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Best Public Speakers: Studying Doug McMillon's Communication Skills

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

We’ve included Doug McMillon on our “Best Public Speakers” list because of his strong meeting starts, vocal style, and physical presence. He has been president and CEO of Walmart Inc since 2014.

By Anu Bhatt and Madina Behori

We reviewed McMillon's introduction at the 22nd Annual Meeting for the Investment Community. In this video, he outlines strategic initiatives and sets expectations in relation to Walmart's customers and stakeholders.

McMillon’s greatest communication skills:

  1. Strong Start: McMillon follows what we call a fast start to meetings (5 P's): praise, purpose, payoff, preview, and process. He begins with praise, recognizing 2 executives (1:15-2:35). He then explains the purpose/payoff of the meeting, which is to answer a lot of the audience's strategic questions so that they can "see out a ways" into the future (2:35-3:00). Finally, he previews the 4-part agenda and hits on the process by addressing when they will be answering audience questions (3:00-4:23). This fast start is completed in about 3.5 minutes.

  2. Vocal Style: McMillon speaks in a consultative voice that can be very comforting to the audience. A consultative voice is one that is slower, quieter, lower in pitch, and softer in weight - think therapist. McMillon demonstrates that you don't have to yell to project status and control; he lets the information be the star.

  3. Physical Presence: McMillon uses a variety of gestures; even in the first few minutes we see him use the pincer (2:04), open palm (2:28), karate chop (2:40), relaxed steeple (2:42), and power steeple (2:48). These last two, oftentimes, were his resting positions. In addition to gestures, McMillon had excellent eye contact. Rather than scanning the room (looking around nonspecifically), he maintains eye contact with a section of the room through an entire thought. This is a great way to connect with the audience and control the pace.

What McMillon could do to improve his communication skills:

  1. Breathing: McMillon does take advantage of the pauses between thoughts to breathe; however, when he does, his breathing, oftentimes, seems shallow (3:39). By taking more full belly breaths (rather than just in the chest), the last word in his sentence will come out as strong as the first one.

  2. Vocal Variety: At times, a consultative vocal style can be so soothing that it can start to lull the listener. In a longer speech, vocal variety can help to prevent this. Vocal variety is a change in pace, pitch, volume, etc. This change doesn't need to be sustained. For instance, a quick volume shift at the start of a new topic or even a rhetorical question asked at a higher pitch. This change also doesn't need to come from the speaker. For instance, when McMillon showed the video of a happy patron (16:25-17:21). Contrast and variety will keep the audience engaged.


Great leaders and speakers start with Speak by Design. Learn the techniques and build the skills with us. Speak by Design University is 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.


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