms of credibility. In this case, however, I thought that the firefighting attire went well with the talk and actually enhanced Bezos’ credibility.
  • I liked Bezos’s quick introduction of what he does and I liked the symmetry in the phrase, “when I’m not fighting poverty, I’m fighting fires” (0:20).
  • Mark Bezos conveyed an important message but wrapped it in a story. Telling stories is one of the most important things that a speaker can do to make his message memorable. I particularly liked how he quickly set the scene of his first fire (and the basis for the story): “When I found the Captain, he was having a very engaging conversation with the homeowner who was surely having one of the worst days of her life. Here is was, the middle of the night. She was standing outside, in the pouring rain, under an umbrella, in her pajamas, barefoot while her house was in flames.” In 20 seconds, I understood the situation in which Bezos found himself. I was there with him.
  • He spiced up his talk with some nice humour, particularly with respect to his firefighting “rival”.
  • He used simple words. One does not have to use fancy words in order to give an effective speech. To the contrary, as Winston Churchill said, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”
  • Mark Bezos made good eye contact with the audience. I particularly appreciated the fact that he did not forget the people along the sides.
  • He projected his voice well and had nice vocal variety when telling his story.
  • Bezos used gestures effectively, particularly from 1:10 to 2:15 when he describes his “rival” getting to save the dog, his own instructions to get the woman some shoes, and the great pose with his helmet and the statement: “But I’m no hero.”
  • At 2:50, we see what I like to call “the pivot statement”. It’s that part of the speech where the speaker makes the transition from the story that he has been telling to the message. Notice how Bezos moved from the woman’s appreciation for his act of kindness in getting her shoes to the importance of acts of kindness and generosity (big and small) that we can all do.
  • There was some nice pausing for emphasis toward the end of the talk: “And you know what I’ve learned? [pause] They all matter.” (3:05); “I would offer this reminder. [pause] Don’t wait.” (3:18); “If you have something to give, [pause] give it now.” (3:25). Pauses are tremendously important for getting your audience’s attention and driving home your key points.
  • I very much liked the symmetry in the important sentence, “Not every day is going to offer us the chance to save somebody’s life, but every day offers us an opportunity to affect one.”
  • Mark Bezos ends with a call to action and also a clever callback to his story about getting the woman her shoes: “So get in the game. Save the shoes.”

Suggestions

What could Mark Bezos have done to make the speech even better? Honestly, not a whole lot in my opinion. It was a touching speech, with an important message, delivered very well. Just watch the audience’s reaction at the end.

If I had one suggestion for Bezos, it would be to slow down a bit more at the beginning. For the first minute of the speech, he spoke more quickly and did not pause as much as he did afterwards. I put it down to nerves and the excitement of speaking at TED.

To avoid this in the future, I would recommend doing some warm up exercises before going on stage — swinging the arms; stretching; clapping the hands; voice exercises — anything to get the blood flowing and the vocal chords warmed up. Watch the athletes before any sporting event. What do they do? They warm up. Speakers should do likewise.

All in all, a great speech by Mark Bezos.

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22 Replies to “Analysis of a Speech by Mark Bezos”

  1. John,
    This was the first time that I’ve ever done anything like this. Reading a second-by-second dissection of the four most nerve-wracking public minutes of my life is certainly an odd experience! I find the analysis very helpful – thank you!
    Through my work with Robin Hood, we have used a great speaker-training company in NYC called Speakeasy. They have trained some of our executives as well as our grantees to become more comfortable speaking publicly. They helped me come to grips with the idea of speaking at TED – especially with the key aspect of “telling a story” rather than “giving a TED Talk.” I tell stories every day and am comfortable with it; giving a TED Talk, however was an overwhelming thought. I’d rather fight a fire any day!
    Thanks for the insights. I’ve enjoyed reading your other blog entries as well.

  2. Thanks for the detailed analysis, John!
    No doubt, Mark was remarkable and his speech was very effective and touching!
    Priya

  3. John and Mark,
    Thanks for the heads up, John.
    I hear so many speeches that don’t have a point but this ultra short speech had a very powerful point … don’t wait to make a difference, do it now.
    Mark you have a super voice, you know how to use humour and you know how to tell a story.
    Loved the “I’m no hero” – You and me both Mark, you and me both.
    A speech to be proud of.

        1. Keith, I subscribe to TED – you can sign on the site – and so receive a weekly email that alerts me to the latest talks. This prompts me to visit the site where I usually spend a bit of time poking about.
          John

  4. John,
    Many thanks for the post (a great “honest and authentic” speech) and for your detailed analysis. If there would be something I believe that you should have included, I can’t name it. Just perfect.
    Regards,
    Nuno

  5. Hi John,
    First of all, thanks for sharing this speech, it’s very very inspiring. It’s my first time on your blog and I will definitely come back again. Keep up the good work!
    Best regards,
    Nikola

    1. Hi Nikola,
      Thanks very much for the comment. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and look forward to having you visit again. I took a look at your blog; unfortunately, I don’t speak much Russian. (But I did note that we have the same WP theme for our blogs.)
      Thanks again. Спасибо!
      John

  6. Wow. What an excellent evaluation of a splendid speech. It’s a great idea. I have just discovered your blog toinght and I’m sure I’ll be coming back for more. Thanks, Heather.

    1. Hi Heather. Thanks for the kind words; they are much appreciated. It is precisely this kind of comment that keeps me motivated to work on the blog. Glad you enjoyed your stay and I look forward to having you back.
      John

  7. John! I was forwarded this link by a friend. I’m so glad she sent it to me. In a little over a month I’m going to be doing my first real big (well big for me) public speech. I’m excited but nervous still the same. I’m going to refer back to this one often to pattern my speech. Thanks again. Sure appreciate it!

    1. Hi Colette,
      Thanks very much for the message. I appreciate it. Congratulations on your upcoming speech. What you are feeling is completely natural. The trick is not to fight the nerves; rather, the trick is to accept that they are very much a part of public speaking and to channel the nervous energy constructively. I plan to do a post in the near future on handling nerves that will have other ideas as well.
      Best of luck with it and I hope to see you back on the blog soon.
      John

  8. I call fake on this bezos guy.
    I have been in the fire service since 1987 and I know for a fact there is NO such rank as assistant Captain.
    SECONDLY, NO command officer would send ANY firefighters in to rescue a pet especially without a fire hose and ALONE!
    Another thing-no command officer would send in 1 firefighter WITHOUT A HOSELINE and especially not to get a pair of SHOES!
    Firefighters never go in a burning structure ALONE!
    You may have fooled civilians with this speech but you don’t fool REAL FIREFIGHTERS!
    SHAME ON YOU!
    Signed a REAL firefighter

    1. Well that is quite the spirited comment, Bill. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I am not a firefighter – and my respect to you if you are, in fact, a “real firefighter” – but let’s take a closer look at your statements.
      First, you say that there is not such rank as “Assistant Captain”. I just finished searching “assistant captain” with “fireman” and “firefighter” on Google and it turned up many sites that show a firefighter’s rank as being “Assistant Captain”. Perhaps there is no Assistant Captain in your station or district, but as a generalization, your statement appears to be incorrect.
      Second, concerning the pet and the shoes, neither Bezos nor the other fireman were alone. It is clear from the speech that there were already several firemen in the house. It is also clear from the speech that by the time Bezos and the other guy went into the house, the fire had been contained and was pretty much out. I doubt very much that a Captain – Assistant or otherwise – would send people into a house for a dog and a pair of shoes if there were a real danger. And, as it is clear from the speech that the house was saved, it sounds like the fire was a relatively small one.
      Furthermore, how do you know that Bezos and the other fireman didn’t go in together? This is a four-minute speech, a chunk of which is not even about the fire itself. When retelling a story in that short of a timeframe, details are going to be omitted, the same way you and I omit details when telling stories to other people.
      I’m sorry that you don’t believe the speech. It seems entirely plausible to me. Further, it seems highly improbable that someone in Bezos’ position would lie in such a public form – including reference to a letter from the homeowner that mentions the shoes – about the event.

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