top of page

Best Public Speakers Series: Rabbi Angela Buchdahl

By Ben Katz

We included Rabbi Angela Buchdahl on our “Best Public Speakers” list because of her storytelling, great vocal variety and vocal production, and grounded presence.

Best Public Speakers

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl is the first woman to lead Central Synagogue in New York City in its 180-year history. Born in Korea to a Jewish American father and a Korean Buddhist mother, Rabbi Buchdahl is the first Asian American to be ordained as a cantor or rabbi in North America. She has been featured on the Today Show, NPR, and PBS and was listed as one of Newsweek’s “America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis.”

We reviewed Rabbi Buchdahl’s Stanford Baccalaureate speech from 2023 where she shares what it means to be “in the business of awe,” and reveals how the worst day in her life–when she intervened in a dramatic hostage situation–reinforced her sense of belief and purpose.

What We Can Learn from Rabbi:

  • Storytelling: Rabbi Buchdahl immediately captures our attention by beginning with a dramatic premise: that the circumstances of the worst day of her life ultimately led her to speak in front of the students of Stanford. (0:00-1:30). She sequentially tells a personal story, using an engaging, humorous start, keeps our attention with exciting cliff-hangers and reveals intimate, story-specific vulnerabilities to connect instantly and firmly with her audience.

  • Vocal Variety: As you’ll notice, Rabbi Buchdahl makes use of all the different components of vocal variety: she modulates her volume, pitch and pace to great effect, specifically when she uses a slow pace to highlight a dramatic turning point in her story (2:00-2:32). Later in her speech, Buchdahl makes excellent use of pitch variety, using a melody to keep the audience engaged, particularly by beginning each thought on a higher pitch, and sequencing downward to highlight the end of her train of thought (7:30-7:48). At the midpoint of her speech (9:30) Rabbi Buchdahl increases her volume and pace to higher and faster as she builds to make her point, and tie divergent thoughts together.

  • Vocal Production: Buchdahl’s voice has a luxuriousness to it: her vowels are open and melodic, and her consonants crisp and resonant. She is breathing in a way which supports her vocal production, without tensing her shoulders and neck. Grounded Presence: Throughout Rabbi Buchdahl’s speech, she does a fantastic job of staying firmly planted. If you speed-scroll over the video, you’ll notice that she doesn’t shift nervously side-to-side, and easily and organically gestures with her arms and head. Occasionally she grounds herself with a hand on the podium, but she radiates calm, strength and poise under pressure. For the final moments of her speech (17:15), she leads the audience of graduates in an exercise to thank their teachers with a hand gesture that radiates out from their heart. In doing so, Buchdahl exemplifies the strong connection (and SBD guiding principle) of heads, hearts, and hands.

How She Could Improve:

  • More Vocal variety: Rabbi Buchdahl keeps much of her speech in an area of her vocal range which is pretty consistent. Though she is able to create melody with her voice, there’s an opportunity to access greater range–especially her higher pitch.

  • Physical Gesture: Buchdahl uses hand gestures sparingly, but to strong effect. Still, there is an opportunity to increase the frequency of her gestures to add energy to her speech.


Become a speaker who can command any room. Speak by Design University is a one-of-a-kind leadership communication program. It’s the only leadership communication program in the world that gives you access to self-paced learning, group coaching and training and, most importantly, private one-on-one coaching. Learn more and register.


bottom of page