When it comes to public appearances, Zuckerberg has had some stumbles. In one of his first big public speaking gigs (an on-stage interview at the 2010 All Things Digital conference) he was so nervous the conference liveblog said he was “literally dissolving in a lake of his own sweat.”
No such missteps on his recent, tightly controlled outings. The latest swing took him through the midwest for several made-for-the-media events without, well, the media.
- Zuckerberg ate dinner with an unsuspecting Ohio family who didn’t know Zuckerberg was their mystery guest until 15 minutes before he showed up. Business Insider reported that the CEO’s staff set up catering for the dinner and told Zuckerberg’s host that he wouldn’t want to be seated at the head of the table.
- He visited a farm where he fed a calf and drove a tractor for the first time.
- He met with people affected by the opioid epidemic in private, even though such “listening tour” events are a classic way for politicians and executives to talk about an issue in front of the press.
Below the surface: Zuckerberg has devoted significant time over the last several years to improving as a public speaker. That includes a weekly question and answer session with Facebook employees that Recode reported in January is aimed, in part, at boosting Zuckerberg’s confidence in front of a crowd.
Experienced political operatives say that Zuckerberg’s sessions around the country could follow a similar pattern:
- Tim Miller, who served as communications director for for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, said that “whether you’re an executive or politician and you’re put in these awkward staged situations where you have to have a discussion with regular people — if you don’t have a lot of practice doing that, the result is awkward.”
- It’s not just executives who need the practice. Miller said that Bush got more comfortable on the trail over time with these types of interactions. And a former Democratic campaign staffer said that if “you were around for the first town hall meeting or diner visit for 85 percent of the candidates who run for president of the United States who are lifelong politicians it would be unbearably awkward.”
Zuckerberg has undoubtedly become a stronger public speaker over the years, especially at industry or engineer-focused events. He’s even given a talk in Chinese, a language he learned as a personal project.