Mark Zuckerberg: How a CEO went from Anxious to Greatness

Zuckerberg: Facebook works with independent fact-checkers on ads | Courtesy of NBC News

In the year 2005, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of the social media platform Facebook, gave the commencement speech for the Harvard University graduating class. This was the very first time Mark Zuckerberg was placed in front a large group of people and asked to give a speech on his achievements and success. It was a complete disaster. Mark consistently used filler words and he even said the word “like” 576 times in just one hour.1 It is completely clear that Mark was unprepared, uncomfortable, and unsure while speaking in front of people. Little did he know that his career would soon skyrocket, and public speaking would become something he had to get used to.

Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, gives the commencement speech.| Courtesy of Jesse Costa

Mark Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984 in White Plains, New York. From a very young age his parents noticed that Mark was a closed off and shy kid. As he grew up, his shyness never went away and he never “broke out of his shell.” In 2000, Mark attended Harvard University, but by 2002 he had dropped out after forming now one of the biggest social media platforms in his closet-sized dorm room. Mark went from being a straight A student to the CEO of a multi billion-dollar company in the matter of just two years. His groundbreaking success did come with some big obstacles, which he would soon find out about.2

During his early years in the spotlight, Mark struggled immensely with public speaking. He constantly tripped over words. He used filler words.3 He always seemed unprepared for his speeches. This was something that was noticed and recognized by everyone that kept an eye on Mark. It was a sad realization that Mark was given. “Maybe this job isn’t meant for me.”4 Zuckerberg never got better, or at least not for a while. His speeches stayed the same: unprepared, uncomfortable, and as some people would say, “robotic.” Even though Mark struggled while speaking in public, he could not just give up and stop. Being the CEO of a fast growing company called for a lot of press meetings, business meetings, and different conferences where Mark Zuckerberg was in charge of leading and speaking in front of large numbers of people. Zuckerberg had to learn how to fix the tics and the bad traits he had while speaking in public.

Three years after the disaster of Mark’s speech in 2005, he decided to redeem himself in 2008. His speech showed immense improvement in his public speaking skills. The pitch and tone in his voice engaged the audience in a more efficient way. He presented himself in a more professional way and showed the crowd that he was much more confident than he was before.5 The change in his persona showed that Mark had been practicing his public speaking skills and that he used different tips to make his speeches more engaging and more personal. This was not the peek of his public speaking career, however, but it showed that he was taking steps in the right direction. Mark began to grow in his skills, losing the robotic persona that he had put up while speaking in public. He did not need to say that he had anxiety when speaking in public; his use of filler words and his stuttering voice gave it away to the audience. But, after 2008, it was evident that Zuckerberg was improving rapidly.

Mark Zuckerberg touts broad power of expression | Courtesy of Getty Images

Between 2005 and 2018, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at numerous conferences, meetings, and events he was invited to. Each speech showed major improvement, and he continued to become a stronger public speaker. His speeches began to feel more comfortable. It was evident that Mark had taken the time to improve his skills and had taken the time to really sit back and look at who he is and what he could do to make himself a better public speaker. The words flowed out of his mouth easier and he seemed to look more prepared when he was on stage talking in front of thousands of people. Mark was able to mature in his public speaking skills over these years. His robotic tone faded and he began to sound much more prepared for the speeches that he had to give.6

In 2018, Mark gave a keynote presentation at Facebook’s F8 Conference. This particular speech finally showed Mark’s full improvement with his anxiety in speaking in public. Mark Zuckerberg went from being described as a robot to being a confident, educated, and comfortable public speaker. He kept eye contact with the audience, used no filler words, and made sure to articulate every word that he spoke. Comparing his very first speech in 2005 to his keynote presentation in 2018, one sees the growth of someone who had no confidence that he would ever be able to speak normally in public. Mark picked up many new traits and many different skills while speaking. His confidence was shown by the way he carried himself up on stage. It was evident that Mark was now prepared, and he seemed to have stripped away his anxiety of public speaking. He had lost his stutter, he had now grown into a more mature and comfortable tone, and he now finally seemed prepared and confident to the audiences that he was speaking to. His years of anxiety and his numerous uncomfortable speeches were now seen as stepping-stones towards his mastery of public speaking.7

2018, Mark Zuckerberg speaking out about Facebook scandals | Courtesy of Getty Images

Being the CEO of a company is a rigorous and difficult job, so having the pressure of public speaking on Mark’s shoulders made his job something that he thought he could not do. Many people doubted Mark’s qualifications for the job after they had watched him present different information in front of thousands of people. Many people believed that Mark was not ready for his job and that he should have stayed in the background of the company, rather than being the face of Facebook. People believed that with Mark Zuckerberg as the CEO of Facebook, the company would begin to be seen as an unprofessional platform and they would slowly start losing credit and interaction of the social media platform.8 This was one of the reasons Mark took the initiative to make his public speaking much better than what it was before. His confidence radiated, his anxiety seemed to slowly fade, and he no longer used filler words in his public speeches.9

Anxiety in public speaking is a very common obstacle that many people face.10 Many people that suffer from public speaking anxiety never overcome it due to the fact that they are never put in the position where they have to speak in front of thousands of people. This, of course, was different for the CEO of a multi billion-dollar company. Mark Zuckerberg was not given the option of speaking in public or not; it was something that came with his occupation. Mark had to learn how to control the anxiety that he had and had to teach himself to speak in front of thousands of people. This was not easy for Zuckerberg, and this is not easy for most people. Anxiety is a very hard thing to overcome. It takes practice and development of character, but it is also something that many people do have to deal with. Anxiety in public speaking can come when speaking in front of thousands of people, or even just a handful, or even to the people you are closest to. There is truly no rhyme or reason for the anxiety that one feels. There are, of course, ways to overcome this anxiety, but it takes time, patience, and practice.11

With the global pandemic and the insanity of the year 2020, Mark has not spoken in front of the public during this year. He has told many news sources and reporters that moving into this new decade, he plans to be understood rather than heard. Mark Zuckerberg was able to grow from a very shy Harvard student, to the CEO of a large company that conquered his fear of public speaking and grew out of his old habits that were holding him back from being the best he could be for his position. His future speeches, with practice, are now going to show how much growth one person can go through in a matter of fifteen years. The growth of Mark Zuckerberg’s public speaking is one that many people can relate to. He started out as a shy, nervous, and uncomfortable public speaker that eventually, with practice, became a man that was known for his progress while up on stage. It was a growth seen by many and a growth that continues to impress people today.12

  1. Amanda Wong, “The Evolution of Mark Zuckerberg’s Public Speaking Style,” Speeko (blog), 2020, https://www.speeko.co/blog/2019/7/26/the-evolution-of-mark-zuckerbergs-public-speaking-style
  2. Amanda Wong, “The Evolution of Mark Zuckerberg’s Public Speaking Style,” Speeko (blog), 2020, https://www.speeko.co/blog/2019/7/26/the-evolution-of-mark-zuckerbergs-public-speaking-style
  3. Robert Scoble, “What caused Mark Zuckerberg’s improvement In Public Speaking?” Business Insider (website), March 25, 2011, https://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-improvement-public-speaking-2011-3
  4. Amanda Wong, “The Evolution of Mark Zuckerberg’s Public Speaking Style,” Speeko (blog), 2020, https://www.speeko.co/blog/2019/7/26/the-evolution-of-mark-zuckerbergs-public-speaking-style
  5. Amanda Wong, “The Evolution of Mark Zuckerberg’s Public Speaking Style,” Speeko (blog), 2020, https://www.speeko.co/blog/2019/7/26/the-evolution-of-mark-zuckerbergs-public-speaking-style
  6. Robert Scoble, “What caused Mark Zuckerberg’s improvement In Public Speaking?” Business Insider, March 25, 2011, https://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-improvement-public-speaking-2011-3
  7. Amanda Wong, “The Evolution of Mark Zuckerberg’s Public Speaking Style, Speeko (blog), 2020, https://www.speeko.co/blog/2019/7/26/the-evolution-of-mark-zuckerbergs-public-speaking-style
  8. Mary E. Williams, Building a Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg (Lucent Books, 2013), 41-43.
  9. Mary E. Williams, Mark Zuckerberg. People in the News (Detroit: Lucent Books, 2013), 106-108.
  10. Michael R. Elkins, “I Will Fear No Audience: General Semantics Applied to a Communication Apprehensive Public Speaking Laboratory,” ETC: A Review of General Semantics 53, no. 1 (1996): 72.
  11. Michael R. Elkins, “I Will Fear No Audience: General Semantics Applied to a Communication Apprehensive Public Speaking Laboratory,” ETC: A Review of General Semantics 53, no. 1 (1996): 72.
  12. Robert Scoble, “What caused Mark Zuckerberg’s improvement In Public Speaking?” Business Insider, March 25, 2011, https://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-improvement-public-speaking-2011-3

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15 Responses

  1. I always enjoy reading short descriptive articles like this. I’ve never actually seen or heard one of Mark’s Presentations but i think it is something people like him have to dominate. When one is dedicated and works hard for something they can always achieve it, it may take time and require practice but eventually they will achieve their goal. Mark was a shy kid and even if he wasn’t, no one is an expert at public speaking the very first time, especially when his job and presentations are for thousands of people to see. Thank you for this article.

  2. This is a great article to read as it can really help in inspiration. It was odd to see how Mark Zuckerberg seemed to struggle with his anxiousness, as he seems very cool, calm, and collected. It was interesting the way push came to shove and how he was forced to overcome his anxiety fears in order to present an improved public speaking skills, in order for him to better represent himself, and his company. I believe this article is an great example of how you can overcome your anxiety fears, as well as maybe trying some things that Mark Zuckerberg in order to be successful in both his business, and his public speaking skills.

  3. It is very inspiring seeing a story like this as I remember seeing that video of Mark Zuckerberg at some point in time and just remembering how awkward he was. However, to see him today and how far he came from that really gives off an inspiring feel. I am just happy that he no longer has the anxiety he had before.

  4. Mark Zuckerberg has found himself in a unique position. I don’t think he intended his company to grow to the size that it has, so he faces challenges he never anticipated. In a way, he was forced to overcome his anxiety and improve on his public speaking. Zuckerberg is a good example of someone who was able to surpass their own expectations of what they though they could do.

  5. I really enjoyed this article. It was very informative. I was unaware that Mark struggled with something that many people have today, anxiety. I was always someone who would struggle with anxiety definitely in a public place. After reading this article it feels good to see someone possibly like me, someone who can overcome battles and still come out on top. Very well written.

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