How Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey and Theo Epstein Share The Secret To Exceptional Communication

The end of May is graduation season in North America.

That comes with the time-honored traditions of awarding honorary degrees, and having those honorees give commencement day speeches.

If you’re interested in ratcheting up your communication skills, it’s also a great opportunity to watch and learn what great communicators do.

With the internet, you can watch and learn from the comfort of your own laptop.

Consider, for example, three speeches given in the past two weeks:

Mark Zuckerberg addressing Harvard:

Oprah Winfrey addressing Smith:

Theo Epstein (the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs) addressing Yale:

All three speakers have different backgrounds, and gave speeches with very different content.

Yet, underneath their content, they all did something quite similar.

All three know the secret to exceptional communication: they know that making a genuine, human, personal connection is the key to getting others to want to listen to what you have to say.

Zuckerberg, Winfrey, and Epstein all built rapport through personalized touches and self-effacing humor.   Consider the opening of each of their three speeches:

Zuckerberg begins,

I love this place!  …Graduates of the greatest university of the world…I’m proud to be with you today because, let’s face it, you accomplished something I never could.  If I get through this speech today, it’ll be the first time I actually finish something here at Harvard. Class of 2017, Congratulations!  

Zuckerberg names the “elephant in the room”.  Everyone knows Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to focus on growing Facebook into the giant it now is.  By addressing it and making fun of himself, Zuckerberg connects instantly with his audience.  Now, they’re open and ready for whatever he wants to share.

Oprah Winfrey builds rapport from a different perspective.  She has unusual connection to Smith.  As the founder of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa, one of the girls from the academy (Morgan) was a Smith graduate that day.  So Oprah connects to Smith as a parent of a “daughter-girl”, as she describes Morgan.  Early on Oprah talks about being a proud parent,

When Morgan found out she was accepted at Smith we both wanted to go streaking through the quad.  But I contained myself I didn’t’ want to become an international new story.  

Oprah asks all the parents stand and honor them:

Let us look at  you—   this is OUR day.  WE did this.  Along with all these Smithies.  I was coming anyway.  So I’m glad President McCartney invited me.

Adding yet another personal touch, Oprah also shared her adventure from the evening before of walking in Downtown Northampton (a small city of only 30,000 people) and going to GoBerry: a popular local frozen yogurt place.  This mention got a huge laugh and applause.

Theo Epstein is a Yale Graduate.  However, as the GM of a Major League Baseball team, he knows that sports allegiances run deep, so he plays this to masterful effect.   He begins,

Thank you… thank you. It appears we have some Cub fans here today. Alright, let’s get right to it then: how many of you are Cub fans? [Mild applause.] How many are Red Sox fans? [More applause.] And how many are Yankee fans? [Robust applause.] I see. Yankee fans, the exits are located on either side toward the back… you can just head right out Phelps Gate!

From here, the audience is ready to hear him.

Wherever you’re speaking, you won’t get far unless you build relationship with your audience.  Use a genuine, human touch, and others will be ready to hear you.

How else do you make a genuine, personal connection?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.  

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