The Remarkable Value of Nuances: 11 Charismatic Communicators in Tech

By Brooke Gronich, Noah Jacobs, Jordana Schube

Studies show that the tech industry is projected to reach a staggering $5 trillion by the end of 2021, indicating an impressive 4.2% growth trend. For the eager tech entrepreneurs entering the field, it is essential that they stand out. To accomplish this, they must have a strong sense of how to inform, influence, and persuade both consumers and investors alike. 

In order to become a truly powerful communicator, it is very important for an individual to possess a strong command of the language they use. However, even more crucial is one’s awareness of their non verbal social signals. While the impact of these signals is commonly overlooked, upon further analysis they reveal critical information about a person and their ideas. 

To demonstrate the significance that such nuances have, we have compiled a list of 11 highly influential CEO’s whose aptitude for verbal and especially non-verbal communication have catalyzed great success. We worked to unravel the nuances within their interviews and public speeches, finding that there is tremendous value within the sub-textual realm of non-verbal communication.

Anne Wojcicki: CEO, Co-Founder, 23andMe

Anne Wojcicki: CEO, Co-Founder, 23andMe
Emma Mcintyre/Getty Images for Makers

Background: California native; Received a B.S. in Biology from Yale University and conducted molecular biology research at the National Institutes of Health and at UC, San Diego; After graduating, worked at Passport Capital and at Investor AB; Founded 23andMe in 2006; Earned herself a highly coveted spot on Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful Women

Analysis: While establishing one of the most socially impactful companies of the modern tech era, Wojcicki has cultivated a strong pragmatic prowess. She is able to captivate her audience through her passionate and eloquent changes in intonation. Rather than treating speaking engagements as lectures, she utilizes storytelling to foster a sense of wonder and strong vigilance among her audience. Additionally, Anne places a large emphasis on eye-contact, gracefully scanning across each member of her audience… it’s almost as if it’s in her DNA.

Anne Wojcicki | Talks at Google 2018

Brad Garlinghouse: CEO, Ripple

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Background: Kansas native and Harvard Business School graduate; Gained experience in tech while working for Yahoo, Aol, and Hightail; Pioneered VoIP industry as CEO of Dialpad Communications; Serves on Board of Directors of Outmatch; Held board positions at Ancestry.com and Tonic Health; Currently leading an exceptional team working to optimize Ripple as CEO since 2017

Analysis: Garlinghouse is among the upper echelon of speakers in the tech industry. He speaks with a purposeful tone and maintains sharp and steady eye contact, making it nearly impossible to not only listen, but fully aB.S.orb his message. His wide array of hand gestures, paired with his tendency to dress to the nines, seamlessly connect his visual and auditory cues. Garlinghouse not only succeeds but seems to thrive under pressure from interviewers. His overall poise and composure in the face of adversity is one of the many driving forces behind Ripple’s growth towards the tech titan that it is today.

Brad Garlinghouse | Fortune Magazine’s Balancing the Ledger 2019

Jim Bankoff: CEO, Vox Media

Rita Quinn/Getty Images

Background: Completed postgrad at Wharton in 1996 with an MBA in finance and strategic management; Took over as CEO of Vox Media in 2009; Co-founded TMZ.com in 2005; Named in Business Insider’s Silicon Alley 100 and The Guardian’s 100 Most Powerful People in Media

Analysis: Bankoff’s rare ability to address an audience as if he is having a genuine conversation with them is at the root of what makes him one of the greatest communicators in tech. The natural flow of his movements and gestures convey a heightened sense of competence and authority to his listeners. In addition, his deliberate speech rate and timely changes in pitch draw the audience in, ensuring they are fully engaged at the most important moments. Overall, his melodic rhetoric makes you wonder why BBC ever settled for David Attenborough.

Jim Bankoff | SXSW 2019

Matthew Glotzbach: CEO, Quizlet

Photo provided by Quizlet

Background: Graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering; CEO of Quizlet since 2016, the digital platform used for learning and studying; Founding member of Google Enterprise; Former VP of product management at Youtube.

Analysis: In spite of the fact that glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is estimated to affect 73% of the US population, Glotzbach is able to remain as cool as a cucumber when addressing his audience. His relaxed yet composed posture is projected onto listeners, allowing them to feel comfortable and become fully immersed in what he is saying. He speaks with a clear voice and great conviction, leaving a sense that he is in complete control even at times when he may not be. Overall, Glotzbach’s combination of physical and auditory competence work together to produce a speaker that is particularly easy to listen to. 

Matthew Glotzbach | Collision Conference 2019

Sid Sijbrandij: Cofounder and CEO, Gitlab

Photo by Gitlab

Background: Studied physics and management science at University of Twente; Founded three companies prior to Gitlab, including Comcoaster; Worked as the Lead Architect at Ministerie van Justitie; Operational Director at U-Boat Worx BV; Co-founded Gitlab in 2012 after years of self-taught Ruby programming, ultimately growing it by 50x

Analysis: Oftentimes a language barrier between a speaker and audience can cause disengagement and boredom. Although he may sound a bit awkward at times given that English is not his first language, he is able to overcome this and has become quite a compelling speaker. He consistently stands with a strong posture and high shoulders, conveying pragmatic acuity. In spite of the fact that his words are not always perfectly articulated, he controls his speech rate and tone in a manner that signal prosodic proficiency. All in all, his humble energy and affable personality make listening to him speak reminiscent of grabbing lunch with an old friend.

Sid Sijbrandij | amoCONF San Francisco 2018

Peggy Johnson: CEO, Magic Leap

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Background: Earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from San Diego State University; Former EVP of Business Development at Microsoft; CEO of Magic Leap since 2020; Currently an Independent Director at BlackRock and Director at Spaceport America; Recognized as #2 among the most powerful women engineers in the world in 2016 after 24 years at Qualcomm; Silicon Republic recognized her as #14 among the most powerful women leading tech

Analysis: Despite being in a field dominated by men, Peggy Johnson will never be overlooked. She is an inspiration to all women and to hear her speak is an opportunity that no one should ever pass up. Her soft-spoken voice and kind facial expressions create a trustworthy and inviting environment for her listeners. In addition to this, she is able to maintain a comfortable posture that depicts that she is at ease while speaking. She displays competence through her subtle hand gestures, that are only used as needed in order to help her audience fully understand her message. Overall, Johnson’s kinesic cognizance paired with her refined rhetoric ensure that she leaves a lasting impression on her audience.  

Peggy Johnson | Bloomberg CIO Exchange

Peter McKay: Co-CEO and President, Snyk

SiliconANGLE

Background: Graduated from Northeastern University with a B.S. BA in Accounting and Finance; Served as Senior Vice President and General Manager at VMware; Former President and CEO of Desktone; Former CEO of Watchfire and eCredit; CEO of Snyk since 2019; Recognized as “Top 10 CEO” by Comparably’s Best Places to Work awards 2019

Analysis: In spite of the fact that McKay’s calm nature is always on display, he expresses a contagious enthusiasm while speaking. His overall approach, specifically highlighted in his use of wide hand gestures, parallels the mindset that led to the rapid growth of Snyk; go big or go home. McKay regulates his speech rate and tone in a manner that establishes a conversational dialogue between the interviewer/audience and himself. His unwavering eye contact is indicative of the professionalism he has gained through his many years of experience as a business executive. It is no wonder that this CEO was able to “sneak” his way to the top of the industry.

Peter McKay | CUBEConversation 2020

Anthony Denier: CEO, Webull Financial

NASDAQ

Background: Graduated from Columbia University in 2000 with a BA in political science; Worked with Credit Suisse to pioneer emerging electronic DMA; Former VP of ING’s equity trading desk; Former CEO of LXM Financial; Grew Webull to a $1B valuation after taking over as CEO in 2017

Analysis: Through the use of fine tuned pragmatic speech, Denier is able to maintain a professional and commanding presence over his audience. In spite of the conventional snooty reputation that most wall-street execs embody, Denier imparts a sense of approachability through his calm voice and natural facial expressions. He exudes confidence through subtle aspects of subtext such as his strong posture, consistent eye contact, and he certainly does dress to impress. It is no surprise that Denier is the figurehead of one of the most revolutionary companies in today’s tech industry. 

Anthony Denier | Benzinga Events 2019

Mark Benjamin: CEO, Nuance

NUANCE

Background: University of Miami graduate; Former President and COO of NCR Corporation; Spent 20 years at ADP, serving as President of Global Enterprise Solutions, lead a team of 20,000 and managed a multi-billion-dollar portfolio across 100+ countries; Growing Nuance as CEO since 2018

Analysis: Benjamin is able to capture the attention of his audience like its second nature. His professionalism goes hand in hand with his ability to maintain a cool, calm and collected presence when speaking in a room full of people. Even during long interviews Benjamin keeps a clear and steady pace, reflecting how comfortable and prepared he is. Benjamin is the perfect example of a CEO who is prepared for everything and anything when it comes to representing his company. If he were to improve certain kinesic aspects, such as relaxing his shoulders and using more fluid hand gestures, you may just be looking at the next Barack Obama. 

Mark Benjamin | WMIF 2019

Jonah Peretti: CEO, Co-founder, BuzzFeed

Getty Images

Background: Graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in environmental studies in 1996; Completed postgrad at the MIT Media Lab; Co-founded BuzzFeed in 2006; Co-founded Huffington Post in 2005; Widely recognized for his unique abilities within the realms of viral marketing as well as “guerrilla media” 

Analysis: Peretti’s greatest asset as a speaker is his command over his voice. When addressing an audience/interviewer, his passion can be easily recognized, ensuring that listeners are just as excited about the subject as he is. It is clear that Peretti possesses great control over his prosody, featuring a strong command over his intonation and maintaining a rhythmic flow while speaking. However, there is always room for further growth. If Peretti were to refine his hand placement in order to appear a bit more comfortable, there would surely be lots of buzz surrounding his communication skills.

Jonah Peretti | Code Media 2018

Scott Cutler: CEO, StockX

Meghan Macaskill

Background: Originally from Chicago, Cutler earned his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and his JD from Hastings College of Law and University of California; Former SVP of Marketplaces at eBay, CEO of StubHub, and previous EVP at the NYSE; Became of CEO of StockX in 2019; Currently holds positions on board of directors for Brookfield Properties and Vibrant Emotional Health


Analysis: Cutler not only successfully runs his company from behind the scenes, but also wholly embodies his brand as the face of the operation. In an industry dominated by a younger target market, Cutler’s success stems from his ability to visually appeal to his consumers and put himself in their shoes. In addressing his audience, Cutler’s extensive knowledge and preparedness shine through in his composure as well as his keen word choice. He radiates confidence as he speaks at a controlled pace, daring anyone to interrupt him… but of course, no one ever does.

Scott Cutler | eBay Open 2018

Tech Entrepreneur, co-founder of SubStrata Technologies

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