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Best Public Speakers: Studying Frances Frei

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

We included Frances Frei on our Best Public Speakers list because of how she uses her consultative vocal tone to show how much she cares about her audience. We also couldn’t agree more with her tips on how to communicate to build trust. Bring the best version of yourself with authenticity, empathy, and clear logic. Frances is a professor of technology and operations management at Harvard Business School.

best public speakers

We reviewed her best public speakers TED talk on how to build (and rebuild) trust.

Frances’s greatest public speaking skills:

  1. Consultative vocal tone: Frances speaks slowly and with a softer, whispered voice. She also strategically pauses to let her audience reflect on important statements. This is comforting to the audience as she seeks to show empathy and share her wisdom. You hear the emotion in her voice as she talks about building and breaking trust. It is evident that she truly cares about her audience. (throughout)

  2. Emphatic tone with supportive physical gestures. Even though her voice is generally soft spoken, she emphasizes certain messages by drawing out and adding weight to words. You will notice this when she says, “precisely”, “every”, and “favorite” in the first segment. Frances also uses a supportive gesture (pincer, fist, or facial change) to further highlight their importance. (13:48-13:00, 11:50-11:03, 7:40-6:05)

  3. Use of a variety of gestures: Frances is connected to her message as her gestures alone convey the meaning of her words. She uses a hand to her heart, open palm, karate chop, counting, pincer, and football hold to demonstrate effective use of micro and grand gestures. (14:46-13:28, 9:15-8:23)

  4. Interjects moments of humor: Even though she maintains a consistent tone, she breaks it up with some comic relief to contrast a more serious style. (12:30-11:58, 10:40-10:22, 8:14-6:05)

What Frances could do to improve her public speaking skills:

  1. Use a stronger start with an open, grand gesture: We recommend avoiding the phrase “Today, I want to talk to you about…” and get right to the point. This statement can be considered filler because it doesn’t add anything to a message. Begin with an engaging story, humor, a quote, a personal anecdote, a picture of the future, reflecting on the past, or beginning with the end. Frances also starts with her hands behind her back. This could convey that she is hiding something or retreating from the audience/stage. A great way to be inclusive of the audience is begin with extended arms and open palms. She does this shortly after. (14:52)

  2. Reduce nervous tendencies: Frances could benefit from maintaining a still frame and taking deep breaths. She tends to rock back and forth, sway, or pace unintentionally and you can hear some of her shallow breaths. Both can convey nervousness or uncertainty. Taking deeper breaths would help her reset her voice so she comes across as her most confident self. Planting and facing the audience for longer periods would also help her reset physically. (14:52-13:45, 12:45-10:20)

  3. Minimize the overused word, “super”. When a particular word becomes repeated too frequently, it takes away from the impact and can become distracting to the audience. Frances’s word is “super”.


Contact Speak by Design to learn how you can become one of the best public speakers in your organization. Effective public speaking is an art that takes practice. Our communication and public speaking coaches are committed to your professional growth and leadership development.

Explore our private coaching and group training options to understand how we help individuals, groups, and entire organizations improve public speaking skills.

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