Malcolm Gladwell’s Public Speaking Secrets

After discovering that he was to share a double bill with the “famously good” public speaker Malcolm Gladwell, Gideon Rachman decided to use the experience to learn how to improve his own speaking abilities.

In his write-up of the experience, Rachman discusses the lessons he learnt from Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘public speaking secrets’:

The first lesson came from simply looking at the programme. The photo of me was unexceptional […] Gladwell’s photo was very different. It was taken from a distance and showed off his magnificent Einstein-like Afro – it said, here is a mad genius. […] But there are other things he does that might be easier to emulate.

First, he is a master of the “look no hands” style of speaking. He just stands up there, with a button mike and talks – and it all sounds very spontaneous, with little asides and jokes, and messages tailored to his […] audience. Second, he tells stories – there are theories attached to the stories – but the bulk of the talk is made up of charming anecdotes to illustrate rather simple themes. […]

So how does Gladwell do it? […] He answered – “I know it may not look like this. But it’s all scripted. I write down every word and then I learn it off by heart. I do that with all my talks and I’ve got lots of them”.

It occurred to me afterwards that Gladwell’s success as a speaker illustrates one of his homespun themes – hard work pays off. But he has also made an important realisation. He is not giving a speech or a lecture – he is giving a performance. And like any good actor, he knows that you have to learn your lines.