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 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.)

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. 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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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 241) – John Lasseter

John Lasseter - American Animator and Film Director, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar

John Lasseter – American Animator and Film Director, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios

Very, very, very important: Do not work in a vacuum.

“You have to surround yourself with trusted people. You get so immersed in your work, you will not be able to see the forest from the trees. Frankly, you’ll be studying the pine needles and worrying about them.

“You need someone to help you back up and take a look at the forest and see where things are working or not working.

“And you need to surround yourself with people whose judgment you trust and they can be brutally honest with you.

“As an artist, showing unfinished work to people is really difficult. It’s really hard. It always is hard. It always will be hard. It never gets any easier, but you have to do it.

— John Lasseter

Photo courtesy of Eric Charbonneau
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6 Steps to a Great Introduction

PG LogoOn 1 June 2016, I announced the launch of a new digital magazine for public speaking professionals: Presentation Guru. I am proud to be one of the co-founders of the site. This post is part of a series designed to share the great content on Presentation Guru with the Manner of Speaking community.


When they have a speaking engagement, speakers naturally focus on what they are going to say and the audience that will hear the message. This is as it should be. But in the real world of speaking, there are also many logistical things to remember. (If you have not yet downloaded it, here is a free one-page checklist to help you make sure you remember all the little things for your next presentation.)

One thing that speakers tend to overlook is the way in which they will be introduced to the audience. This is a mistake, because the person who introduces you sets the tone for your talk. A great introduction piques the audience’s attention and raises the level of energy in the room. A bad introduction can have the opposite effect. Why waste the opportunity?

In this Presentation Guru post, my friend and fellow speaker, Jack Vincent, shares six simple, but important steps to getting the best introduction possible. Follow these steps  the next time you have a speaking engagement and you will be off to a strong start.

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Rhetorical Devices: Anastrophe

This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.

Device: Anastrophe

Origin: From the Greek ἀναστροφή (anastrophē), meaning “a turning back or about”.

In plain English: Changing the syntax (structure) of a sentence such that the subject, object, verb, adjectives, etc. are in an unusual grammatical order.


  • The unusual word order forces us to think a bit longer to understand the sentence, giving it a wiser, more profound quality.
  • By inverting the normal order of the words, a speaker can give added emphasis to a particular word; e.g., “I value liberty the most.” vs “Liberty, I value the most.”


  • Anastrophe is more common in poetry than in prose. Poets often use it to maintain the rhythm or rhyme scheme of a poem.
  • Anastrophe should be used rarely when speaking. Unless it fits perfectly, it will sound pretentious or just plain silly.
  • Yoda is a master of anastrophe (and also of anadiplosis).


Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer.

— Winston Churchill, 14 September 1914


Pointy-haired Boss: “From now on, I’ll be using the chaos theory of management.”

Wally: “And this will be different how?”

Pointy-haired Boss: “Now there’s a name for it.”

Dilbert Comic Strip, 5 March 1998



Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”

Patience you must have, my young Palawan.

Left behind, no one will be.”

“Bring him here. Question him we will.”

Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.”

“When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.”

— Yoda


Paul Bratter: “I want to know why you want a divorce.”

Corrie Bratter: “I just told you. Because you and I have absolutely nothing in common.”

Paul Bratter: “What about those six days at the Plaza?”

Corrie Bratter: “Six days does not a week make.”

Paul Bratter: “What does that mean?”

Corrie Bratter: “I don’t know what it means.”

— Richard Thomas and Bess Armstrong, Barefoot in the Park, 1981

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Celebrating Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”

On 28 August 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered one of the most famous speeches in history, I Have a Dream. I write this post on the 53rd anniversary of that momentous occasion.

Recently, I was in Washington to deliver a talk at a convention. While there, my wife and I had the opportunity to take in many of the sights. To celebrate the anniversary of I Have a Dream, I have created a slideshow of some of photos that I took at the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, mixed with some historical photos of the great man himself.

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And, one more time, the final five minutes of that incredible speech.

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