Books

Malcolm Gladwell on connecting with an audience

You know who he is. He’s the zeitgeist shaping writer of such popular classics as ‘Outliers’, ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Blink’. He’s popularised performance psychology and brought millions of readers to consider some fundamental human questions like –

  • Q.What’s the difference between Bill Gates and me? A. Not much.
  • Q. Is success all about hard work, as most successful people really want you to believe? A. No. It’s a small part of successful people’s stories; but luck plays a huge part.
  • Q. How do the smartest people in the world make such crappy decisions? A. Because they’re just as scared, lazy-thinking and biddable as the rest of us.

All of his books ask and answer interesting, challenging and relevant questions for the reader and he helps us understand ourselves and the world just a little bit better. He’s a great writer. He’s also a speaker. His publishing success has led to many high-profile ‘keynote’ opportunities that he wouldn’t ever have had otherwise.  He’s no Barack Obama, by his on admission, and he does have a calm, careful, sometimes ‘too-slow to start’ style; but he brings a beautiful, gentle honesty to his speeches that is really compelling. He’s a brilliant reminder that there are hundreds of was for shy, ordinary people to be brilliant when they stand up to speak.

I listened to him on the BBC’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ Radio show the other day and the interviewer asked him what the secret to being a good speaker is.  He replied like this – and you can download it here.

I like the challenge of standing in front of a group of people and being required to reach them… People have travelled to be there and what an audience wants is to be taken seriously. They will put up with a lot if they have the sense that you have thought about what you are doing with them in some considered way. Once they get that sense from you they will travel with you in many far and distant directions.

What turns off an audience is the notion that you’re giving them the same speech you’ve given many times before. That you didn’t even think about them that morning or about what you wanted to say. as long as I communicate that notion – you are special to me; I’m giving you this talk for s reason. Then you’re fine.

Isn’t that his, and most other engaging speakers’ attitude? They think that their job is to honour the time, experience and intelligence of the audience and make sure that they get something useful out of the the time that they have given to the speaker. They understand that an audience wants to feel important for the time they are with you. Every single one of them. Malcolm Gladwell’s humble, pragmatic and respectful approach is a model for every current and would be speaker. Here he is at TED talking about choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce.

He’s engaging, charming and interesting, isn’t he? And he really seems to care about us doesn’t he? How many of the really bad business, motivational and other speakers that we see give us the impression that they haven’t thought about us at all, and will never think about us again the moment that they step down from the stage. They show and tell us that they don’t care.

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Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey
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