Seven Powerful Public Speaking Lessons from “Mad Men”

My recent post in which I had some fun with the hit TV series, Breaking Bad, reminded me of a clip from another popular series about which I wanted to write, Mad Men.

If you who don’t know the show, Mad Men is set in the 1960s and is focused on the people who work for a fictitious advertising agency known as Sterling Cooper. I have only seen a few, random episodes of the show, but I have liked what I have seen.

In the short clip below, two executives from Kodak are visiting Sterling Cooper to hear the agency’s proposal for a new slide projector that Kodak has invented. Up to this point, Kodak has insisted on incorporating the concept of a wheel into the ad campaign.

When pleasantries have been exchanged, they get down to business. The job falls to Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), one of Sterling Cooper’s star admen, to explain to the Kodak executive the way in which he thinks ad campaign should be run.

There are several powerful public speaking lessons to be learned from this scene.

1. Emotion is powerful.

Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.


But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia.


[And, generally, the way in which Jon Hamm speaks.]

2. Stories are powerful.

My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old pro copywriter. Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new”.

3. Metaphors are powerful.

Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of … calamine lotion.


This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. 

4. Interesting facts are powerful.

Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means, “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.

5. Rhetorical devices are powerful.

It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called the Carousel. 

6. Images are powerful.

[The slides in the projector.]

7. Pauses are powerful.

It’s delicate … but potent.


It lets us travel the way … a child travels … around and around, and back home again … to a place where we know we are loved.


[These are only a few examples. Play the clip again and count how many pauses, long and short, there are.]

You don’t have to work at an advertising agency to incorporate the above techniques when you speak. Try using two or three the next time you present; your audience will go “mad” for it.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Speeches from Film and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Seven Powerful Public Speaking Lessons from “Mad Men”

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  2. Pingback: New products: Nostalgia | ContactZoneMedia

  3. byrdwords says:

    Brilliant post, John, also from the standpoint of the storyteller. Show, don’t tell, don’t over dramatize and go straight to the heart without detours. thanks for a great post.

  4. Love this!!!! Fabulous post. Mad Men is such an interesting show.

    I hope you have a beautiful day!!! <3

    😀 😀 😀

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