Public Speaking Lessons from the Old Spice Guy

Those of you who live outside North America (as I now do) might not be familiar with Old Spice men’s care products, but when I was growing up in Canada, I used to love the smell of my Dad’s Old Spice aftershave. In fact, I still use Old Spice deodorant.

In 2010, the company aired a number of commercials in North America that received rave reviews. The commercials feature a suave, good-looking “Old Spice Guy” played by Isaiah Mustafa. The special effects, combined with Mustafa’s persona were hilarious. For example, this was the commercial that really got things rolling:

So what does all this have to do with public speaking?

Well, the Old Spice Guy has a Twitter account and he was getting lots of questions from followers for advice on a variety of topics. Rather than just answer by Twitter, the Old Spice team and Mustafa created dozens of short video replies on YouTube.

As I watched them, it occurred to me that he uses many of the same techniques that good public speakers use to convey their messages. (Even if he does so in a more “manly” way than the rest of us ever could.)

So without further ado, I give you: 11 Public Speaking Tips from the Old Spice Guy.

1. Tell stories, especially personal ones

2. Use metaphors

3. Use similes

4. If you don’t know the answer, don’t bluff

5. Develop your own style

6. It’s always about the audience, not the speaker

7. Be passionate and inspire your listeners

8. Use props effectively

9. Dress appropriately for the occasion

10. Have a call to action for your audience

11. Know when to stop speaking

If you’d like to see more videos from Old Spice, check out their YouTube account. You can also follow Isaiah Mustafa himself on Twitter: @isaiahmustafa.

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  1. John,
    Interesting way to weave the Old Spice campaign into public speaking and presenting. Your ten tips are right on though – especially Storytelling (which appropriately was #1). Presentations are stories, and stories engage audiences.
    Hopefully the readers don’t get mesmerized by Isaiah Mustafa’s manliness and miss the great advice.
    Jon Thomas
    Presentation Advisors

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jon. And I agree with you about the importance of stories. One of the best (but often overlooked) ways to connect with your audience.

  2. Hilarious, poignant and as always, well written like your speeches John! I can see you giving this as a speech…coming soon to a Toastmasters Club near you!
    You do have a missed word on point #3 (missing a you) and what seemed like a cultural apology actually served as bait to the non-Old Spice familiar audience with a hook that in my opinion gave enough through the rest of the speech to catch that group up on the “Old Spice Experience”!
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Matt, thanks for the comments and for catching the typo. I do my best to proof-read each post, but every now and then something slips through.

  3. Very cool – makes me long for that Old Spice scent.
    Thanks for extracting the 10 “lessons learned” – pulled me back from getting distracted by the videos 🙂 🙂

  4. Great post. A very creative and fun way to get your points across. Also a great illustration on the power of humor to keep an audience interested and engaged.

  5. This is a really cool post! One of the best ways to teach public speaking I have ever seen. Really well done.

    No. 3 is extremely important. Many times I have seen a speaker trying to get himself out of answering a question he simply didn’t know the answer to and ultimately making an idiot out of himself.
    Another important thing I would add here is that when you use humor, research your jokes and don’t kill them by prolonging the joke. Often speakers not only tell the joke but also try to explain it afterwards to the audience. Never works.

    Anyway, a good post. Thanks, John

  6. I too enjoyed the Old Spice video campaign. You gleaned wisdom from something I was content to sit back and watch. Your post prompted me to look more critically.
    A couple points that missed your top ten (maybe they’re number 11 and 12?) are body language and use of pacing and pauses. He consistently communicates his message without flailing arms, pacing randomly to and fro, or *gasp* gripping a lectern. His facial expressions are also fantastic. Silence can be a powerful tool, and speakers should not fear it. See for a great example.
    Thank you for distilling these lessons from something I was merely content to observe and appreciate.

    1. Thanks for the great comment, Todd. Admittedly, I was going more for the humour with this post – and it seems to have worked! – but there is always a bit of truth in every joke. I agree with your extra points but had to draw the line somewhere so stopped at 10 (11 actually, as I doubled up on No. 2). I would also have liked to mention his great voice, but that flows through in each clip.
      Thanks again! Cheers! John

  7. Using a well-scripted paid commercial to show good public speaking skills is a stretch. These commercials are not examples you’d ever use to teach anybody any kind of speaking skill.

    But I’ll enjoy your post for it’s humorous value 🙂

  8. John,

    Great job sharing these tips through a masterful marketing campaign. The clever way you extracted and applied these useful lessons are both informative and entertaining. Keep up the good work, it is appreciated.


    1. Thanks, Dartanion. And kudos to the Older Spice Guy for having the courage to do that. I am sure that he will get lots of flak for trying to be an amateur knock-off of the original, but we all have to march to the sound of our own drum!

  9. John, thanks for this. Quite apart from public speaking, I’m discovering the truth of what you say on my own blog – use personal stories. People really seem to resonate with them, I’m quite surprised. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be. I will think about how I can use metaphors etc.
    I don’t think I can manage to “dress appropriately”, but who knows?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jonathan. As I said in an earlier post – – the importance of stories cannot be overestimated. Have a look. And I’m sure that you can find lots of ways to incorporate other speaking techniques into your presentations. As for dress, there is always a bath towel!

  10. Hi John,
    Old Spice is available in Europe (e.g, Germany) – I am coming to Lausanne end of August, let me know if you want me to bring you something to sniff.
    Your ten points are excellent which I will pass on to our SMEs when they are producing their e-learning courses. Who knew Old Spice is Candy for the Eyes?!
    Ciao, Autumn

  11. John,
    I stumbled upon this site without meaning to and found it to be quite interesting. (I would have pressed the “back” button but you drew me in.)
    I was wondering why you never mentioned the importance of humor in your post. I would think it would be quite important in a speach to have a joke or two and (even without a handsome man in a towel pointing out all the 10 lessons listed above) I believe each clip caught the attention of the audience by humor.
    Just curious,

    1. Hi Liz. Thanks very much for “stumbling” by. Even more thanks for staying!
      Of course, you are absolutely correct when it comes to the importance of humour in helping a speaker connect with the audience. It is vital. I know a little something about humour as I won the Continental European Humorous Speech Championship for Toastmasters in 2008 and 2009. In case you are interested, here is an analysis of my 2009 humorous speech that goes into line-by-line detail and why I did what I did:
      For the Old Spice Guy, there were a couple of (obvious) speaking points that run through all of his videos: a great sense of humour; terrific voice projection; appropriate gestures; eye contact; etc. But as I had to draw the line somewhere, I decided to link each video to a specific speaking trait that was directly relevant to that particular video, and to skip the speaking points that ran through all of them.
      Ultimately, my main objective was to have a light-hearted post that would give people a few laughs while also reminding them of some fundamental speaking points. I hope that I have succeeded.
      Thanks again for the comment. Much appreciated and I hope that you visit again soon.

  12. Great lessons, thank you for sharing. I have seen the video before but was too distracted to get as much insight as you did.
    I can see now a lot of useful tips for public speaking and what a great way to learn. Real pleasure.
    And yes, most importantly, you can see he is having fun while recording these videos; I think it transfers to the audience. I know I perform much better when I have fun on the stage.

    1. Spasiba, Irina! I appreciate the comments.
      Yes, it is interesting to see the different ways in which we can pick up good speaking tips. Of course, it is rare that we would be as “over-the-top” as the Old Spice Guy, but it is a fun way to learn.

  13. Today, I got the link of your blog John, and as I randomly checked a few posts, I have been completely thrilled. They have all that what interests me.
    Like this one — Public Speaking Lessons from the Old Spice Guy.
    This is super — not only what Old Spice Guy has to say, but more than that, your explaining the same.
    I will get backwith my comments as I read more.
    Thanks, John. I will definitely be gaining from your blog.

    1. Thanks very much, akhkoshur, for the comments. I am glad that you enjoy the blog so far and look forward to having you check out some of the other posts.

  14. John,

    That was clever, clever, clever. Never heard of the Old Spice Man here in the UK. Your ten tips are spot on and made so much more memorable by the way you presented them.

    1. Thanks, Keith! I had a lot of fun writing that post. The ad campaign was marketing brilliance and a sign of things to come, I am sure. It was too good to pass up. Please be sure to share it with your friends and contacts.

      1. John,

        Leave a comment on my site and I’ll reply with a link to this post. You will also get a link to your last post via CommentLuv.


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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

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John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

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World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

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John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

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Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

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Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

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