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Best Public Speakers: Studying Bono's Communication Skills

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

We included Bono in our "Best Public Speaker's" list because of his audience connection, impactful word choice, and infectious passion. Bono is an Irish singer-songwriter, activist, and philanthropist. He is the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of the rock band U2. Aside from his music, Bono is an activist for social justice causes, especially in Africa. He is the co-founder of the ONE Campaign and (RED).

By David Prete and Madina Behori

We reviewed Bono's speech at the 2019 Global Fund’s Sixth Replenishment Conference in support of the worldwide fight against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Donors at the conference pledged US$14 billion towards these efforts.

Bono's greatest communication skills:

  1. Audience Connection: The conference is being held in Lyon, France so Bono starts his speech by introducing himself in French; this helps to connect with his audience. He then cracks a few jokes about being a rockstar who is now an opening act for others, "as it should be", he says (0:21-31). He puts the focus on the real rockstars of the event -- the people behind the numbers, some of which he points out on stage. Taking the time to praise others at the start of the presentation set a humble tone and made the room feel more intimate.

  2. Impactful Word Choice: Bono is a lyricist and uses this talent to depict complex ideas simply and impactfully. One of the lines that most stands out from his speech is,"where you live should not decide whether you live" (1:25-1:30) and he repeats this emphatically which gets him applause from the audience. He uses his lyrical talent again to make a powerful comparison when he says, "you peddle despair, we offer some hope; you peddle division, we offer some unity"(2:23-2:45).

  3. Infectious Passion: Bono is a skilled performer who knows how to create excitement in his audience. At multiple times during his speech, he pauses and asks for agreement from the audience. He says,"Is that right?," or some version of that (0:56; 1:35; 2:59). He sounds like a coach hyping up his team before the big game and it works.

What Bono could do to improve his communication skills:

  1. Eye Contact: When Bono is looking out into the audience and speaking, we get swept up by his passion. However, when he looks down to find where he left off in his notes, some of that momentum is lost (1:01;3:06; 3:53: 6:27). Therefore, if the speech is short enough, we suggest memorizing it or writing out a bullet point of topics that you want to cover rather than sentences you want to repeat.

  2. Gestures: Bono's gestures are not as impactful as they could be. He, oftentimes, uses "the claw" (1:42: 2:41; 2:51; 5:04; 5:40) which can appear erratic and distracting. He also rubs his hands together (0:46; 1:46; 5:32; 6:26) in what appears to be a soothing strategy for nerves. If this is not the impression that he wants to make, then we recommend using more diverse and concrete gestures for specific words or phrases (key point, pincer, open hands, etc.) and then resetting to a neutral position with hands on the podium or at his side. This will help the idea, not the person, come through more clearly.


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