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, 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 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. However, Sterling Cooper has another idea.

Pleasantries 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 his strategy for the Kodak ad campaign.

We can learn several powerful public speaking lessons 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
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14 Responses to Seven Powerful Public Speaking Lessons from “Mad Men”

  1. Natalia Tzvetkov says:

    El poder del Storytelling.

  2. I love how you show and tell with every post you write. I haven’t watched Mad Men, yet! I must, as it’s more than entertainment when you work in messages and communication!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you, Sandra! Much appreciated. I have actually started to watch the series and there is a lot that you can learn about persuasion from it. I’m taking notes.

  3. Eric Hunter says:

    As a child of the 60’s, this scene is even more effective, since we had a Kodak Carousel. Mad Men’s writing is outstanding, it is a series well-worth watching from start to finish, John.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks, Eric. We had a Carousel too! And I know that Mad Men is a great show but I hesitate to start watching it as I don’t want to invest all that time. Maybe one day.

  4. Ian Coltart says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your post. This is a good example to use, and certainly one of the most memorable scenes from Mad Men. It is particularly poignant because of what is happening in Don Draper’s life.

    You should definitely have this series on your list to watch. It is brilliant.



    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Ian. Thanks for the comment. You’re not the first person to tell me I should watch the series. I am resisting in the interests of time management! For now, at least.

  5. naturally powerful….sincerity analysed to understand effect as opposed to an attempt to construct sincerity… I’m not ashamed to say this pulled a tear from my eye. Thanks for sharing John…you are my ‘virtual mentor’ un abbraccio da Italia caro amico 🙂

    • John Zimmer says:

      Mille grazie, Andy! Sono stato a Verona la scorsa settimana, lavorando con rappresentanti di aziende italiane. I hope to go back to Italy soon. And yes, that scene is emotional!

  6. 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.

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

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

    😀 😀 😀

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