A Lesson from Elon Musk on The Power of Authenticity

The famous entrepreneur shows why great presenting starts with passion.

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Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has an extraordinary ability to think big and challenge the status quo. This has led to some remarkable achievements, and it looks like he’s just getting started.

If you’ve ever seen Musk speak publicly, you can’t help but get sucked into his presentation. This is especially noteworthy, because his speaking style initially seems very flawed.

For example, if you watch Musk’s recent interview at the TED Conference, you’ll notice that he makes many basic presentation mistakes, including the fact that he:

  • Says “um” more times than you can count
  • Often interrupts himself mid-sentence and starts over
  • Doesn’t use pausing well (and when he does pause, it’s awkward)
  • Tends to get lost in the details
  • Tells jokes that often fall flat

And yet, for all of these weaknesses, Musk has become one of the most popular speakers of our generation. (This interview alone, which was published less than a month ago, has already garnered more than three million views.) To watch him, it’s almost impossible to look away.

Why is that?

The reason is simple. Despite Musk’s glaring rhetorical weaknesses, he has a very powerful strength:

Musk is authentic.

We hear a lot about the value of authenticity. That may seem vague, but when presenting, it means this: We’re all passionate about something. When you truly believe in an idea, and you focus on sharing that passion with others, you tend to forget about the mechanics of speaking and presenting. Instead of focusing on being nervous, you become focused on your belief. This leads you to speak more naturally, and makes it difficult for listeners to turn away.

Of course, it helps if your ideas are great, or at least a bit unorthodox. This is another one of Musk’s strengths–that he challenges those notions of “but we’ve always done it that way.”

Whether it’s finding more sustainable energy or boring tunnels under L.A. to alleviate traffic, Musk isn’t one to accept a problem as is; he’s going to try to solve it.

And successful or not, people admire him for taking the shots.

So, if you take away one lesson from Musk’s presentation style, make it this:

Focus on what you’re passionate about.

If you do, you’ll get people listening … and thinking.

Because you can’t inspire others without inspiring yourself first.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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