As you know if you haven't been orbiting Pluto for the past few months, today is Facebook's initial public offering or IPO. To say that this event has created buzz is like saying Chopin knew his way around a piano keyboard.
I'll probably be at Nasdaq myself this morning, laying down a cool million or so for some shares. But before the opening bell, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Mark Z's communication style. We communication experts didn't give King Steve Jobs a rest in that department, so why should we hand The Prince a pass? (To learn more about dynamic communication skills for your own billion-dollar offering or more modest business presentation, download our cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.")
Specifically, I'll be addressing the burning question: Is Mark Zuckerberg not just a mere nerd, but a general in the Algorithmic Army, a slightly surreal fellow we could describe as a pale man with an oddly flat voice and a faraway gaze? Rich Karlgaard wrote that description in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, and it's just too good to leave out of any examination of Zuckerberg's speaking style. So let's take a look at how—or whether—Z's communication skills have matured in value to match Facebook's skyrocketing pre-IPO valuation.
D8 Wasn't GR8
The 26-year-old Zuckerberg was clearly ill at ease and unskilled at media interviews when he was interviewed in June 2010 at the Wall Street Journal's D8 conference. John Paczkowski of allthingsd.com had Zuckerberg, "literally dissolving in a lake of his own sweat." Not literally, of course (why do writers of all people make this mistake?); but the boy genius certainly was out of his element. Here's a clip of that appearance:
You'll notice the many shortcomings yourself, involving content, demeanor, and credibility. Despite the fact that Zuckerberg doesn't appear to actually be dissolving, he is sweating heavily, and his rapid-fire speech betrays considerable nervousness. His responses are either too technical or rambling; and he rarely answers the question asked.
He looks stiff, even ill at ease physically. His speech is populated by the vocal fillers "um" and "Sure, well . . ." (to begin his answers), and he uses a repetitive upward pattern at the end of his sentences. The total effect is of a very young man unused to speaking in public and not enjoying it a bit.
Contrast Zuckerberg's stilted appearance in this formal media interview with an appearance a short time later in a much more informal setting. Hear him sounding much more relaxed vocally and verbally in the November 3, 2010 iPhone Interview with Techcrunch and Financial Times.
8 Months, 12 Minutes, and 84 "Um's" Later
Despite this much more relaxed interview, Zuckerberg appears to be a stronger presenter than he is an interviewee. In July of 2011, for instance, Facebook followed up its hint that it would be unveiling something "awesome" with a press event announcing a new video chat feature in collaboration with Skype.
In his on-stage appearance, Zuckerberg is clearly more relaxed and spontaneous. He has the bottomless reserve of energy typical of a 27-year-old, and seems to be enjoying himself on stage. Those vocal fillers are still there, however, prompting Wolfgang Gruener of tomsguide.com to opine that "the young executive's 'um' took the center stage." That writer tallied 84—count 'em—"um's" in a brief 12-minute presentation.
A Stronger Communicator . . . Without the Hoodie!
By the time of his appearance on the Charlie Rose show just four months later in November 2011, Zuckerberg demonstrates marked improvement in his speaking skills within the crucible of a network television interview. Appearing with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, he shows improved speaking ability in a number of areas: the directness of his responses, improved eye contact and animated facial expressions, more relaxed pacing, and stronger vocal expressiveness. He answers questions directly, and perhaps most importantly, seems to be enjoying himself.
Watch the interview here:
So what's under the hoodie? When asked by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher in that D8 interview to take his signature sweatshirt off, Zuckerberg complied, prompting this explanation and response:
It’s a company hoodie, we print our mission on the inside – “Making the world more open and connected”
“Oh my God, it’s like a secret cult,” responded Kara Swisher.