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Best Public Speakers: Studying Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Updated: Feb 10

We are dedicating the month of October to the best public speakers that inspire us. Studying great speakers will make you great, too. Learn about what makes them confident, credible, and compelling in our weekly blog reviews. First up...Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an American jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death in 2020. She was the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Ginsburg spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and women's rights.

by Stephanie Bickel

best public speakers

Photographer: Todd Heisler/The New York Times via Redux

What we studied: Interview with PBS News


  1. Eye contact: Looks directly into the eyes of the interviewer. This behavior increases connection and demonstrates that she is listening. (:20)

  2. Posture: Holds a very still frame. Ruth comes across as confident and comfortable. She maintains this physical poise throughout the entire interview. (:20)

  3. Vocal presence: Nice speaking rate. Ruth demonstrates a sense of calm and control of her voice. The audience is also able to follow everything that she has to say. (:32)

  4. Use of the pause: Strategically using pauses helps the audience focus on what is most important. Ruth highlights the importance of “all of the people” and not just “some of them” in this segment. (4:20)

  5. Storytelling: Mentions a quote, song, and analogy to answer the interviewer’s question. Ruth skillfully brings facts and data to life by referencing her personal favorites. (1:00, 4:57)

  6. Handling questions: Answers the question asked. Ruth shows that she is paying attention to the listener and starts with what is most important in her response. She comes across as definitive and unwavering in what she believes. (2:15)

  7. Laughter: Because her natural tendency to keep a measured demeanor, the occasional laughter brings out more of her personality (1:15)

Strategies for improvement:

  1. Posture: Head position is forward. Adjust head position to be upright on top of shoulders. This would convey greater energy and visual strength. (:18)

  2. Gesture: Body is closed off from the interviewer. When resetting to a neutral position, unfold hands and place shoulder-width apart on legs. Keep legs uncrossed with feet shoulders-width apart. Opening up the body looks more receptive to alternate positions. Perhaps Ruth was not. (:18, 3:51)

  3. Eye contact: Ruth looks down or up while thinking. If you did not know Ruth well, you would underestimate her because of this behavior. We can come across unsure when eye contact is light. Ruth could deliver piercing eye contact, too, which made the contrast very exciting. (:59, 1:30)

  4. Vocal tone: Monotone. Vary vocal tone to make delivery more engaging and dynamic. This steady vocal tone made her very credible. It also helped her lead in an understated way. Depending upon your role and goal, this could be very good. It is important that it is not your only style. That would make you less than effective, if you have only one vocal setting. (throughout)

  5. Gesture: Hands remain low with little movement. Use more grand gestures. Lift hands up and off of legs to add energy to delivery. We need to see hands occasionally to feel people's confidence. There are studies that show that the sight of hands actually increases the speed of trust when people are meeting for the first time - in person or virtually. (throughout)

Take a look at the interview we reviewed. What qualities do you want emulate that Ruth does extremely well?

Keep it simple. Pick one skill you want to work on in the next 48 hours. Practice the skill in your next meeting. Get feedback from a colleague.

Make small changes now to contribute to your own personal transformation. The time and effort you put in will be well worth the investment!


Great leaders and speakers start with Speak by Design. Learn the techniques and build the skills with us. Speak by Design University is the only leadership communication program in the world that gives you access to self-paced learning, group coaching and training and, most importantly, private one-on-one coaching. Learn more and register.

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