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Best Public Speakers: Studying David Behen's Public Speaking Skills

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

We are kicking off 2022 by analyzing another influential CISO. We chose David Behen for our "Best Public Speakers" list because of his approachability, his validation of others, and his balance of down-to-earth humor and earnestness. David is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer at LA-Z-Boy.

by Stephanie Bickel

Leadership and Communication Skills

We reviewed his interview with Maryfran Johnson at IDGTech Talk on how technology “disrupts” the furniture landscape.

David’s greatest public speaking skills:

  1. Engagement & Humor: David makes it a point to interact with his audience. He uses non-verbal communication (smile, look of concentration, nodding, “yeah” and “right”) as Maryfran is speaking, offering an opinion or asking a question. A fun moment is the introvert-extrovert conversation (18:00-19:00) You can see David really makes sure that Maryfran is following along. He ensures that she understands what he’s saying. He pauses strategically for engagement and he clarifies terms “IOT, you know, Internet of Things?” (27:45-28:30) David takes every opportunity to laugh along with Maryfran. They lightly joke about math, Detroit’s appeal and the surprising changes in the industry. A particularly funny moment is Maryfran’s pronunciation of Monroe, MI and David’s correction. (34:30-35:00) David speaks often about how interesting his subjects are. He talks about wanting to LEARN (37:55-38:55) and uses humor about “learning through discomfort.”

  2. Great listener: When it comes to leadership and communication skills, David pauses and maintains eye contact when others speak. He narrows his eyes to show he’s really focusing on what she is saying. He nods and makes noises of agreement that validate and give the interviewer status and respect (6:00-6:20). Observe how he does this in the Q&A section (15:30-15:45)

  3. Validation of Others: When describing the acquisition of the vendor company Joybird, he makes sure to call them ‘partners’ and emphasizes their strengths. He stresses the mutual benefit and shared learning of the partnership. This humble approach validates and respects the work that others do. (6:30-7:15) He always boosts his team and staff. He even says that he is “blessed with a great team.” (15:50) David speaks highly of others, including the CEO of La-Z Boy (19:00-20:00)

  4. Charismatic Tone: David makes a point to connect with his audience, no matter how much or how little the audience knows about the topic. He talks to them as if talking to a friend and throws questions to them to include them. He balances a down-to-earth, conversational approach with solid facts and data, which makes him accessible and trustworthy.

What David could do to improve his public speaking skills:

  1. Minimize filler words: David uses many filler words throughout his responses. His first word is “Well”, followed by “y’know” and “uh” (2:30-2:50, 35:50-36:00). He uses qualifiers (“kinda” and “sort of”) which do not add value to what he is saying. He does not need these qualifiers to make him approachable - he does it in other ways. He uses tag words (“...right?”) (5:30) in the interview that can be distracting. Although he is approachable and down-to-earth, ending a sentence/statement with a “...right?” repeatedly can be interpreted as uncertainty.

  2. Framing and Extraneous Movement: David’s camera is placed below his face rather than at eye-level. You can see this throughout the interview. This limits the audience’s view to his face and we are “looking up”. This also makes David appear as a “talking head” which - despite his approachability - doesn’t give him the full humanity that we want to see on-camera. When he moves, he sometimes swings in his chair (13:50-14:15). This can appear as distraction or almost an inadvertent playful quality.

  3. Eye Movement and Gestures: When he thinks, he frequently rolls his eyes up and to the left (38:30-40:30) which can get distracting to the viewer and, at worst, be misinterpreted as disinterest. We are unable to see any gestures due to the camera angle. We only see one defined gesture at 43:55 (“three”.) The rest are hidden. We can tell that he is making gestures (12:05) but they are hard to see.

  4. Vocal Gravitas: David’s vocal pitch has a nasal quality. It makes him appear youthful and younger. When we talk about ideal leadership and communication skills, vocal confidence is perceived as low (pitch), loud (volume) and linear (logical). David uses volume and logic very effectively, but occasionally - through enthusiasm or humor - his pitch becomes higher.


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