+44 (0) 7885 336201

Favourite Speaker Survey Results

I recently invited my contacts to share with me their favourite/least favourite speakers, with reasons why. My purpose was to gain an even deeper understanding of what audiences value so that, in my training, I can give people precisely the right tools to engage with their audiences.

The speed and volume of responses bowled me over. Thank you to everyone who spent time sending such detailed and considered replies. I have analysed each one thoroughly, watched every clip, and have collated the findings below.

I have discovered some brilliant speakers I didn’t know before and have included links to them in action so that you can enjoy them too. I hope you find the results as interesting and thought-provoking as I have.


What audiences value

Being authentic, genuine, honest, down to earth, not too polished, showing vulnerability

This came up often and is, I believe, one of the most important findings of this survey. The fashion for ‘slick’ speakers is over


People are literally carried along by a speaker’s passion and enthusiasm. It’s a very powerful tool


Especially when used in the context of serious or complex subjects


This refers to physical poise and also a sort of inner confidence which makes people feel safe in the hands of the speaker

Substance/having something important or interesting to say

This was also a common theme and reinforces the idea that content and performance are equally important. Strength in one is not enough

Speakers who take them on a ‘journey’

I was amazed and delighted by how often this phrase came up. People have a keen sense of the structure of a presentation/talk. This refers to an emotional as well as a factual journey

Good use of English language

Many people praised their favourite speaker’s power of rhetoric/flair with words (see Gilbert Gray, QC in Other nominations below)


But it still needs to be accompanied by an ounce or two of humility or humour

Engaging, relevant, interactive, resonating and making a connection with the audience

So gratified to see this as a prominent theme. Hugely important for speakers to (a) understand their audience and (b) deliver content that is tailored to them

Simplicity of message, clarity, conciseness

Less definitely is more

Timing and pace

This was cited more often than I expected. A reminder of the power of the pause

Being professional, well prepared and rehearsed

People feel disrespected by under-prepared speakers

Modesty, humility, don’t take themselves too seriously

Audiences do not like arrogance

What audiences dislike

Speakers who are:

  • Patronising
  • Badly prepared
  • Manipulative
  • Verbose or rambling/unstructured

Those who:

  • Use too many gestures and verbal antics
  • Have dull voices/delivery

Speakers most often mentioned

  • David Rattray (historian and guide at Rorke’s Drift in South Africa, murdered in 2007) – nominated for his passion and for taking his audience on a compelling journey. He must have been an extraordinary communicator who left a lasting impression on his audiences.
  • Malala Yousafzai – for the simplicity and strength of her message
  • Martin Luther King – for the simplicity and strength of his message
  • Sir Winston Churchill – for his masterful use of language
  • William Hague – for his wit, intelligence, modesty, and for being well prepared
  • Boris Johnson – for his intelligence, humour, passion and energy

My favourites from the nominations

The quirkiest nominations

Surely the best in this category was from lawyer Emma Nash. She was so impressed by a Royal Naval Officer who spoke at a black tie dinner she attended, she ended up marrying him! He was authentic and funny. And apparently still is.

Others nominated friends and relatives for great best man speeches which were relevant, well structured, concise and funny.

Other nominations

  • Gilbert Gray, QC – for his masterful use of language. “He makes you feel as if English is not your first language”, so said a fellow barrister. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/law-obituaries/8472650/Gilbert-Gray.html
  • Matthew Syed – for his intelligence
  • Sir Kenneth Branagh – for his timing and pace
  • Andy Barlow, a war veteran who lost a leg in Afghanistan – for taking his audience on a journey
  • Richard Burton – for his vocal artistry
  • Bob Geldof – for his passion
  • Barack Obama – for his clarity, intelligence
  • Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher – extraordinary use of and confidence with pauses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8hqiHwN1Eg&list=UUj9fPezLH1HUh7mSo-tB1Mg
  • Julia Buckroyd, therapist – for her passion and taking the audience on a journey
  • Jennifer James, US anthropologist (not the Corrie actress) – for resonating with her audience
  • Dr Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox (and a hero of mine) – for a simple message and natural delivery. “You feel sad when he finishes”
  • John McCarthy – for taking us on a journey
  • Sebastian Coe – for being relevant, well prepared and rehearsed, and using excellent support materials
  • Brené Brown, US academic – for a powerful message and for daring to show vulnerability. This is in fact the subject of the talk http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en
  • Laura Berman Fortgang, coach/author – for her authenticity, humour and energy

  • Sir George Bain, academic – for strength of content and style
  • Sir Tim Smit, founder Eden Project – as above
  • Nelson Mandela – humility, strength and simplicity of message (and so much more)
  • Steve Jobs – for his storytelling, structure, pace, preparation, simplicity of message and language, use of surprise, great support materials
  • Cicero, Mao, Caesar, Alexander the Great, Demosthenes, Isocrates (no YouTube clips available)
  • Deepak Chopra – for his pace and delivery
  • Kevin Spacey – for his pace and masterful use of pauses
  • Christine Lagarde – for her pace
  • Iain Duncan Smith – for his use of humour!
  • Chelsey Baker, business guru – for her passion and simple messages
  • Tim Harford, economist – for his pace, and for his ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple and accessible way https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOljR_tKlBk
  • Justin Urquhart Stewart, business speaker – for making the complex simple and entertaining https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dScDjTriacs
  • Michael Bloomberg – for the quality of his content
  • Bill Bernbach, advertising god – for being relevant and entertaining
  • Rory Sutherland, advertising guru – as above
  • Frank Furedi, sociologist
  • Mick Hume, writer and Marxist
  • Ned Cazalet
  • Lord Heseltine

Least favourite speakers

  • Andy Murray – flat voice, dreary style
  • Esther Rantzen – manipulative
  • Alex Salmond – hectoring, patronising, smug (nothing to do with political views, merely referring to his presentation style)
  • Sir Ranulph Fiennes – badly prepared, rambling
  • James Naughtie – pace and delivery annoying. No pauses
  • Almost everyone at every business conference I’ve ever had to attend – “for being dry, platitudinous, inflicting death by PowerPoint, you know the type” ……….. Yes, I think we do!
  • Hitler – as you’d expect, he was named in this category. His content was of course evil but he was undoubtedly an effective speaker (he rehearsed his speeches in the mirror to refine each gesture).