8 Lessons from a Dutch Fashion Designer

I am a great believer in the power of consistent, focused practice in one’s chosen discipline. As a professional speaker, I spend a lot of time working to improve my skills. I speak, I train, I read, I write. I watch videos of other speakers and I seek feedback on my own speeches.
But I also believe that there is much to be learned from those in other domains. It’s a big world and it is important to be open to new ideas. This is especially so for those who work in fields that require them to work with different clients. As a professional speaker and lawyer, I have spent my career learning about the businesses and lives of a diverse array of people, companies and organizations. It’s one of the things that I love about what I do.
And so, every month, I spend a bit of time reading about people who work in professions about which I know little or nothing. I then try to draw out lessons that I can apply in my own life, whether related to public speaking or not.

Jan Taminiau in Dehli

Recently, I was flying on KLM. I had work to do during the flight, but I quickly flipped through KLM’s inflight magazine, Holland Herald. An article caught my eye, so I stuffed the magazine into my computer bag for future reading. (Many people don’t realize that those inflight magazines are yours to keep. I usually leave the magazine on the plane, but if I see an article that looks interesting, I will take it for reading afterwards.)
The article in question was about Jan Taminiau, a renowned Dutch couturier whose fans include Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and the Dutch Queen Maxima. I found his insights into the world of fashion design interesting and useful.
Here are some quotes from the article and my takeaways.

“The nice thing about [Delhi],” he says, “is that you can still roam around everywhere, without too many rules. The kind of freedom you have here feels great, compared to the Netherlands, where everything is carefully planned. For a creative person, this is excellent. I’m always looking for that kind of freedom in my work too.”

Takeaway: I find that some of my best ideas come to me when I am out wandering around in the forests near our home. That’s why I always have a small notebook and pen or my iPhone with me. I need to capture the idea in the moment or it will be lost. If you find yourself stuck for ideas about your next presentation, change your scenery. Go for a walk, visit a museum, hit the gym. Get away from your office and computer for a while. But don’t forget your notebook!

As a child, [Taminiau] played in his grandparents’ attic, among discarded antiques: tables, chairs and lamps that could no longer be sold because they were damaged. This fascinated the young Taminiau, and he still believes that just because something is damaged, it does not mean that it’s no longer beautiful or should be hidden out of sight. Instead, such objects become more interesting to the couturier, possessing an idiosyncratic, unique, vulnerable quality.

Takeaways: 1) You do not need the newest, fanciest equipment to make an impact with your presentations. 2) Being willing to admit that you are not perfect, that you have made mistakes, that you have failed, can be incredibly powerful. 3) Being unique makes you stand out.

“What’s most important is to deliver an excellent dress. That’s far more important than getting my picture into newspapers or magazines. I’ve never found that interesting. I’m not looking for pats on the back from the outside world. If I’ve made a beautiful dress, I’m very proud. That’s enough for me.”

Takeaway: Focus on delivering an excellent speech or presentation. Everything else is secondary. If you do a great job, the recognition, contracts, etc. will come of their own accord.

It’s all about the product, preparing the dress, and making the lady who wears it feel comfortable, strong and feminine. The rest comes second and always has. … “I make couture, not prêt-à-porter. I work directly with clients.”

Takeaway: It is always about the client. The more you know about the client, the more likely you will be able to deliver a meaningful presentation. Spend time before the event speaking with your clients. You need to understand what is important to them.

“I have the drive, I work hard and it has never been my goal to make money. I wanted to create beautiful things. In a world where almost everyone wants more, more, more, no one understood. Your supposed to go for the money. Increase profits by making things more cheaply. I don’t believe in that approach.”

Takeaway: Quality pays off.

“This park [the Haus Khas Park in the south of Delhi] feels like my Postbag Jacket. In theory, an old mailbag is something to be discarded, not very nice at all. But I feel the opposite, I think it’s just fine the way it is.”

Takeaway: We can improve our public speaking skills, but we should not try to change who we are. Our authenticity is one of the most valuable things we can bring to the stage.

Photo courtesy of Holland Herald, KLM

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Testimonials

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