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Best Public Speakers: Studying Sheryl Sandberg

Updated: Apr 4

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, the founder of, and a philanthropist. In 2012, she was elected as the 8th member of Facebook’s Board of Directors, becoming the first woman to serve on its board. We chose to study Sheryl as one of the best public speakers because of her physical presence, her personal connection to the audience, and her confident, concise answers that exhibit vocal highlighting.

by Stephanie Bickel

best public speakers

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The public speaking event reviewed: Interview on CNBC Small Business Playbook

Sheryl's top public speaking skills:

  1. Facial expression: Sheryl has a nice smile and “thinks a smile” throughout the interview. This behavior increases her personal connection with the audience and adds warmth to her presence, something all great public speakers hope to accomplish. (:16)

  2. Physical presence: She maintains a nice posture with her shoulders back while keeping a still frame. Through her posture and physical poise, she conveys confident public speaking and strength. (:34)

  3. Answers the question asked: She starts with the answer to the question that is asked before providing additional detail. Sheryl uses this top-down approach to begin at a higher level and then address each supporting topic after. Responding in this way demonstrates that you are an organized thinker. It also helps the audience remember what is most important. (:54, 2:04, 9:11)

  4. Assertive, confident voice: Sheryl projects her voice and uses a loud volume with a low pitch. She comes across as confident and definitive. (:54)

  5. Vocal highlighting: Sheryl places extra weight and emphasis on key words and phrases. She becomes emphatic to draw attention to critical messages. (2:40)

  6. Grand gestures: She uses a variety of grand gestures to support messages. Sheryl extends her hands outside the frame of her body to convey passion and energy. She also uses particular gestures, e.g., the karate chop, to emphasize the growing amount of businesses using free tools from Facebook (:58, 1:37, 2:50, 3:34)

  7. Storytelling: Sheryl reinforces business points by telling stories. (2:20, 5:52)

Public speaking skills she could improve:

  1. Filler words / phrases: Sheryl occasionally starts answers to questions with filler words - “so”, “yeah, I mean, look”, “well, look”. Great public speakers take time to pause, breathe, and get right into the answer without any delay to convey impeccable gravitas. (:54, 5:30, 11:24, 13:58)

  2. Head movement: She shakes her head briefly. This behavior conveyed an uncomfortable moment as opposed to confident public speaking. However, this was the only one in the twenty-minute interview. (:56)


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