From Russia with Love

I recently returned from a trip to Russia. I was in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Svetlana Komolikova, Director of the School of Rhetoric in Novosibirsk, had invited me to give a three-day workshop on public speaking and presentation skills. It was a fascinating experience.


Sitting on the banks of the Ob River, one of the longest in the world, Novosibirsk (“New Siberia” in Russian) is the third most populous city in Russia. It is a major centre for industry, technology and learning. The city has at least 14 universities and other higher education academies.

And it was a real Siberian winter! Stepping off the plane at 6:00 a.m. and walking out into  the -25° Celsius early morning darkness was invigorating to say the least! As the snow squeaked under my feet, memories of growing up in Northern Ontario, where winters were often just as cold, flooded back.

But if the weather was cold, the reception that I received could not have been warmer. Svetlana, her husband Anton and the participants were terrific. They were engaged; they were curious; and they were willing to push themselves.

Many of the participants did not speak English. Although my Russian made tremendous progress while in Russia, 40-50 words is not much of a basis for a three-day seminar. So I had to work with both simultaneous and consecutive interpretation. My interpreters, Lika and Lena, were terrific. But I still had to be mindful of the basics when working in such circumstances. If you work with interpreters, this post might come in handy.

Also, when I teach a three-day workshop, I like to show a few short videos, both to demonstrate a speaking point and also to add some variety to the course. I could have used English videos and let the interpreters do the work, but it would not have been effective. So I did some legwork before traveling and discovered some great resources:

It made a great impact and the participants appreciated the extra effort. I also had some of my slides translated into Russian. Further, I sent detailed notes well in advance of the event so that they could be translated for the participants. If you present to an audience that speaks another language, extra work beforehand will make a big difference.

Finally, on the penultimate day of my trip, I had the unique experience of being a guest on a Russian TV Morning Talk Show called “раньше всех”. Pronounced “Ranshye Vsyekh”, it basically means “Earlier Than Anyone”, but I just thought of it as “Good Morning Siberia”. They found out that I was in town and so invited me to come on the show.

It was a great experience but also a challenge. As you will see in the video below, I had to focus on the hosts, Anna and Alexander, who were speaking to me in Russian. Meanwhile, Lika, the interpreter, was half whispering the words in English behind me. With my head angled slightly, I was hearing Russian in my right ear and English in my left. It really forced me to focus but was a lot of fun to do!

All in all, my time in Russia was a fantastic experience with some wonderful people. Special thanks to Svetlana for being a wonderful host and a true professional. She found the School of Rhetoric in Novosibirsk seven years ago and is held in the highest esteem by her clients. It was a pleasure working with her. большое спасибо, Светлана и Сибирь!

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  1. John, what a brilliant adventure! And how brilliantly complicated trying to give a 3 day workshop through a translator. To this day, not a single workshop that I’ve put on could measure up to that level of complexity. My hat’s off to both you and your spirit of adventure.
    Well done!

    1. Thanks very much, Ian. It was definitely an adventure, but one that I would do again in a heartbeat. And working with interpreters is like anything else – the more you do it, the more comfortable you become.

  2. Thanks for sharing the pictures. Siberia feels much closer to my home in Argentina now. And thanks for being mindful of interpreters’ work. In my experience as an interpreter, live TV shows are some of the most challenging settings for interpretation. In the interview of your video, consecutive interpretation back into Russian would have been less confusing, but there was probably not enough time to accommodate the extra time required by the consecutive mode.

    1. Thank you, Laura. Glad you enjoyed the post. You are correct about the TV show. There was just not enough time to organize ear pieces, etc. so we went with what we had.

  3. Wow, that sounds like a great adventure. I can’t imagine doing a 3 day workshop through translators. That’s a subject I haven’t heard come up with speakers before. Normally I travel to English-speaking countries, but wouldn’t want to limit it to those. Good advice on translation.

    1. Thanks, Julie. It was an adventure, that’s for sure. And I strongly recommend working with interpreters. Yes, it is an added challenge, but it can be very rewarding. My advice is to start small if you can; say, a 30-minute speech or a 90-minute workshop, just to get the feel of it.

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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.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

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.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

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.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

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!

Sara Canna

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.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

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!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

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!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

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.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International