5 Delivery Lessons from Mad Men


Mad Men is one of my absolute favorite shows on television, and I was overjoyed when Season 5 premiered last week.  Viewers got a two-hour catch up after 525 days without Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce, and “A Little Kiss” was the perfect re-introduction to the Mad Men world.

While I was watching, I realized that we can learn 5 very important delivery lessons from the Season 5 premiere of Mad Men:

Lesson one comes from Don Draper: A little mystery is a good thing.  The men envy and admire him, and the women swoon… It’s true: Don Draper has it.  A big part of that magic magnetism that makes him so irresistible is his mysteriousness.  Don Draper doesn’t put it all out there.  Instead, he holds back, and because he takes this approach, people come to him.  Take a cue from Don Draper in your next presentation.  Don’t reveal everything you have all at once.  Use the “onion method” and show your audience one layer of your presentation at a time until you reach the core: your call to action.

Mystery is also great in your introduction.  If you begin a story in your introduction and leave your audience waiting to hear the end of the story until the conclusion of your presentation, they will be hanging on every single word you say, dying to uncover the mystery.  Chip and Dan Heath of Made to Stick fame say that unexpectedness and mystery is a key ingredient in “sticky” messages.  Learn more about Made to Stick and the Heath brothers’ philosophy on unexpectedness here.

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Lesson two comes from Pete Campbell: You must give your audience as much evidence as possible when arguing your point.  In the season premiere, Pete needs a new office space to meet with big clients.  He doesn’t just ask his colleagues for a larger, more comfortable space.  He asks them to come in and proves his point by showing them how awkward it is to meet in his cramped space with one couch and the support beam in the middle.  When delivering a speech, you always have a point, your thesis.  It’s your job as a presenter to make sure your audience understands that point.  You can argue using logos, as Pete did, but he took it a step further and allowed his colleagues to actually experience what he was experiencing.  You can do this by incorporating storytelling in your presentation, a universal tool for sharing meaning.  You can also do this by providing strong visuals.  Bullet points don’t cut it!  Learn more about effective visuals here.  No matter what your thesis, it’s your presentation, and it’s your job to make sure your audience gets it.  Give them everything they need… and then some!

Lesson three comes from Don’s new wife, Megan: Know your audience.  The new Mrs. Draper decided, against protests and good advice to the contrary, that she was going to throw Don a surprise 40th birthday party.  As if that weren’t bad enough (Don hates surprises and hates celebrating his birthday), she performed a sexy, burlesque rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou” in front of Don and all of his work friends.  Uh oh!  Don was not pleased, and Megan was a laughingstock of the office the next morning.

An important delivery tip we can learn from Megan’s mistake is to always know your audience.  She may have had good intentions, but she didn’t meet her audience’s needs.  Similarly, you can be the best performer in the world, but you must always deliver a message to meet the needs of that particular audience in that particular location at that very time.

Fill out Nancy Duarte’s “Audience Needs Map” before each and every presentation you delivery.  The only way you can reach your audience is if you truly know them and prepare for what they want from you.  Without spending time focusing on what your audience needs and wants from your presentation, you may suffer the same fate as Megan Draper.

Lesson Four comes from Lane: Visuals are powerful, and a slideshow can either reinforce your delivery or distract your audience from your delivery.  You can use visual aids to actually help emphasize your delivery as opposed to detracting from it.

Slides filled with bullets eliminate the need for your delivery.  Instead of paying attention to you, your audience will read your slides, read ahead of you, and tune out completely after they read the information.  Additionally, we cannot read and truly listen at the same time, so audiences will opt to read the information as opposed to waiting to listen to you catch up with the information you already have displayed on your slide.

In her book slide:ology, Nancy Duarte explains that we can meet the needs of our audience so that they look at a powerful visual and then refocus on the presenter’s delivery.  To do this, we must treat our slides as truly visual.  A powerful image stays in our minds for days, weeks, months.  Mad Men lives in this world; advertising is all about using imagery to hook audiences.  Similarly, Duarte suggests using a Mad Men approach to visual aids.  Think of your slide as “glance media.”  Like a billboard, your audience should be able to look at a slide and digest the content within 3 seconds.  From there, the audience can then refocus on your delivery.

To learn more about revising text-heavy slides to help enhance delivery and aid audience retention, please click here.

Lesson Five comes from Joan Harris: Say what you mean, and show your true, authentic self.  Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter is the ultimate text on delivery, and it’s a must-read for anyone who presenters.  Reynolds’ philosophy is all about naturalness and truth: showing the audience who you are at your very core.

When Joan sees the pretend want ad/jab at Y&R in the newspaper while on maternity leave, she is so distraught that she goes to the office to find out if she is being replaced.  In a meeting with Lane Pryce, Joan doesn’t beat around the bush.  She asks direct questions and says exactly what she means.  Joan even cries a little bit about the prospect of losing her job and being replaced.  Joan is honest, authentic, and naked in that scene with Lane, and this is the kind of delivery that will make your audience remember you forever.

How can you be a more natural, authentic communicator?  This will be our subject this month on Creating Communication.  What are you hoping to learn this month?


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