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Best Public Speakers: Studying Debra Cafaro

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

We chose Debra Cafaro for our "Best Public Speakers" list because of her polished leadership presence during interviews. We have been studying her for years. She is an American business executive who became CEO of Ventas, Inc. in 1999 when the company was on the verge of financial collapse. Under Cafaro's leadership, Ventas was named the most successful financial public traded company for the first decade of the new century. Also in 2018, Ventas, Inc. was voted one of the world's most admired real estate companies by Fortune magazine. Cafaro has been named the Top Performing Woman CEO Ranked by Total Return by Forbes and has been listed as one of the best performing CEO's in the world for several years by the Harvard Business Review. Her consistent leadership presence and extraordinary public speaking skills make her a fascinating leader to study.

by Stephanie Bickel

The best public speakers event we reviewed was an interview with Willy Walker on Walker Webcast called From Counting Silver Dollars to Building a $32B Business.

(Skip to minute 4:00 where she begins)

Debra's greatest leadership communication skills:

  1. Experience: Debra has been successful for years. She has the experience and calm of a senior executive leader.

  2. Adaptable: Debra has been public speaking and interviewed for years. It is fun to see how she has successfully adjusted to the virtual webcast format.

  3. Personal Connection: She openly shares her source of ambition. She tells personal stories from her modest early life as a daughter of immigrants, and her father's job as a postal worker.

  4. Physical Presence: She is dressed formally for doing an interview from home. This elevates the importance of the conversation with her interviewer. She has good color echo with her jacket and earrings, too!

  5. Facial Expressiveness: She uses her smile naturally and very persuasively.

  6. Hand Gestures: Debra uses great hand gestures that support her message when she tells stories from her past.

  7. Vocal Presence: It is great that Debra does not speak fast.

What Debra could do to improve her leadership communication skills:

  1. Vocal Presence: It is more of a unique aspect. She is always our example for women of how to use a naturally high-pitched voice credibly. High-pitched voices tend to sound younger and less experienced. On Debra, the higher pitch helps her convey compassion and enthusiasm.

  2. Filler Words: Her filler words emerge around minute 22. It is a good reminder to all of us to maintain stamina in keeping them out of our speaking style. Luckily most audiences will not notice filler words that emerge later. We are most distracted by the use of filler words during the opening and closing of talks.

  3. Audience Connection: The title of the talk does not get addressed at the beginning, which could disappoint audience.


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