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

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.

The Art of Letting Things Go

“Do you really want to go?” He asked. We had been in that room for four and a half hours. He had pulled every rabbit out of his hat to have me stay at the startup that we had founded together just the year before.

The summer was brutal. My team crumbled under the unnecessary pressure of my business partners. Fighting for them was not enough, and besides empty promises, I could not get myself out of the mud of a failing business.

Should I stay, or should I go? If I stay, there will be trouble, but if I go, there will be double, just like the song.

I left the company with no money, no plan, and nowhere else to go.

The same evening, I called my dad and broke the news.

<< Again? Did you leave again? >>

It was not the first time I was quitting something. I was 33, and by then, I had left several jobs, a bunch of relationships, and infinite hobbies, among many other things.

Have you noticed how society constantly reminds us how perseverance is key to success? How should we endure pain to get some gain? How is stubbornness often confused with discipline?

You enter the office of a successful CEO, and there is a poster on the wall yelling: “never give up!

Even on mugs, they write: “keep calm and carry on.

While sipping coffee from one of those mugs in a cozy coffee house a few blocks away from the office I had left so suddenly, I wondered if it was perseverance the way to real success. Quite the opposite! I concluded that quitting things is the real key to a prosperous life.

We would be better off in many situations if we just had the strength to quit before it’s too late. Friends pushing us to pour yet another shot when we are already wasted. That partner who is not respectful of our boundaries, of our culture, of our desires. That concert we bought the tickets for, but then it’s four hours away; nevertheless, we drive in the blizzard to get there. It’s not even our favorite band!

In behavioral economics, they call it the “sunk cost fallacy.” In my book, it’s just another name for “you need to know when it’s time to give up!”

When I was a teenager, probably not older than fourteen, my father said, “you start a lot of things, but you don’t finish many of them.”

For a long time, I felt that comment as a critique of my character.

I now believe it was a compliment.

Over the years, I realized how by allowing myself to quit, I could accomplish much more.

I let go of dozens of hobbies, which allowed me to find the ones I deeply love. I quit hundreds of books just because I couldn’t go past page 20. It gave me the time to read many others. I left movie theaters in the middle of the projection; I didn’t care if I already paid for the ticket. I could spend that half an hour eating popcorn somewhere else instead of boring myself to death in a chair with a sticky floor.

I also realized that quitting is an art. It does not have rules, but just a few principles I follow:

I force myself to be rational, defining boundaries before any engagement, especially with myself. Business agreements are usually in place between the different parties, but I also commit to a contract with my future self: I write down a few different scenarios that would break the deal. For every item on the list, I make an exit plan. I also keep those plans up-to-date along the way. When the alarm goes off, I press the eject button, executing the plan ruthlessly—no hesitation and never looking back. 

I preserve my integrity in the process, so I make it graciously when it’s time to leave. There is no room for ego. There is no need to be cruel. I just look at reality and go, ready to face the consequences of my decisions.

At parties, for instance, everyone loves to welcome you, but no one likes to say goodbye. For this reason, I strongly avoid those mannerisms about “please stay another 5 minutes, the real fun hasn’t started yet…” – No way, I’m out of here, and I’m out of here now!

I go out for a smoke, and I never get back in. By the way, I don’t smoke, so I cannot use that excuse around my close friends.

I don’t like to break other people’s hearts, and most importantly, mine; I try to be respectful of all the feelings involved.

I’m aware that not everybody may agree with my decisions. But, have you noticed how usually in breakups, the one left behind is getting hurt? They will be upset, and you can bet they’ll let you know. It won’t change your mind, but be respectful of their feelings. Acknowledge them, maybe say a few words — no need to apologize. Just don’t be unnecessarily cruel to them. Be firm but kind.

After I left that company almost a decade ago, with no money, no plan, and nowhere else to go, I struggled for a few months; then, I pushed myself to apply for an impossible position at a dream company, which I got.

I have had a taste at more hobbies than I can even recall, dropped an entire floor of books, and I have no idea how dozens of movies end. However, my current employment has been the longest I’ve ever had in my whole life: 7 years and counting.

I cannot say what would have happened to me if I had stayed where I was, but I’m so happy I left that room with no regrets, a light heart, and empty hands. 

The only way to grab an opportunity is to have both hands open and both hands empty.


This essay is the second 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: Chris Wong, Clarke Read, Karena de Souza, Mitchell Cohen, Paolo Belcastro, Sam Millunchick, Siobhan Bamber, Vishal Srivastava.

The Magic Cube Resolution

In 1974, the Hungarian mathematician and sculptor Ernő Rubik invented a surprising puzzle, “The Magic Cube,” that became the best-selling toy of 1982. You probably know it as the Rubik’s Cube.

After more than twenty years from its inception, I met my first cube while lazily wandering in a department store. It was standing there, shiny, glowing, untouched, on a tiny pedestal, not really fit for its real glory.

We met, and I adopted it, flipping it through my fingers without any specific technique, just for the sake of seeing it mutate at every move. I knew full well that there was nothing magic about it, and I trusted my ability to dominate its secrets.

At first, I tried to reverse engineer it, but it didn’t work out, so it ended up sitting on a shelf, hoping it would solve by itself. Then, a few months later, while dusting that shelf once again, I resolved to apply a more solid methodology to it: Google.

I downloaded a step-by-step guide, and two weeks of daily practice later, I knew that guide by heart. A year later, I was fast enough to solve any position in less than 90 seconds, which is the average time between two tube stations in London, Vienna, or Paris. 

The real fun started when my cube and I started traveling the world together. 

We’ve all seen travelers on public transportation staring at their phones. Still, wonder ensues when we see a popular toy from almost 40 years ago being scrambled and solved at light-speed in between two stations of a subway train.

It might be the retro flair, the magnetic look of a multi-colored plastic puzzle, or the irresistible attraction for someone else’s business, but the Rubik’s cube attracts more stares than flowers attract bees.

My cube isn’t a one-trick pony. It doesn’t just glow underground; it’s an ace in the air too. We can be chilling out in an airport lounge, taxiing on the tarmac, or waiting in line at any checkpoint in the world; if the “Magic Cube,” pops out of my pocket, we’ll catch other people’s eyes, and might strike up a chat too.

Some people feel compelled to tell me how much they hated that toy when they were young because their friends were good at it, but they weren’t. Others want to see if I can solve it or if I’m struggling with it.

Once, someone asked me if I had bought it at the duty-free shop because it would have made the perfect gift for their son once they were getting home from that long business trip.

But no matter where, and no matter what, I will always get “the question.”

It’s the question people have asked me the most: “what’s the trick to solve it?”.

Should I tell them the truth? That it’s just about learning a sequence, an algorithm, and obsessively applying it to the letter until the puzzle is solved? Shall I tell them that’s just about practice, that you go from 15 minutes down to 90 seconds?

The first few times, I tried to tell the truth, only to see the light dim in my new friend’s eyes. 

Then it hit me – when they ask that question, people don’t want the truth; they want something extraordinary, inspiring, and wonderful. They believe there is a well-kept secret about it, they want to catch that classified piece of information, and join the club of the cube solvers.

However, the cube and I are in the business of killing time, not in the business of shattering dreams, so I made the resolution of being gracious with strangers.

I now answer: “It’s magic; I have no idea how it works; it just happens.”

I wink, they smile, and we part ways.


This essay is the first assignment of Write of Passage, a cohort-based online writing course I’m attending.
This piece is a remix of a previous article on this blog, which I translated and reworked. I want to thank a few people who helped me edit my initial draft, and provided valuable feedback during the creative process: AAkash Gupta, Alexandra Zamora, Chris Wong, Christin Chong, Danny Oak, Ellen Muench, Joojo Ocran, Nico Choksi.

The opposite of noise

A few years ago, I was writing on this blog. Very often, let’s say, at least once a day. At that time, blogs were a few platforms where ordinary people could publish their thoughts without incurring unnecessary costs. For the first time ever, your journal was coming out from the depth of that drawer, projected out there into the world, available to everyone.

I moved my website to WordPress in 2006. That was one of the few platforms that allowed complete control of your content, publishing your website on a cheap hosting somewhere, and pretty much put you out there. 

There were groups of people who were interacting a lot, and there were a few tools, which allowed to build the first blogging communities. Tools like MyBlogLog, a little widget on the sidebar that showed who visited the blog in the previous 24 hours, helped make blogging a little more addictive.

Feedburner allowed you to take the RSS feed from your blog and then syndicate your content in many different ways, from emails to social channels. Feedburner was also keeping stats of the daily views of your feed, creating a sort of celebrity contest about who was hot and who was not.

At that time, I didn’t know many people online. I didn’t have a professional network at all.

When I started writing every day, I was commenting on the news and everything trending on that day. I didn’t actually have a plan.

But something unexpected happened; people started writing back commenting on my blog posts. It also happened that they were writing on their own blogs referencing me as the source of their thoughts.

This was primarily happening because we wanted to grow our page rank on Google. It was a good practice to link others so they would reciprocate at some point.

It was pretty easy to position yourself on Google through this intricate system of reciprocal links. 

At the beginning of 2007, events around blogs started to happen. In Italy, we went from minor local events to larger ones attracting people from all over the country.

I made a lot of friends back then. Friends who are still my friends right now.

What I most regret about the latest years is giving away our position in favor of services that felt easier to use to build our social networks.

Social networking sites have a clear advantage in distributing inflammatory content, creating a more polarised information consumption.

In recent years, I decided not to engage in online conversations, especially when they were happening on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, because I thought that getting myself involved somehow supported the distribution of inflammatory content.

But more recently, after long thoughts and reflections, I reconsidered. If I consider all of these inflammatory discussions as noise, I need to contribute to the opposite of noise.

The opposite of noise is not silence.

The opposite of noise is signal.

As you might have guessed, I’m trying to revive this blog.

I’m not making promises, but if you stay tuned, you’ll read more frequent and deeper content from now on.

I never really understood people who were signing their blogposts, but I feel about ending this post with:

Yours Truly.

Surrealismo bancario

Per ragioni professionali avevo bisogno di aprire un nuovo conto corrente, quindi molto ingenuamente, ieri sono andato alla banca.

Era una piccola filiale di un gruppo bancario molto grande, probabilmente il piú grande in Italia (credo).

Ho parcheggiato l’auto e con molta difficoltà ho risalito la rampa che giungeva all’ingresso, facendomi strada tra i rami del cespuglio che bloccavano il passaggio.

La porta blindata era troppo piccola per far passare il passeggino, quindi ho suonato e dopo qualche istante mi hanno aperto la porta di sicurezza a lato per farmi entrare.

Ho atteso che un signore finisse un’operazione allo sportello e mi sono affacciato all’impiegato dall’altra parte dei 3 schermi di plexiglass che ci separavano.

“Buongiorno, vorrei aprire un conto corrente”

“Aprire un contro corrente?” mi ha risposto sbigottito, come se avessi chiesto 3 etti di prosciutto cotto.

“Ma ha un appuntamento?” mi ha chiesto.

“No, non sapevo servisse un appuntamento” ho risposto io.

“Un momento che chiamo il direttore” ha aggiunto l’impiegato.

Dopo pochi secondi, la stessa persona che mi aveva aperto la porta, si é presentata come la direttrice della filiale, e mi ha detto:

“Deve aprire un contro corrente? Ma serve un appuntamento!”

E io: “beh, non lo sapevo, posso prenderlo adesso questo appuntamento?”

E lei: “eh, ma aprire un conto porta via un’ora, un’ora emmezza, quindi serve un appuntamento, e non so neanche per quando sia possibile!”

Io: “non sa quando sia possibile aprire il conto, o quando sia possibile prendere l’appuntamento?”

Sguardo confuso di entrambi, cinque secondi di silenzio.

Poi mi dice: “Guardi, questa é una filiale da due persone, mentre quella del paesello a fianco, é di quattro persone. Le do il numero di telefono dell’altra filiale, che forse riescono a darle un appuntamento loro. Comunque consideri un’ora, un’ora emmezza per aprire un contro corrente.”

Mi ha allungato un post-it giallo con sopra un numero di telefono scritto a mano e ha aggiunto:

“Oppure lo apra da solo online, ci mette 10 minuti”.

Ho ringraziato e mi ha accompagnato alla porta.

Nel salutarla le ho detto: “faccia venire un giardiniere, la rampa é completamente invasa dai rami, se dovesse passare qualcuno con limitata mobilità farebbe molta fatica a salire.”

Sospirando mi ha risposto: “eh… lo so, lo so”.

Poi sono andato a casa ed effettivamente in dieci minuti ho aperto il conto corrente online, e dopo neanche un’ora avevo gia l’IBAN per ricevere pagamenti, e la mia nuova carta di credito é gia stata spedita.

Il conto l’ho aperto con un’altra banca.

One down

Today I got my first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

What a day!

It feels like we have been stuck in this deadlock since forever but in reality, we were able, as human specie, to pull off a vaccine against an unknown disease in a year, and then we organized the distribution.

I just wish richer countries were better at helping the ones in need, because we need to get out of this swamp all together as a humankind.

The path to become a competent man

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert Heinlein

Today I turn 41, and since my last birthday I’ve developed new abilities. I now score 16 out of 21 skills needed to be a competent man, according to Robert Heinlein’s poem.

Kayaking

Today we went kayaking through the Laguna di Marano. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too chilly. It was sunny but not scorching.

We paddled for almost 7 kilometers and we did a little bit of bird watching.

I had never been kayaking until a couple years ago when we went for a tour in the Abel Tasman reserve in New Zealand.

It was when, at the age of 38 I asked myself why I never had the courage to try such nice activities like exploring, multi-day hiking, and kayaking.

Today, after a year inside four walls, it was really good to get in touch with nature.

I’m so tired I can barely walk to bed. It was awesome.