On May 19th, a filmmaker known to millions as the director of the Star Wars and Star Trek reboot movies gave an inspiring and heartfelt commencement address. J.J. Abrams is a Sarah Lawrence College alumnus who went on to find great success with his work as a writer, producer and director. This year, he delivered a keynote address filled with advice for careers, marriages, families and coincidences. Here are some impactful speaking skills that you can learn from J.J. Abrams.



Abrams lays out 10 life lessons (or 11 because as he states towards the end, he was lying when he said 10) that he has learned from his experiences. Making a numbered list is an easy way to jump from topic to topic, but Abrams still adds a storytelling element to his list. For example, his transition from number 2 to 3 – marry the right person, and wait to have children. Not only do these two topics go together, but the setup adds a nice bit of humor to personal advice. The flow of his transitions showcases Abrams’ impactful speaking skills.


Speaking of humor, Abrams is a naturally funny speaker with a knack for timing. His delivery of lines like, “Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about ‘before I begin,’” and the timing of each of his life lessons creates laughable moments with the audience. Humor is one of the most challenging but equally important impactful speaking skills. If you can make your audience laugh throughout your presentation, then you can increase your chances of getting your audience to come back for more.


I could pull motivational quotes from several spots in this presentation. Abrams is a master of crafting a durable message, whether it is through films, television or speeches. Motivational lines that can withstand the test of time will make your speech live long in the memories of your audience. One of the most impactful speaking skills is to send a message that changes people’s lives. Abrams does this by explaining how the moments he has gone through changed his life:

“Serendipity is something you need to be aware of, it needs to be celebrated, but you also need to be open to it.” says Abrams. “Meeting the person you are meant to spend the rest of your life with rarely happens as you might expect. I was on a date with someone else the night I met (my wife) Katie.”

Infuse your presentation with personal stories like the ones Abrams tells, and your audience will relate and understand the message you are trying to send.

Impactful Speaking Skills J.J. Abrams

Some people are naturally gifts with impactful speaking skills while others have to practice them. I think Abrams possess skills like humor naturally; but it took years of work and by-chance experiences for him to tell the stories that changed his life. That is not something you learn, but something you live. If you want to deliver an impactful speech like this, take direction from J.J. Abrams.

More from the Ethos3 Blog:

The Most Talked-About Commencement Speeches of 2017

Using Props in a Presentation

The Science of Storytelling for Presentations (Infographic)

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