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Best Public Speakers: Studying Satya Nadella's Communication Skills

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

We included Satya Nadella on our “Best Public Speakers” list because of his enthusiasm and sincerity, his insights about the past, and his ability to calculate what this means for the future. Nadella is the executive chairman and CEO of Microsoft.

by Stephanie Bickel

We reviewed this video of Nadella during a Microsoft's Windows 11 event. In it, Nadella speaks to the future of the operating system.

Nadella’s greatest communication skills:

  1. Concision: Nadella was able to take a huge question such as: “Tell us about the future of Microsoft’s operating system,” and answer it comprehensibly in only 5 minutes. He’s never glib or curt. He gives his listeners a very clear picture of the future without sacrificing the crucial brevity the speech requires.

  2. Enthusiasm: Nadella expresses his excitement for where Microsoft has been and where it’s going. He successfully makes his enthusiasm contagious. Listening to him, we never question the sincerity of his emotional life behind the speech. We feel like we’re in the capable hands of an excited leader. He does this with word choice and with the inflections in his voice, that, on a technical level, always seem to be taking us upward and outward. Never down.

  3. Physical Poise: He doesn’t move much: he’s a stand-and-deliver kind of speaker, but he doesn’t come across as stiff. His stillness is intentional, and given the complexity of his messaging, he doesn’t need to move much. He also doesn’t need to move to express his excitement. As mentioned above, his voice takes care of that.

  4. Congruity of Expression: Nadella has a simple speaking style. He’s not flashy: he doesn’t go for jokes, nor does he use dense technical language. He’s not overly expressive in his voice, face, or body. He lets his inner state of excitement speak for itself. It is in this way that he delivers a steady message of authority underneath the words he’s sharing. Perhaps, most important is the fact that he never tries to show feelings he’s not having nor hide feelings he is having.

What Nadella could do to improve his communication skills:

  1. Use a Variety of Gestures: While he is poised and physically grounded, Nadella is limited in his gestures. For the vast majority of this speech, he keeps his hands and arms in the same position and repeats the same gestures. If he added different postures or gestures at some key moments, he would hold our attention more fully.

  2. Use Emphasis Sparingly: As a way to express his excitement, Nadella emphasizes many words. Yes, emphasis is a crucial technique to getting one’s message across, and putting a “frame” around takeaways, but when a speaker like Nadella uses so much emphasis, it starts to lose its inherent effectiveness. It’s ironic but true: the more he uses it, the less we hear it.


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