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Geoff Colvin

October 15, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor-at-Large, Fortune magazine

Millions of eyes and ears count on―and respect―Geoff Colvin’s insights on the key issues driving change in business, politics, and the economy. The senior editor of Fortune magazine, and named by Directorship magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential Figures in Corporate Governance,” Geoff draws on his years of insider access to top government figures and high-profile executives to share effective leadership strategies, and provides his unparalleled perspective on the business climate of today…and tomorrow. We are delighted to put the spotlight on Geoff, below:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

I have no idea, but it goes pretty deep. I started winning prizes for speaking in grade 9 (in London, Ontario) and later won some state high school titles in Illinois. I’ve just always found it deeply rewarding.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

If you can choose your topic, choose one about which you feel genuinely passionate. If your topic is assigned, connect with your deepest feelings about it. Then outline your talk in detail, and speak it from notes – don’t read it – at least three times before you actually deliver it. That will get you started.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

I like to leave their left brains with specific, actionable new information and insights that they can put to work the next day. And I like to leave their right brains with a feeling that this was a fun, rewarding use of their time and an optimistic feeling that the future is full of promise for them.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

I prepare by talking with the organizers in advance about their group and the most important issues on their minds, then creating my talk accordingly. But I’m not superstitious – when it’s time to go onstage, I just go.

Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?

If you do enough speaking, you will encounter problems. I’ve had a fire alarm go off (though no fire) while I was speaking, and of course the entire room emptied. On one occasion the podium collapsed while I was speaking! I once gave a talk on a dinner cruise where the engine noise was so loud that no one could hear me, and in any case the audience was sunburned, exhausted, and mostly drunk. In all these situations you just stay relaxed, make some jokes, deliver the talk, and everything will be okay.

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?

It might be in music – I play a few instruments, and I worked as a classical music radio announcer through college. Or it might be in classical literature. Fundamentally I’d probably be doing what I do now – writing and speaking – but on some other topic.

Desert island album?

An impossible question, of course, but I suppose if you could get all six of Bach’s Brandenburg concerti on one album, that would be it. Though I would really miss Sinatra.

Best subject in school?

English in high school, economics in college.

Last book you read?

Mike, by P.G. Wodehouse. Before that I had just re-read the Iliad.

Last film you saw?

The World’s End, an idiotic English comedy that was right up my alley.