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July 22, 2021 · 4 min read

To ace interviews, become a better speaker (here’s how)

Earlier this month, we shared some actionable tips for improving your presentation when interviewing for new opportunities: what kinds of questions to ask, information to share, and Zoom backgrounds to avoid.

While important, these practices are icing on the cake. In the case of interviewing, the metaphorical cake is your ability to speak in a clear, concise, and compelling manner.

Of course, improving your public speaking skills is valuable even if you’re not currently interviewing: leading teams confidently, presenting at workshops and conferences, and pitching investors all require an incredible amount of communication discipline.

But besides finding your notes from high school Public Speaking 101, or making your friends and family listen to you speak and give disjointed feedback (I’ve tried this and, yes, it is as awkward as it sounds), how can we become better speakers?

Enter: Rhetoric.

While working early on at Lyft, Raman Malik, co-founder of Rhetoric, noticed that the engineers and data scientists who were having the largest impact and being promoted quickly were those who could deftly sell their work across the company. It was clear that excellent speaking skills were a prerequisite for success. Fast-forward to COVID times, and we’re speaking into microphones all day at work, rather than happenstance conversations in hallways. Suddenly, our speech is measurable and quantifiable, providing a unique opportunity to understand how we communicate (and how we can improve).

It is in this context that Raman partnered with Ivan Kirgin of to build Rhetoric: an AI-powered extension that shares real-time feedback on spoken communication. As a newly-minted public speaking expert, I asked Raman to distill his best communication advice for the community to consider before their next interview.

Q: What’s one strategy for compelling public speaking that surprised you while experimenting with the feedback?

Reducing the use of “qualifying statements”. I realized that when expressing my opinion during a meeting with senior leadership, I would sometimes end my thought with “if you know what I mean.”

That is a qualifying statement. It exists to make what you said “more flexible” to others, yet it severely reduces how confident you sound. The use of “kind of,” “sort of,” and “you know” also have similar functions. I added all of these statements to the “filler word” tracker in Rhetoric, so whenever I say them during a meeting I get a small ping in my headphones and a notification on my desktop.

Q: How can developers use Rhetoric to become better communicators—especially on job interviews? 

Three things. (1) Be aware. (2) Watch out for rambling. (3) Practice.

Be aware. You’ve found a job you’re excited about and you really want it. We’ve all been there. The interview begins and while you’re gushing with excitement and interest (awesome!), your answers are a scatterbrained mess (not awesome!). You’re speaking too fast. Filler words are, like, really, showing up in your responses.

Rhetoric exists to prevent these situations. You’ll be reminded to take a deep breath, speak slowly and clearly, and avoid unnecessary filler words. We’ve heard from multiple users that simply having Rhetoric open during a big presentation serves as a calming reminder to take it easy and focus on clarity.

Watch out for rambling. Rhetoric will let you know when you’ve spoken for one minute straight. This does not necessarily mean you should stop, but it’s a reminder to be aware of the length of what you are saying and pause for questions. The best answers in interviews are clear, concise, and to the point.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice with Rhetoric on. You can save each session and look through your transcripts to see how your answers are improving. You’ll also have access to your stats (words per minute, filler word usage, etc.) for each session. Heads up: we’ll be building quite a bit more to improve the presentation practice experience in the coming months.

Q: What’s next for Rhetoric?

Rhetoric has really been an experiment for us to understand how we can provide users with better feedback and validate a variety of hypotheses. We’ve learned quite a bit from the beta prototype and are now building a new product that is still under stealth. Stay tuned – we’ll have a big announcement in the coming months!

Photo by Richard Clyborne of Music Strive via Flickr