From Good to Great: the One Piece of Advice on Public Speaking by Carmine Gallo

Carmine Gallo at his desk

Carmine Gallo is a three-time Wall Street Journal bestselling author, internationally popular keynote speaker, Harvard instructor, and leadership advisor for the world’s most admired brands. Carmine Gallo’s books have been translated into more than 40 languages.

At the beginning of 2011, I was in San Francisco to speak at a tech conference, and after the exchange of a couple of messages on Twitter, he agreed to meet me at his office in Pleasanton. I could not believe it. I was messaging one of my favorite authors, and not only was he replied, but he also offered to meet up!

The following day I drove one hour east of San Francisco and showed up at his desk. We spent the day together, and over the years, we had the chance to connect and become friends. Some of the pictures in his book covers come from my camera lenses, and every time I swing by the west coast of the United States, I try to arrange a quick visit. 

Carmine Gallo in Livermore (California)

During one of my visits, we were hanging out at his favorite winery, which happens to be next to a golf course. We enjoyed our glass of California Cab, and I asked him how to step up my public speaking, which I felt had reached a plateau. Carmine finished his glass and pointed at the green grass around us.

He said: “It’s just like golf: you learn the basics, and then practice is the only way to proficiency.”

Looking at Carmine’s body of work, you can find this advice pretty much everywhere.

In his book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs,” he writes:

“Steve Jobs is a master showman, working the stage with precision. Every move, demo, image, and slide is in sync. He appears comfortable, confident, and remarkably effortless. At least, it looks effortless to the audience. Here’s his presentation secret: Jobs rehearses for hours. To be more precise: many, many hours over many, many days”.

Also:

Evangelist said Jobs rehearsed for two full days before the presentation, asking for feedback from the product managers in the room. Jobs spends a lot of time on slides, personally writing and designing much of the content, along with some help from the design team. “On the day before showtime, things get much more structured, with at least one and sometimes two complete dress rehearsals.

In his book “Talk like TED,” Carmine dissects the presentation techniques of the most remarkable TED speakers. He points out:

“If your goal is to deliver a memorable presentation that will leave your audience in awe, then you have to practice. During your practice sessions, you must pay attention to how you sound (verbal delivery) and how you look (body language).”

More recently, in his book “10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators,” he writes:

Practice relentlessly and internalize the content so you can deliver it as comfortably as having a conversation with a friend.

Carmine Gallo rehearsing a presentation

Carmine Gallo does not just invite his readers to practice more; he often teaches how to practice effectively.

In his article “Avoid This Common Mistake Most Speakers Make in Virtual Meetings,” for example, we find:

“Start a new meeting with no audience, look into your webcam, and record your presentation. Watch the recording. You might catch yourself breaking eye contact more often than you think. Once you do, you’ll know what to fix in the next practice session.”

And it’s not just about meetings. You can improve virtual presentations too. For example, in the article “This Astronaut Training Strategy Can Help You Manage Your Fear of Public Speaking,” he writes: 

“If you have an upcoming virtual presentation, dress up and deliver your presentation in the same room and with the same computer equipment that you will use on the day of the event. Record it and play it back. How do you come across? Are you fidgeting excessively or looking away from the webcam? You can even invite a peer or family member to watch it live to increase the stress of the real event.”

Carmine Gallo taking notes
Carmine Gallo working on his notes

You’ve probably heard of the 10,000-hour rule, which Malcolm Gladwell popularized in the book “Outliers.” The rule goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve proficiency in complex skills, like playing the piano or getting as good as Tiger Woods at driving golf balls into the holes.

Regarding public speaking, Carmine strongly supports this theory. For example, in his book “Talk like TED”:

“I strongly believe it […the 10000 hours rule…] applies to the skill of public speaking, too. A lot of people tell me they’ll never be as polished as Steve Jobs or other great business speakers because they’re simply “not good at it.” Well, neither was Steve Jobs at one point. He worked at it.”

If I look at my journey as a public speaker, I cannot agree more. Over the years, I accepted that the only way to feel at ease when stepping on stage is to have solid preparation behind. So many hours invested repeating the exact same words over and over until they flow smoothly, delivering my key messages.

Next time you have a presentation, dedicate two to four hours to proper rehearsals. 

It will feel awkward if rehearsing is new to you. Over time, you’ll find the process that works best for you, but you’ll notice that most of the time spent obsessing around slide design can be redirected to rehearsing. Give it a try. 

The results will surprise you.


This essay is the third assignment of Write of Passage, a cohort-based online writing course I’m attending.
I want to thank a few people who helped me edit my initial draft and provided valuable feedback during the creative process: Artur Piszek, Danny Naz, Karyn Flynn, Letizia Barbi, Paolo Belcastro, Simone Silverstein.

Published by Luca Sartoni

I lead a team of engineers across three continents at Automattic. I love hiking, photography, and 3D printers.

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