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.

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.

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.”

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.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

  3. 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.



    1. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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!

    1. 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.

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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.

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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.

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!

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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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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!"

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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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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International