8 insights from Malcolm Gladwell that made him a better speaker

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist author and speaker. He has written five books: The Tipping Point; Blink; Outliers; What the Dog Saw; and David and Goliath. All five made it to the New York Times Bestseller List. I have read the first three and look forward to getting to the other two at some point. Gladwell also hosts the podcast Revisionist History.

Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell

I recently listened to Malcolm Gladwell being interviewed on another podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. The discussion is wide-ranging and free flowing, and covers such topics as Gladwell’s research and writing process; running; favourite books; and much more.
At one point during the conversation, Ferris expressed his admiration for Gladwell’s public speaking abilities and asked him to explain the difference between his keynotes that were successful and those that were not.
I have distilled Gladwell’s response into eight insights. (In the list below, words such as “I”, “my” and “me” refer to Gladwell.)

8 insights from Malcolm Gladwell

1. My breakthrough came when I realized that good public speaking requires a lot of work. It requires about 10 times more work than I had been giving it when I first started out.

2. I reached a point where I had to decide whether I wanted to continue speaking in public. Because it has its pluses and minuses. I decided that I only wanted to continue speaking if I got much better and if I changed my speaking in a way to make it more meaningful to me.

3. I decided that I needed to have much more material. Because I have to give different speeches, I cannot just give the same speech over and over.

4. I spend a lot more time thinking about the audience.

5. I spend a lot more time thinking about my performance. And it is important to remember that it is a performance. I am not giving a speech, I am giving a performance.

6. Giving a speech is more than just standing up and reading an article. It is a world that has its own rules and principles and I threw myself into it.

7. Whenever I speak, I strive for authenticity. It’s hard to do when I speak to an audience where I am an outsider. For example, if I have to speak to a group of IT specialists, I don’t know anything about IT. I try to say something that will engage them and that is intelligent and that will make them think. It requires an effort, but it has to feel like me; they have to feel like they are connecting with me. I can’t fake it. It’s hard work, but it’s hard in a good way. That’s what makes it interesting.

8. What satisfies an audience is my attempt to bridge the gap between us while being true to myself. And when a speaker can bridge that gap, it is very satisfying.

Gladwell said that he has spent a lot of time thinking about the points above and that it took a long time to implement them. However, the process has made public speaking much more interesting for him and, as a result, he enjoys it more. He also shares a humorous anecdote about the speaking abilities of the British historian, Niall Ferguson.
If you would like to listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s conversation with Tim Ferriss, you can find the audio here. If you are only interested in the part about public speaking, it begins at 28:25 of the recording.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International