A lesson for public speakers from an umbrella

Gucci and adidas have produced a designer umbrella that retails for a cool USD 1,290. It is so expensive, that on its website page, Gucci offers a monthly payment plan. (For an umbrella.)

The “sun umbrella” has received a lot of criticism, particularly in China, because it does not protect you from the rain. To be fair, Gucci does say as much on its website. “Please note, this item is not waterproof and is meant for sun protection or decorative use”. Interestingly, as of the writing of this post, the printable product description for the product does not include that wording.

I would never consider paying anything near that price for an umbrella. Besides, I am proud to use the umbrella that I received from the Swiss Red Cross for being a regular blood donor. (For those who do not speak French, the writing below says, “Giving blood saves lives”.)

My fashion statement response to Gucci

Apparently, there is a waiting list for the umbrella – Gucci’s, not mine. So who am I to tell Gucci what products it should and should not offer? A company founded in 1921, with over 17,000 employees and that generated €9.62 billion in sales in 2019 clearly knows what it is doing.

Nevertheless, the Gucci “sun umbrella” and the backlash that it generated got me thinking about an important lesson for public speakers. and one about which I have written before.

Be simple, be clear

Gucci calls the product a “sun umbrella”. I believe that the public relations problem that Gucci now faces stems from its use of the word “umbrella”.

I bet that most people who hear the word “umbrella” think of something that will keep them dry when walking in the rain. Using the word “sun” as an adjective might lead people to reasonably expect that they could use the product to protect against both sun and rain.

Where I come from, an item that you carry to protect yourself exclusively from the sun is called a “parasol”. It is made from different material than those used for an umbrella. This article explains the differences between umbrellas and parasols.

Clearly, Gucci knew exactly what it had in mind when it created the “sun umbrella”. But, as the public response has shown, many people thought that it was something else.

As speakers, we must never assume that the audience will easily understand things the same way that we do. Matters that are clear to us will not necessarily be clear to the audience. How do we bridge the gap?

Thanks, Rob!

My thanks to my friend and fellow public speaker, Rob Willis, for bringing this issue to my attention. Rob has drawn some interesting public speaking lessons of his own from the Gucci “sun umbrella”. I invite you to check them out on LinkedIn.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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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.

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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.

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International