Are Elon Musk’s public speaking skills as visionary as his cars?

Elon Musk


Last Thursday, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s newest car, the Model 3. Even though this car won’t be available until late 2017 at the earliest, more than 300,000 of them have been reserved online (and the number climbs higher every day). The excitement leading up to the event was similar to past unveilings from Apple — people waited in line for hours to hear Musk describe Tesla’s newest electric car, meant to appeal to the mass market.

From a public speaking standpoint, did Musk’s keynote live up to the hype? To find out, we used our natural language processing and linguistic mapping tools to conduct a communication analysis on the keynote. We then benchmarked the keynote against our extensive communications database, and compared it specifically to past speeches by Musk, as well as to Steve Jobs’ famous iPhone unveiling keynote. From this analysis, we identified two key findings:

1. The unveiling speeches for both the iPhone and the Model 3 scored in the 90th percentile in our database in terms of visionary communication.

As we found in a previous analysis, visionary speakers, like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, differentiate themselves through their communication. These speakers are able to take large, abstract ideas and communicate them in a clear, tangible way that allows you as their listener to picture exactly what they’re trying to accomplish. In short, they use language to put the impossible within reach.

The following is an example of how Musk breaks down big ideas so that you can picture them:

Now how are we going to make these cars? Good question. We need to achieve high volume production. So this is in two parts. First there is the vehicle factory. Our Fremont factory in the past has reached almost 500,000 per year, so we’re confident that Tesla can achieve that number in terms of vehicle production. I think that’s going to be … I wouldn’t say straightforward, but very doable. And what about batteries? We would basically need to absorb the world’s entire lithium battery production. That’s why we are building the Gigafactory. This is a vital element. To give you a sense of scale, the Gigafactory will have the largest footprint of any building of any kind, OK? Volumetrically it will only be second to the Boeing factory in Washington, so this is really quite an enormous facility. In fact, it will produce more lithium batteries than all other lithium factories combined. That’s one location.

2. Musk has consistently scored in the top quartile of our database for authenticity. 

When you listen to Elon Musk speak on stage, you get the impression he would speak the same way over coffee. He doesn’t sound overly formal or rehearsed, and you get the impression that his words match his beliefs and actions. This tone of voice is similar to that of Steve Jobs, whose iPhone keynote scored 88.7% for authenticity.


The following quote from the iPhone unveiling demonstrates Jobs’ authentic tone of voice:

But smart phones are definitely a little smarter, but they actually are harder to use. They’re really complicated. Just for the basic stuff people have a hard time figuring out how to use them. Well, we don’t want to do either one of these things. What we want to do is make a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been, and super-easy to use. This is what iPhone is. OK?

No matter how many hundreds of people are in Jobs’ audience, when you read that quote, it’s easy to imagine he’s having a one-on-one conversation with you. And Musk has a knack for making his audience feel the same way.

When you do your rides tonight, you’ll see what we mean. You’re sitting a little further front. It feels great. That’s what gives you the legroom so that you can have 5 adults, so the first and second rows have plenty of legroom.

Musk’s easygoing speaking style goes a long way in helping him connect with his fans, while his visionary language establishes him as the kind of guy who might just lead us into the future of transportation. As for Quantified Communications, we’re wondering whether it’s time to save up for a company car…

To find out how Quantified Communications can use communication analytics to help ensure your company’s executives are best-in-class public speakers, email us at

More on executive communication measurement from Quantified Communications.