The second best social skill in the world

Can you guess what it is?

Many across the globe would appreciate a refresher course in people skills, social etiquette and addressing a live audience. During our year of screen time, we mastered ring lights, glare and dressing from the waist up only to slip backwards in our human interaction. From my view, this human aptitude, in particular, public speaking, ranks as the second most vital interpersonal capacity in the world.

The solitary inventor secures funds for the prototype with speaking skills. A team of innovators paint a colorful word-picture of mass scaling, growth and ROI. The co-authors sell the manuscript after spinning a juicy tale of social media followers, national interview bookings and ready-made sequels. Public speaking opens doors, hearts and wallets.

My first Silicon Valley job shone an enduring light on a subtle human dynamic. Scanning the wood-paneled conference rooms and packed meeting halls, I observed that the managers considered the brightest in the company tended to be the ones who talked the most. They threw things out of their mouths with abandon—no shame; no reservation. Right or wrong they spoke forcefully with logical-sounding arguments. They spoke out and appeared smart. Speaking up is step one—having something to say is a critical step two.

I had considered myself a good speaker until a cringe-worthy event knocked me off my pedestal. One day, in front of a camera and a studio audience, my physiology got confabulated with my nerves and I got the flop sweats. I’d only seen it in the movies. Buried instincts inside my brain knew my words weren’t matching my heart. Somewhere inside my body a civil war broke out. Sweat streamed from my head and neck. My hands turned cold-as-ice yet, sweat gushed in other places. After that ordeal I began re-taking speaking courses and pondering human physiology.


In one class, I joined the original founders of Victoria’s Secret as we learned about breathing, pausing and something called ‘eye-dart.’ I silently denied having what sounded like a disease until I saw it on tape—my eyes flitted and darted back-and-forth across the audience. From then on I quickly agreed to everything the instructor said I had or did. Besides, the lingerie people were no better.

What I will never forget is that it takes ‘mileage’ to get it right. There is no tip or technique that will save you—you’ll forget it anyway. You have to get the repetition before your physiology can settle enough for you to recall useful methods and tools. Repetition is mileage.


Your best talent is your humanity. Your humanity is your natural talent. No need to earn it, exaggerate it or ‘post’ it. You just have to uncover it. A powerful speaker is like a new singer-songwriter showcased at a weekend music festival—her talent shines without extreme dress, virtuosic riffs or aberrant behavior.


Going cheap is diluting your message with knick-knacks. Most can relate to watching a video tutorial only to be bombarded with new video suggestions (upper-right), newsletter subscribe requests (lower left), subscribe and ‘ring the bell’ (lower right). These are distractions meant to snare you into an algorithm. For speakers, this equates to endless marketing or story-telling for ego rather than for the audience.


An exceptional speaker reaches deep inside until they touch something that vibrates with truth—their honest truth. This sincerity, like the certified provenance of a priceless museum piece, gives you the durability to hone your craft and to improve your flagship speech over years. The magic begins when an authentic speaker passes a bit of this treasure around to the audience.

Following my humbling flop sweat episode, I made double-sure to remember a few things about speaking to a camera or an audience.

First, I needed to lose the arrogance that I was some great, natural speaker. Call it an attitude of humility. I learned that the human body has some old tricks it can pull out at any time.

My second big lesson, like learning piano years later, was that I could only be as good as I rehearsed. Today, I vary my practice by speaking in front of a mirror, with and without a hand-held microphone, seated on a stool and standing with full gestures.

Finally, my cognitive dissonance faded as I allowed my subconscious to relax by always matching my heart to my words—I tell the embarrassing truth. When an audience sees this, they are on your side. During a keynote address with a delightful group, I disclosed my lack of prolonged corporate experience by relating a comment from one of my brothers. Noting my lack of certain corporate knowledge he stated (correctly) that I had left corporate too soon to start my business. Upon hearing this, an audience member shouted, “No you didn’t, we’re glad to have you now!” Later in private, I wiped tears, not sweat, from my eyes.

Oh, and the most critical social skill of all time? The big winner surpasses a simple skill and enters the realm of art—it’s called good listening.

Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corporation training manager. He speaks on rolestorming, the Samsara of Life and Balanced Mastery. And yes, he coaches public speaking. | or 970.690.7327

Categories: Business Insights, Management & Leadership