Public Speaking with Michael J. Gelb

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

What is your goal when presenting? Do you wander around the stage or stand confidently in the center? What image do you give your listeners on Zoom? In this interview, Michael J. Gelb share his public speaking expertise.

After the Interview

About Michael J. Gelb

Michael is a professional public speaker renowned for his life-changing presentations on creative leadership, genius thinking, and conscious business. He has served as an executive leadership and presentation coach to AT&T, DuPont, Genentech, KPMG, Merck, Microsoft, Nike, YPO, and many others.

Michael Gelb is a professional public speaker renowned for his life-changing presentations on creative leadership, genius thinking, and conscious business

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Deliberate Leaders I am your host Allison Dunn, Executive Coach and founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. And I am very excited to introduce our guests today, we have with us Michael Gelb, he is a professional public speaker are renowned for his life changing presentations on creative leadership, genius thinking and conscious business. He’s served as a leadership, executive coach and trainer for AT&T, Nike, Microsoft and many others. He is also the author of Mastering the Art of Public Speaking: Eight Secrets to Transform Fear and Supercharge Your Career. Awesome. Michael, thank you so much for joining us here today on Deliberate Leaders.


Great to be with you.


I like to kick these off with a quick deliberate conversation, what would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today


Have a higher purpose.


Awesome, tell me more about have a higher purpose.


So don’t just leave people for some transactional, habitual, mindless, potentially destructive endeavor, have a higher purpose, something related to your deepest values to the purpose of your existence on Earth, you will then find that you have more energy that you are better able to learn, adapt, grow and change, you will also discover one of the real secrets of the highest level leaders that I’ve had the privilege of working with over many decades, which is humility, in the face of trying to live up to your ideals. So you have to be willing to bridge the gap between defining a higher purpose, and then dealing with the impediments to making that sell. But that to me what leadership is about. Otherwise, we’re just talking about management, which is fine, you have to admit is important. Managers measure things and they test things and they hold people accountable and all that sort of stuff. Leaders set a vision. But if you don’t have one, you can’t set it. So start by setting your own vision. That’s so that’s yeah, that’s why.


I think that is a fantastic tip. I recognize that sometimes when we set a higher purpose that it changes and it shifts and then it leaves us feeling aimless a little bit. So resetting your higher purpose, I think is also an important thing to keep in to keep in mind. You, right, you author on public speaking and just recognizing that in order to be an effective, deliberate leader, that presenting, speaking and communicating in a way that is not only heard, but understood is the focus of your book. So you share some really powerful practical approaches to how someone can improve their public speaking. And you come up with eight secrets. So I would like to spend a little bit of time just really imparting some key things that people should be thinking about that are communicating and presenting on a regular basis.


Sure. Well, the first one is to recognize that if you aspire to be a leader, then it’s really important for you to be deliberate about cultivating your ability to speak to people. Because whatever realm you’re aiming to be exercising your leadership skill, the more successful you become. The more elevated you become, the more responsibility you have, the greater the likelihood that you will have to stand up to larger and larger groups of people, whether it’s on Zoom or some other modality and get them aligned around a mission, vision values, get them to buy into a change So one of the fundamental skills of deliberate leadership is cultivating public speaking. And in the book, I do invite people to begin to think of themselves as professional speakers. Now, that doesn’t mean that you’ll go around necessarily, as I have done for the last 40 years, and speak to people and they actually just give me money just for talking to that. That’s actually what I have done for a living for many, many years. And that could be an option for you if you follow what’s in the book. But if you just want to champion, whatever it is, you want to champion if you want to be able to lead people to get them to buy into a vision, and then go out and make it. So you’re going to have to get better and better at this. And he, it’s interesting just before we started our conversation, I got an email from one of my clients, who’s the CEO.


He sent me a speech he’s giving to his people. And he asked me to help him craft it. And I do this for a lot of my clients, I help them rewrite their presentations of their speeches, and I loved doing. And he can easily get someone like me to help him choose a phrase, I mean, the first thing I did, he said this thing to me, I eliminated all the cliches immediately, because he’ll sound much more authentic and powerful and clear. So he can engage someone like me or someone. Depending on the size your company, people have someone who’s just crafting messages, the PR department, the speechwriter. But what you can’t do, no matter how senior you become, you cannot delegate giving the actual speech.


You got to show up. So think of yourself as a professional speaker. And the good news about that is it changes your whole mindset. So instead of avoiding speaking, you embrace every opportunity, and you deliberately practice the challenging parts of it. But we start you by practicing the challenging parts of it in a safe and supportive environment. So I always encourage people join Toastmasters join any kind of group where you can practice, take every opportunity to give talks, go to the PTA, do something on Zoom, offer a seminar on something, you know something about just to practice. Because then you’re getting better every time you present. And the better you get, the easier it is to get better.


I think that practice is I’ll just speak for myself is one of those things that I personally get stuck on the front part of something. And that’s the one that I seem to have just like practice and practice and practice. And it’s the middle in the end. How do you get someone past to the beginning and stuff that they can complete? Their full like message?


Well, it’s it’s simple, but there eight steps, or eight secrets, and each one makes the next one possible. So one of the simplest things is to figure out why you are giving a particular presentation, I think a higher purpose, right?


And, and very simply, a lot of people think they’re giving the presentation, because they were told to or because they have to and they set an unconscious sub optimal goal, which is survival without embarrassment. This exacerbates all three symptoms of nervousness that interfere with our ability to be present and deliver a message in a simple and effective way. So one of the secrets is shifting out of focusing on yourself and consciously choosing not just to give the presentation but to focus on the audience sees the thing perfect what we professional what we know is presentations about the audience. We’re here to meet the needs of the audience, that what is leadership, leadership is about meeting the needs of stakeholders, and the finest leaders meet the needs of more stakeholders in ever more creative and efficient ways. So in the case of a presentation, your stakeholders, the audience, perhaps the sponsors of the event, those who you represent. So it’s not about you, it’s about that. So focus on your objectives for the audience. And what I get my clients to write down specifically, what do you want them to know? How do you want them to feel? And what do you want them to do as a result of your presentation? And when it comes to what you want them to know, the motto is kiss, keep it simple speaker. Also important, though, not just what do you want them to know? But how do you want them to feel because emotions are contagious, for better or for worse. So if you consciously choose to share with your audience, a feeling of optimism, or enthusiasm, or excitement about what it is you want them to know? And why? Because there’s something you want them to do, or stop doing. So maybe you want them to buy something, or buy into something, or go along with a new program, or adopt a new computer system, or whatever it happens to be. have a clear idea of what’s Why are you doing this? Because it’s amazing how much easier it is to speak to people if you know what you’re talking about why you’re talking to that? It’s such a simple common sense. But when people think, Oh my god, I have to get this job done it up. Oh, and they forget, why am I doing? What’s the purpose, write it down? makes a huge difference.


Sure does. Do in working with your clients and coming up with a let’s say, someone wants to be a professional public speaker? And how do you help them craft and ensure that their message is authentic? And also unique? unique enough so that it gains stage time?


Sure, well, it doesn’t have to be unique. And really, there almost isn’t anything that is unique or truly original. Haha, sad. But it’s but it’s true, right?


Yeah, it’s okay. It’s okay, what’s unique and original, is the spin you put on. And each of us has our own unique life experience, unless you’re identical twin. Your DNA is unique in all of human history, not just the 7 billion living now, but 90 billion have ever walked on the planet. There’s no one else like you. So part of how you bring a message to life is find something that relates to a higher purpose, that is a reflection of some universal truth. You know, don’t sell anything unless you think it’s going to improve people’s lives, for example. Because then you have integrity, then you’re aligned with basic goodness. And then have fun and be creative, coming up with engaging ways to share it. And a lot of times, that’s so you just tell the story. I take people say, Oh, I’m terrified of public speaking. I’m an introvert. I’m a financial analyst, or I’m a PhD, or I’m an engineer and I don’t like to be Yeah. Okay. So tell me about what it was like when your first child was born.


Or when you fell in love with your partner, or the vacation that you’re thinking about going on, or the one you’d ultimately like, and I people just start telling this story, and they don’t say and you know, they’re not anxious. They’re telling you the story. So what if we just helped you find stories that you can tell as naturally as you tell those kinds of stories? Well, that’s part of the secret is we help we help people. Discover what those stories are, and then relate them to the message that they want to convey.


I think storytelling is so powerful and when you’re telling it from like, it’s a true thing that you lived through. Something you experienced it does, it completely drops away all of the gap words that you add in regard to natural at all. There’s a story in the book. It’s a, it’s a store, I work with a construction management company in New York. And in their business, you can be as good as you want, technically, but you don’t get hired until you stand up in front of potential clients, and explain to them why they should hire you. So I’ve been doing presentation skills training for construction management firms for many, many years. In one of the more recent programs I was doing, there are people who are focusing on how to sell the work. But there are also people who were site supervisors. So they’re running construction sites, I’m pointing that out, because that’s where New York is the running construction sites in New York City. And if you’ve ever been on one of these sites, they’re amazingly complex. And a huge priority for these companies is safety. So this big New York construction management firm had hired a safety management organization, and they had trained everybody in their safety procedures. And they were training them in the way they needed to talk to the people in the workplace. So we were my job was to help them do this and make it more effective because they were terrible. Good, there was a formalistic. They were reading off what somebody else said. So I had this one guy, who’s huge guy’s name is Vinny. He was just a guy. He looked like he just lifts steel girders himself. And but he stood up and he did his first presentation, he was so mechanical and saying, um, I, you know, constantly, because he doesn’t he’s not a public speaker. That’s not what he does. So I showed him this on video. It took him a season. You must have some stories about safety in the workplace. What How is this impacted you has? He said, Oh, yeah, there’s something I could share. But he went up there the next time, he told a story about how his father got injured. And how it devastated his whole family. And he showed real emotion. And these are tough, New York construction managers, people had a tear in their eye. The sense of communication around safety is, is the most important part of our job. it and it was natural. If we didn’t have to rehearse anything, he didn’t say, oh, or you know, one time.


I encourage anyone who is required to do public speaking that you pick a story that just shows a little bit about who you are, that resonates with the purpose that you’re trying, you know, the message that you’re trying to deliver. And I don’t think you can go wrong with a story if it’s meaningful to you.


Well, the secret is, what you have to do is a story that’s meaningful to you. And then you have to make sure it relates to the message. Because some people think, oh, I’ll tell this joke, or I’ll tell this story. But it’s off the message. That’s why you start with what I want him to know, how do I want to feel what I want him to do? Okay, what stories or anecdotes or jokes might illuminate those points. So you have to make the connection. Otherwise, people said, Well, that was a nice story, but what does it have to do with anything?


I think I have been to those presentations. In one of the techniques that I have tried to use and I see a lot of other people use is using humor in their public speaking. Do you have any guidance around that? Obviously, to tie back to the message, but is humor the right thing to use?


If it’s funny, okay.


Only if it’s funny,


Well, if it’s natural, that’s the real key. What if, rather than trying to tell a joke. If you embrace a light hearted attitude, spontaneous humor is what really works. So here’s the thing about being a professional public speaker. Over the course of my career, most of the talks I’ve given were to people who don’t want to be they’re serious. No, I’m serious. I’m serious people who are very, very busy. And the boss sends out a note that says attendance is mandatory with all caps. So they’re sitting there in my class, or lecture hall, or seminar room or ballroom. And they’re looking at me like this, that that would kill me. Well,I get them to laugh. See, they don’t want to make eye contact with me. Because if they make eye contact with me, it means they have to listen to me. And they have to acknowledge that there’s a purpose for them being there. And they don’t get to be annoyed at their boss anymore for sending them to this. So I’ve got to win them over. That’s what I do as a professional public speaker. That’s why you pay me because not many people can actually really do that with a pretty hostile audience. And I don’t do it with set material. I do it by finding something that’s just funny, and spontaneously, saying it and then I look at them. And then they laugh. And once they laugh, it’s over, I’ve got them. And now they’re going to know what I wanted to know, feel what I wanted to do. But the reason I can do that is because I have a higher purpose for every presentation I give. And I’m genuinely focused on giving them something that’s going to enrich their life. And that’s the other thing that happens is they realize that few minutes in so this is not just some guy who’s blathering on about something that’s irrelevant to me, I may I tell stories that relate to their lives to their work, I use examples they can relate to, if they’re data driven people believe me, I give them plenty of data, because you have to win over their analytical mind to capture their, their imagination. But for the person who’s just wanting to be better at presenting to their colleagues, to being a better leader, to get people more inspired. cultivates your sense of humor. And I do recommend studying comedy. I watch, I watch some comedy every night before I go to sleep. Because when you immerse yourself, and actually, I was watching Jerry Seinfeld, he does his comedians in cars getting coffee, and he’s talking to one of his fellow comedians. And they’re talking about how they get invited to speak at these humor seminars. And Jerry says, if you have to go to humor seminar, You’re hopeless case. But even though he’s being funny, I have to respectfully disagree with him. If you are around humor, then if you want to learn dancing better, watch the best dancers if you want to learn juggling, watch the best jugglers. If you want to learn public speaking, watch the best public speakers. If you want to learn to cultivate humor, watch the best humorists.


Awesome. You have a technique that you write about in the book. And I use it in a lot of different formats, but mind mapping for anyone who do have to mind map every presentation if you’re going to be giving a massive presentation, or is it just one technique to get out your concepts.


You don’t have to do it, you just want to do it because it’s easier, more fun, and more creative and easier to remember what you’re talking about. That’s the biggest benefit, not just that you can quickly generate and organize your ideas for our presentation. But because you use key words and images to capture those ideas, you don’t even need to look at your notes. People I’ve been teaching this to people for many decades now. And I still hear from people students over the years they one of the greatest benefits they’ve gotten out of my courses over the years is that they’ve just made mind mapping part of how they generate organized remember their presentations. And it’s informative.


I use it for brainstorming a lot of times on I don’t know like values in the meaning around like the words that I want to associated with it, but I’ve never done it for presentation. So I’m just going to quickly this. I don’t know if this is the mind mapping chart but this is kind of what one might look like super invaluable tip that I took away from this. This book is getting less away from perfecting every word. And it’s really perfecting the concepts, and then authentically speaking about them.


You make a really good point, because then it makes it easier to speak naturally, authentically, and freely and colorful, because you have color and imagery. And you can see all your ideas on one page. So what you showed was the mind map of a whole chapter of the book. And if your chapter and you look at the mind map, oh my god, there’s nothing I just learned in that whole chapter on one piece of paper. And at the end of the book, there are two pages, a mind maps summary of the entire book. And I wrote that book using mind maps. And so you see these 17 books up here, those are actually written, all written with mind maps.


Awesome, well, it’s a fantastic tip, and one that I personally had never applied to public speaking. And you’ve got, you’ve got several great mind maps going on in the book. So if you’re not sure what a mind map is, or how to do it, you can read the chapter and then see how it was created using the mind map. So fantastic tool. One of the things that I am very aware of, because I’m highly visual, is when watching someone speak publicly a lot of the gestures that they use, and the energy and or lack of energy that they use on stage. So what is the rule of thumb that you coach people to do? I am a wanderer until I get to a point where I can plant myself, and sometimes it comes too late. So what is your guidance on that?


Sure. Well, for you, let’s, help you first and then we’ll talk about for everybody else. So for you, before you present, go to the place early, set it up the way you want, and you feel comfortable. And choose your mark, and practice. Remember, in the book, there’s this standing meditation exercise, present standing meditation exercise, so you feel connected in that spot. And free, you feel comfortable being still in that spot, doesn’t mean you have to stay there. But that’s your home base. And then you’ll move consciously you move to the right side to make sure the people over here, feel that, and then you come back to your central point, then you move to the left side, then you come back, then you might move forward to emphasize a point, then you come back. So now you’re spatially oriented, and centered, so that you feel more in command of the space and the audience senses it. Because when you just your presence, your ability, one of the most powerful things you can do as a public speaker, and as a leader, is to stand upright, and poised without fidgeting. In front of a large group of people, that ability to just be present. It changes everything, it brings all it brings all of the energy to you. And now you’re running the show.


Very, very important tip. And I encourage anyone who’s watching some a leader in their organization, watch how they do it. And when you see it happen, you can almost like literally watch all of the people’s eyes are on them. Super powerful. You can also accomplish that in a one to one conversation as well. So not fidgeting, being present, standing tall and where you’re sitting. And I’m having really great eye contact.


And on Zoom to it’s really important on Zoom. I’m coaching another I have a CEO, one coaching, and he had to attend recently. Everything’s on zoom. But he had to attend this very challenging meeting with the executive Chair of the company, the founder of the company, and the lead investor and a board member, and he’s the CEO, he’s on the proverbial hot seat. And what I noticed in previous meetings is that he was fidgeting and on the zoom. He also there’s a chapter in the book called words matter where I teach people how to eliminate cliches from their speaking. Well this this gentleman besides doing this, use the word candidly. Over and over again, it’s fine if you say it once or twice. But if you say candidly, frankly, honestly, more than once or twice, it sounds like you’re making an exception from your usual practice of obfuscation and prevarication. So I’ve coached him, this is such an important meeting, we did a coaching session just to get him ready for this. And I said, I had a practice, meditation align around the vertical axis. Have a little Mona Lisa smile, do not touch your face, with your hands at all, keep your hands on the desk. and delete the word candidly. So he managed to do this. And people talk about executive presence, like it’s some mystical, no, he had executive presence, his points were so much more persuasive because of what he did not do.


That is, that’s a powerful concept. And I just want to make that sink in. And executive presence comes more from what you’re not doing. We are all in more zoom. And, you know, how we’re meeting how we’re speaking, how we’re training, how we’re bringing people along these days? What is I mean, you’ve just hit on a few really key tips. Can you say like the key things that you’re looking for? When someone is on zoom? And if you’re the speaker, what must you be doing or not to doing? To add on to what you just shared? Sure.


Well, I mean, the first thing I’m looking for is that there’s a reason for this person to be speaking.




That their size isn’t it’s related and somehow to benefiting the other people who are on the meeting. Because if you’re not going to improve on the silence, better to be silent. So why it’s worth coming back to what we started with what’s the purpose, and I try to hold myself to that criteria before I speak in a meeting it. So that that is that’s the first and most important thing, then I am rather critical, let’s say discerning. Just if you’re a wine connoisseur, you pick up subtleties in the wine. And you’re making distinctions that someone who’s not as familiar with wine may not be making, they might say, well, it’s red, or it’s white, you might notice what the variety is, you might notice it was cooler climate or hotter climate, you might notice some qualities of minerality in the sun. So there’s a lot to observe and presentation. And one of the great things about when you understand the eight secrets, and you get it get into this is it makes boring presentations more interesting, because now you know why they’re boring.


Oh, it’s so funny that is a very good tip. I don’t want to leave people with feeling like they can’t master the secrets, because I think that they are all fully master. Well, I don’t think that is a word. Now. It is now. Um, I fully encourage. So I just want to I’m quickly going to scan down the list of the eight secrets and just make sure that we’ve kind of touched on almost all of them in some way. And that’s good, Michael. I think we have touched on them in almost some way. From the standpoint of zoom. I believe that as we show up into a zoom meeting, that regardless of whether you’re speaking, you are still presenting. And that’s a really important thing to keep in mind, especially during these times that we’re having right now. Because we can still see you see everything that you’re doing even if you’re not speaking.


Yeah, so a certain legal columnist, wishes that he had heard you say that a while ago. Right, even leaving aside egregious and career ruining, stunningly embarrassing moments that people are subject to. It is your brand. It is who you are, it is how you’re perceived. So get the best camera you can afford, get good lighting, create a pleasing, professional background. It’s one of the principles when we’re when we’re live. There’s a whole chapter in the book, we touched on it a little bit, but it’s set your stage. I, all presentations, all business presentations are theater. They’re either bad theater or good theater. So if you want to make it, good theater, set the stage, set the background, look at the lighting, be aware of what you’re wearing, be aware of how you’re presenting yourself.




I truly encourage any listener who wants to master the art of public speaking or master communicator, communicating your message well, that these eight secrets really can transform your fear of speaking and allow you to supercharge your career. Michael, what is the best way for people to follow you?


Thank you for asking. People could come to That’s gelb. That’s my main website that has lots of free articles and fun videos and all sorts of interesting material. And they can sign up for our free newsletter. We’ll keep people informed of fun events that we’re offering a lot of them actually free. Yay. And I have another site called And that’s my site for people who are interested in working with me as their executive leadership coach. Excellent.


I thank you for sharing your expertise and tips on how to master how to become a master of public speaking. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show today.


Thank you so much.


Thank you.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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