Writing and speaking tips from this famous astronaut will launch your career


Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is known for his many accomplishments: commanding the International Space Station, keeping his cool after temporarily losing his sight during a spacewalk, and performing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in a video which has been viewed over 50 million times.

Back on Earth, Hadfield learned to express these incredible feats through speech and writing. I met Hadfield this week to talk about his first fictional novel, Apollo’s Murders. We talked about the writing tips he received from rock star Neil Young and the process of preparing for his now famous TED Talk.

Hadfield’s writing and public speaking tips are invaluable to professionals in all fields who want to take their careers to the next level.

1). Stay open to new ideas.

Although Hadfield gave thousands of speeches before his TED Conference, he welcomed the comments from the TED organizers.

“They gave me great advice on how to structure my speech, practice the performance, rearrange the material and engage the audience. I learned something from the process, ”recalls Hadfield. “The skill of public speaking is almost exclusively a learned skill. “

I have worked directly with CEOs and senior executives of some of the world’s most admired brands. Leaders who are exceptional communicators are eager to learn and improve, especially those who are at their peak.

The minute you think you’re done learning is the moment you’ll fall behind.

2). Learn from the masters.

Writing and public speaking are skills that you can hone with knowledge and practice.

As he prepared to write his novel, Hadfield returned to writing class. He revisits his favorite authors to study their style and structure. He took a MasterClass from James Patterson. He read books like Stephen King’s On writing where he learned that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” or to “energize your prose with active verbs”.

Hadfield credits rocker and fellow Canadian Neil Young with an essential writing lesson.

“He told me two important things. First, don’t try to write a song. Just write it down, ”Hadfield recalls. In other words, avoid starting from the ambitious intention of “writing a song” or “writing a book”. Just start writing down ideas. You can weave these ideas together later.

“And second, don’t judge the art of what you create until you’ve done a lot of it. Just start writing down your ideas. Then you can go back, clean up, and edit the work to make it as good for the reader as possible.

Young’s advice reminds Hadfield of a useful chapter in Stephen King’s book where the Master of Horror compared earlier versions to later versions. The first drafts hardly resembled the final product.

If you have any ideas, just write them down without judgment. You will have ample time to review, solicit comments, refine and edit. But like Hadfield says, if you worry too much at first, you’ll never create anything.

3). Use metaphors to explain the inexplicable.

Hadfield is one of the most famous living astronauts, part of a small circle of people who know what it’s like to go to space.

How does it feel to circle the earth at 17,000 miles an hour? How does it feel to be propelled into space on top of a rocket? The answers represent a huge communication challenge. The key is to find something that your audience finds familiar.

“If I try to describe how I feel, I immerse myself in the present moment. How? ‘Or’ What made you can feel it? ” said Hadfield. “Then I let my body and my mind find comparisons. What else feels like this? What else makes you feel like this? “

Hadfield conveys the sensation of a rocket launch as a “roaring beast”. On take off, “It’s like you’re in the jaw of a huge dog shaking and pounding you. You are like a leaf in a hurricane.

CNN presenter Anderson Cooper enjoyed listening to Hadfield’s description of the shift from gravity to weightlessness. Hadfield said: “It’s like a big gorilla jumped on you and threw you off a cliff.”

Hadfield says he is aware of the audience he is speaking with. “I work very hard to choose words, pictures and stories that are within their realm of comprehension. Something that they will get immediately and remember it afterwards.

We think metaphorically, constantly dealing with the unknown world by finding mental references that we know. Effective communicators like Hadfield rely on metaphor and its close cousin, analogy, as vehicles to express ideas too abstract for general understanding.

Hadfield has worked on his communication skills for decades. He decided early in his career that in addition to learning to fly airplanes and spaceships, learning to speak in public would prove to be a valuable skill. “I figured it was going to be important in my life for business and everything,” he says.

Today, Hadfield communicates through books, speeches, videos and social media posts with his millions of followers. He has the ability to educate and entertain at the same time. Yes, it is a rare skill. But as Hadfield says, it’s a skill anyone can learn.

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