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Best Public Speakers: Studying Thasunda Brown Duckett

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

We included Thasunda Brown Duckett on our “Best Public Speakers” list because of her poise, passion, personable style, praise for others, and precise messaging. Thasunda is the President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA and the former Chief Executive Officer of Chase Consumer Banking, a division of JP Morgan. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of Nike. Duckett will be the first woman to oversee the financial service giant’s $1.3 trillion in assets under management (AUM), and only the third African American woman to helm a Fortune 500 company full time.

by Stephanie Bickel

The best public speakers event we reviewed: Conversation during the HOPE Global Forum

Thasunda’s greatest public speaking skills:

  1. Poise - The introduction given for Thasunda is long. John is making sure to offer her the credit she deserves and talks for 4 minutes to prime the audience to ensure that they are aware of her extraordinary achievements. Thasunda handles this with poise, grace and confident gratitude. We see this in how she sits tall, while allowing him to marvel at her accomplishments. During this time, she looks into the faces of the audience so she can begin building a personal connection with them. She also handles interruptions from her interviewer with grace (8:30).

  2. Personable - Thasunda’s sincere delivery of her vision and journey support her passion for what she does and intends to continue doing. She achieves this through warm facial expressions, calm slow-paced speaking, and painting a picture of her life others can relate to. Her openness makes her approachable. Her humble beginning as a woman of color is an American success story. When speaking, she uses strong eye contact to engage both the audience and the interviewer. She speaks directly to her audience. Building strong, successful relationships is a superpower of hers.

  3. Passion - It is clear Thasunda loves what she does! She is driven, focused on her career while crediting family for her character. Her calm, matter-of-fact communication style shows how she is comfortable speaking truth to power. She also uses weighted purposeful hand gestures. This contributes to her strong leadership communication style.

  4. Praise for Others - Thasunda is quick to give credit to those who supported her efforts on the road to her success. This is why she is so inspiring! People will always work harder for people who expect the best from them.

  5. Precise Messaging - Thasunda is very clear in her communication style. She highlights key points with her voice and hand gestures. She rephrases what she sees as the main takeaway for the audience to ensure they receive her governing thought. She also uses hand gestures to support her message. She uses effective pauses (19:50) when she says, “It changed… my… life!…” to build the impact of her message.

What Thasunda could do to improve her public speaking skills:

  1. Thasunda is such a polished public speaker, it is difficult to find a growth opportunity for her. Her warmth is compelling and draws people to her. This friendliness also makes her more approachable. We would encourage her to experiment with smiling less to build more leadership power and mystery.

  2. The interviewer points out that Thasunda is often called “T. Duckett” because people struggle to pronounce it properly (0:39). However, he never takes an opportunity to introduce Thasunda by name. We recommend using her whole name in her introduction so the audience can hear a proper pronunciation of her unique name.


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