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ATD Blog

The Speaking Edge


Tue May 21 2024

The Speaking Edge

ATD24 emcee Holly Ransom dishes on her unique career.

The Speaking Edge-Holly Ransom Photo.jpg

CEO of Emergent Global and author of The Leading Edge, Holly Ransom is an internationally acclaimed leadership speaker and consultant. She serves as the emcee for ATD24 and will conduct a conversation with Venus Williams during Wednesday’s keynote address.


In an interview with the Conference Daily, Ransom discusses her unique career, working with conferences and guests, and how her role affects learning.

How did you get into moderating?

I was very fortunate, and this is a crazy way to have started out in moderating, but I was speaking alongside Sir Richard Branson when he came to Australia in 2015.

He said, “I love the way that you ask questions. Would you come to London and host Virgin Disruptors for me?” Virgin Disruptors is an event for business leaders and entrepreneurs to promote innovation.

Of course, I jumped at the chance. It was a remarkable opportunity to interview Richard and this incredible community of entrepreneurs that he pulled together. And I fell madly in love with it. So, hosting and moderating have been a big part of what I have done ever since.


When you serve as a speaker, what do you speak about?

I’ve always been about three big areas: leadership, culture, and high-performing teams. I’m very interested in the things that allow us to function more effectively.

My book, The Leading Edge, is a consolidation of a lot of thinking around what allows us to lead ourselves most effectively because until we can lead ourselves, we can’t lead others.

What kind of “personality” do you bring to events, and how does it differ from your own personality?

I like to think I bring a pretty similar personality both on- and offstage. One of the reasons I do this work is because I genuinely love it. So, I hope there’s an infectious enthusiasm and energy. I am so innately curious that I love learning from the people that I get to share the stage with. I also love trying to work out how to set up good conversations or unpack ideas in a way that allows the audience to benefit.


I like to have fun, which is really important. I’m always trying to make sure the audience doesn’t take the event too seriously because, as much as we can be serious about the content, we need to have an element of light, too.

What has been your biggest aha from a guest?

The challenge is on you as the person doing the interview to find the thing that makes someone extraordinary and then to explore that or set them up to share that in a way that allows everyone to have that aha.

I can safely say that I've found that in almost every conversation I’ve ever had. Even thinking of ATD23 with Adam Grant and some of the insights that he shared around givers and takers and the phrasing his coach used, saying, “What's stopping you?” That in and of itself provides an aha where I go away and think about that, and I think about how that adds value in different contexts.

I can't wait for the ahas I'm going to share with our incredible guests this year such as Venus Williams and Matthew McConaughey. What an incredible lineup of people who’ve achieved such extraordinary things in wildly different fields with incredibly different backstories, resources, and circumstances.

Facilitators sometimes have to deal with difficult participants. Have you ever had a situation where you didn’t click with a speaker?

Most of your readers can probably relate to the idea that you haven’t gotten on with everyone you’ve worked with—that’s just a reality of life.

There’ve been people who weren’t up for having a conversation. Or people who didn’t want to give more than one-word answers. When you’ve been doing this for as long as I have, you get everything and then some.

But one of the things you have to be good at in my capacity is building instant rapport. Because quite often you don’t get a lot of time with presenters before you take the stage. So, you learn to identify \[problems\] early and then adapt your goalposts and your style accordingly.

The thing I'm always mindful of in those circumstances is how to be always in service of the audience. It's never about me. It's not about whether I click with someone. It's about setting the person up to be the source of insight and excitement or storytelling that they need to be for the audience.

What have you learned about yourself by serving as an emcee?

I learn all the time from the content that I’m getting to unpack, which continually gives me reflections on myself as a leader, myself as a person, and things I want to be more thoughtful about. One of the great joys of the role is that you are always learning.

How have you grown by doing this?

Your people skills grow \[out of\] sight as well as your emotional intelligence, your need to adapt, the way that you prepare in order to cover subject matter, and how you think about what it takes to create an engaging conversation (such as changing tone and pace).

I’ve learned an enormous amount that I think transfers over to a lot of the broader work that I do in leadership and building relationships with people more generally in life.

From a learning perspective, how does your role affect conference attendees?

One of the things I really hope I can do for attendees is join the dots and connect ideas so they can compound certain learnings, play back things they might have missed, or consider a new lens. I hope to offer additional insight. I hope to get people to think about the applicability of a new or different idea to their world and how they might take it beyond the conference and actually play it forward.

I want to be a connector and help people appreciate some of the pragmatism and the ideas. One of the challenges I often see to closing the knowing and doing gap is that it’s really easy to get inspired and intellectualize things when we sit in seats at a conference. But it’s more difficult to ask, how might I try this tomorrow?

I hope I can serve as a bridge to help more people get the benefits of ideas in action.

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