An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be Edutaining: My authentic style is to mix jokes in so my audiences are both educated and entertained. If you want your audience to internalize an idea, or be inspired to make a behavioral change they can’t be wondering when you are going to be done speaking. They need to be engaged and on their toes focused on what you are saying and wondering what you are going to say next.

At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Eli Shapiro.

Dr. Eli Shapiro ( is a licensed clinical social worker with a doctorate in education and specialists certificate in educational leadership. Dr. Eli is the creator and director of The Digital Citizenship Project (, an Adjunct Professor for the City University of New York and a Trustee of the Queens Borough Public Library. He is a graduate of the Azrieli school of Education and Administration, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Touro College and holds two licenses in school administration through the Queens College post graduate Educational Leadership Program. Dr. Eli has presented to tens of thousands of parents, school faculty and mental health professionals in communities across North America.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Brooklyn NY as an underachieving student with an overachieving imagination and delusions of growing up to be the next great starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. At some point I had the realization that a 50 mile per hour fastball against my Brooklyn stoop with no opposing batter wasn’t going to result in getting a call up from the Yankees, so college became the next logical career path.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always had an interest in mental health and social emotional functioning as well as a healthy dose of oppositional tendencies to the status quo. During graduate school and early in my career I focused on substance abuse amongst adolescents and promoted educational programming in communities that were traditionally resistant to open dialogues around controversial topics. The relationship between substance abuse and overall emotional well-being led me to work in school settings with a focus on the affective domain of education and student support though social programming like bully prevention and promoting positive peer relations. While doing my research for my doctorate the sudden proliferation of portable technology and explosion of social media brought into focus the issues associated with cyberbullying and technologies overall impact on human functioning. This became the subject of my dissertation, the core foundation for the creation of The Digital Citizenship Project and although always evolving, has continued to serve as the source of content for the vast majority of my public lectures.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I don’t know if this is the most interesting story but it was impactful for me. A number of years ago a former patient came over to me to share how something I shared with him completely changed his outlook on his children’s behavior. He shared that it was eye-opening for him to hear me say that based on the family history, biological pre-disposition may be contributing to some of the challenges they were facing with their child. I couldn’t believe that such a basic concept of child growth and development would be both a novel concept for him and serve as a source of influence in his understanding of his child. One of the challenges of developing a targeted area of knowledge is that when something becomes so obvious to you it’s hard to imagine that could possibly be a new idea or of interest to someone else. As a public speaker there is natural concern that what you have to share may be obvious to your audience, because it’s obvious to you. This story serves as a reminder to me, to paraphrase TED, there are so many ideas worth sharing.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I look back on some of my earliest lectures I laugh at how I took on the persona of a “stoic mental health professional”. I believed that in order for 25 year old me to be convincing I had a to carry myself in a way that just wasn’t me. Serious topics required serious people to talk about them. So I guess my earliest mistake was trying to be something other than me. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give for being a successfully engaging speaker is to be authentic. Being authentic is so much more important than being dynamic. Not everyone can be dynamic, funny, entertaining or brilliant, but everyone can be authentic.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people that contributed toward inspiring me and paving the path toward the success of my work, but if I had to pinpoint a watershed moment where someone opened the door that directly led to where I am today it would be Aviva Hoch, Director of Magen, a not-for-profit educational organization in Queens NY. Not long after completing my doctorate I was asked on a pretty regular basis to deliver “Internet Safety” speeches for parents in the NY area. Most of the requests were talk about the dangers of the internet and the graphic content therein. Perhaps it was my aforementioned opposition to the status quo but my perspective was that these one off speeches on a myopic angle of technology’s impact on functioning were ineffective in yielding the desired results of individual and systemic change. When Mrs. Hoch asked me to speak for some schools in Queens I shared my perspective with her and she challenged me by saying if you think it should be done differently stop saying it should be done differently and do it. If we need a curriculum; write a curriculum. If the focus needs to be on overall functioning; make it on overall functioning. She didn’t only challenge me to do it, she financed the development of the first draft of the curriculum and presentation content. Without her initial push, The Digital Citizenship Project would have never happened and that makes up about 90% of my public speaking engagements.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Stephen Covey talks about beginning with the end in mind, and that works for projects, but a career path is not “a” project, it’s the collection of a series of projects and opportunities both taken and not taken. I never would have predicted that in any given year thousands of people would leave their warm comfortable homes and gather in rows in a building to hear what I had to say. In fact as an adolescent I was often encouraged to keep my mouth shut. The current state of my career is simply the result of the many projects I have been involved with over the years. And the truth is when it came to projects I was never worried about failure. The only thing that I worried about is whether I would be able to look back on my effort and be able to say I put in 110% percent. So my advice would be, if you think something is worth doing make sure you committed to giving it your all, and a little bit more. You don’t always get the results you want, but there should never be doubt that the reason something failed was because you didn’t put in the effort.

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

I am energized by communities. I love visiting them. Working with communal leaders. And helping to elevate the conversation on complex issues with the goal of improving functioning. I have been fortunate to visit and work with hundreds of school and community leaders across dozens of cities across north and central America and love learning about both the similarities and differences of the human experience. If I had to sum up my message in a couple of words it would be “Thoughtful and Deliberative”. Whether talking about personal technology habits, parenting, relationships, productivity, well-being, it all comes down elevating your own levels of self-awareness and engaging in behaviors that enhance your functioning rather than serve as an intrusion. So the main message is be thoughtful and deliberative.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

More than anything, I see myself as a connector. When I am speaking or consulting I am connecting audiences and clients to information and resources. When working with organizations, there are so many talented individuals and organizations that do wonderful work to help people and communities flourish I want to connect them with other individuals and organizations that can complement each other’s work. Currently I am involved in bringing together 5 independent organizations in the technology education and management space and putting them under 1 umbrella as a direct multifaceted resource for communities. We are running a pilot in the Crown Heights community of Brooklyn NY and hope that this model can be replicated in communities across North America.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are so many cliches that I can give you but I am a big fan of Dr. Adam Grant so I will create a life lesson quote from the titles of 3 of his books “be an original thinking giver”. Adam Grant’s wisdom informs so much of what I do professionally. 1. Be original. Recycling the same information that may or may not be accurate never “moved the world”. 2. Think Again. To be an original thinker you have to question your previous assumptions and be open to new data or ideas. 3. Be a giver. In addition being the right thing to do, giving actually drives success rather than inhibits it. As a researcher, speaker and advocate, I try to actualize these concepts in both my personal and professional life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be authentic: Early in my career I took a stoic mental health professional persona for my public speeches. Afterall it was serious business. Although my content was fine, it just wasn’t me a resulted in, at best, adequate speeches. I was once about to speak om the topic of digital responsibility to an audience of 400 people (my largest audience up to that point) and I felt I needed something different. Something that was more me. So I stepped up to the podium, took a moment to survey the audience who all looked back at me in silent, serious anticipation and I turned my back to them, took out my cell phone and began to position for a selfie. The audience immediately recognized the irony of the behavior relative to the topic and started to laugh. Before actually taking the selfie I turned around and hit them with a follow up punch line by asking them, all 400, “can you all squeeze in a bit”?. More laughter. I turned around and took the selfie. That was the moment that my authentic presenting style emerged.
  2. Be Edutaining: My authentic style is to mix jokes in so my audiences are both educated and entertained. If you want your audience to internalize an idea, or be inspired to make a behavioral change they can’t be wondering when you are going to be done speaking. They need to be engaged and on their toes focused on what you are saying and wondering what you are going to say next.
  3. Don’t let them know you’re telling a joke until they hear the punchline: I strategically place jokes at different points during a speech. While professional comedians try to increase their laughs per minute, my goal is to use jokes to keep the audience focused on the content. To that end, the setup for my jokes sound like any on information I might be sharing with my audience, but the punchline is an unexpected turn that they didn’t see coming until after I said it.
  4. Know your content; know your audience: As a presenter, you are balancing the information you want to share with your audiences expectations, prior knowledge, and social norms and expectations. For that reason I encourage the groups that hire me to speak to send out a short survey in advance of my presentations so I can take the temperature of the participants. I always look at the title and any descriptions or correspondence that sponsoring organization may have sent out see exactly how they are promoting the event, and I will try to have short conversations with audience members prior to speaking. All this gives me the tools I need to maximize the likelihood that my message will be best received by attendees.
  5. Connect with your audience: As speakers our goal is to influence our audience in thought or action and according to Adam Grant the two fundamental paths to influence are “dominance and prestige”. Dominant influence is gained through being powerful and authoritative, while prestige, a significantly more potent form of influence, is achieved through respect and admiration. People respect and admire people they feel a connection with so joining in a struggle with your audience or expressing self-deprecating vulnerabilities will open your audiences up to what you have to say. Early in my speech, when the audience has not quite loosened up yet, I may ask “who here loves technology?” Very few people will raise their hand. Not because they don’t love technology, but because they have been conditioned to sit quietly when someone is lecturing from a stage. But there’s always one or two that will cautiously raise their hand, so I will survey the audience a reply “so only me and the guy in the back love technology”. I get a laugh, and I get connection and prestige based influence.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Speaking in public, like skydiving is not for everyone and I’m not sure where the sense of needing to overcome certain fears or discomforts comes from. One can live an incredibly rich and satisfying life without public speaking and skydiving. If however one feels that their opportunities are being held back because of this fear the only way to get over it is to prepare thoroughly, throw yourself into the abyss and repeat until you are no longer terrified.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I wish I had the answer to that. I don’t really think in terms of big movements but I do believe that the rapid advancements in technology simultaneously serve as both a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous hazard for nearly everyone on the planet. If we could be more thoughtful and deliberative in the development, distribution and consumption of technology, I think we would all be better off both individually and societally.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Dr. Adam Grant see above. Would love to have that happen.. His email address is Twitter: @adamMgrant

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @DrEliShapiro

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Dr Eli Shapiro On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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