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Best Public Speakers: Studying Malcolm Gladwell's Communication Skills

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

We included Malcolm Gladwell on our "Best Public Speakers" list because of his unique abilities as a speaker. His vocal presence is unusual and unexpected. He uses pauses in places to keep listeners on the edge of their seats.

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers and has been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list.

by Stephanie Bickel

Best public speakers | great speakers | good public speakers | great public speakers

There are many great examples from Malcolm to study. We reviewed Malcolm Gladwell's TED Talk entitled "Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce" in which he "gets inside the food industry's pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce -- and makes a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness."

Gladwell's greatest communication skills:

  1. Humor: at various points in his talk (:18, 1:37, 4:35), he uses humor to surprise and disarm us. Often, he pauses slightly afterward so the joke can sink in.

  2. Gesture: Gladwell uses many grand gestures (2:19, 2:50) to illustrate amounts and shapes.

  3. Vocal Variety: and energy-as he builds his story, Gladwell uses more and more vocal energy and variety, which communicates direction and emotional connection to his words.

  4. Analogies: Gladwell spins a slowly building story. He uses the story of spaghetti, coffee, and pickles to make a grander point: the value of diversity in determining happiness.

  5. Anchoring: Gladwell continually brings us back to the character "Howard," providing a consistent character within the changing circumstances of the story.

What Gladwell could do to improve his communication skills:

  1. Fillers: Gladwell uses "um, uh, and you know" many times, especially in the first 4 minutes. Using pause instead would give him a stronger start.

  2. Movement: Gladwell wanders or paces the stage often. This habit makes it difficult to focus on his words and makes him more difficult to focus on physically.

  3. Energy: Gladwell starts quietly and with hesitation. Often an audience member will tune out if the beginning of a presentation is weak.

  4. Non-gestures: although his gestures work for him when they are specific, Gladwell uses his hands to a point of distraction. Only gesture mindfully. When not doing so, we recommend dropping your hands to your sides so that we can focus on you, not your hands.


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