The Nancy Duarte Classroom Experience


Nancy Duarte spent an hour of her presentation goddess time Skyping with my class one week ago today.  In honor of her 50th birthday today, this is the post we’ve all been waiting for… The Nancy Duarte Classroom Experience.

Obviously, this meant the whole entire world to me.  Nancy Duarte is a personal and professional hero who has truly changed the way I see the subject I teach by changing the way I teach.  I am also even happier to report that my students loved the Skype visit because of Duarte’s engaging delivery, down-to-earth persona, and real world advice.

Of course, if you ask me, everything that comes out of Nancy Duarte’s mouth is a golden “knowledge nugget” to be treasured forever.  Here are my five favorite concepts that Duarte shared with my students:

1.  Find an internship and/or a mentorship.  After college graduation, so many students seek an internship.  Duarte suggests students could also seek a mentorship.  I’d never heard of this concept, but now that I’ve been introduced, I love it.  She told the story of a young, talented musician who reached out to her for help with the business side of the entertainment industry.  As a mentor, Duarte helps this particular young man learn business strategies to help him succeed in his chosen career path.  To students, she suggests reaching out to pioneers and leaders in their fields to ask for mentorship and guidance.  In many ways, a mentorship is much better than an internship!

Inc. published a great article called “Seven Tips for Finding a Great Mentor” that can help you with this process.  If you’re looking specifically for a business mentor, this article is terrific.

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2.  Work hard.  Success isn’t going to fall into your lap; you have to work your butt off for it.  Duarte says she looks for tenacity, drive, and determination in a prospective intern or employee.  She explains that people with these qualities see “no” not as a finite end of the road but, instead, a small obstacle to work around.

Working hard is such an obvious but important concept for my students to hear, especially at this particular point in their education.  My students often have a difficult time when they take my class because they are expected to work really, really, really hard and to push themselves to a new place in order to be a successful student, worker, and leader.  They also take another course at the same time as Professional Communication and Presentation that similarly holds them to these high expectations.  I would argue that these two classes are the most challenging in their entire degree program because, for the very first time, students are asked to work their butts off in order to be successful.

However, why isn’t this the norm?  Why is this an exception?  In college, every course should be as challenging, and every teacher should push a student as hard as Chiara, Ana, and I push our students.  Without hard work, an education is meaningless, and this leads into the third point Duarte made that I loved so much…

3.  Education has nothing to do with a degree.  You must work every single day for the rest of your life to stay up on current trends, to know the latest lingo, to read relevant literature, and to constantly push yourself forward as a professional.  Education should cultivate this habit of hard work to prepare students to work hard every day in their professional careers; this isn’t the case.  All too often, I see students take the easy route because they don’t want to work.  Last week, for example, a student refused to use Compfight to search for images because it took significantly less time to search “baby” using Google images.  His slide sloth behavior is indicative of a much greater problem: students (and people, generally) are lazy.  As Kevin Hart says, everyone wants to be famous; no one wants to put the work in (Source).

Garr Reynolds hit on this exact same topic this weekend.  He Tweeted a link to an article called “Take Back Your Education” by John Taylor Gatto.  The quote I loved most from Gatto’s article aligns perfectly with Duarte’s sentiments: “Nobody gives you an education. If you want one, you have to take it” (Source).  Duarte reinforced this to my students by explaining that education doesn’t begin with school and shouldn’t stop after a degree.  If you think you’ve ever learned as much as you need to in the business world (or in any field, for that matter), you’re dead in the water.  I love this idea that learning and success go hand in hand, and if my students remember anything from her, I hope it was this.

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4.  Fame is not the way to approach a career.  You should find and follow your true bliss.  The fourth amazing thing Duarte taught us was that people who are in it for the fame aren’t going to last very long.  The only way to resonate with people is to live for your passion and to work to share that passion with others.  It’s such a simple concept, but I think people often forget it.

You can read more about this idea in Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element and to Jim Collins’ Good To Great as Duarte explains in the “Don’t Believe the Lies” video referenced below.

5.  Males and females lead differently.  Since she is a woman in business and owns one of the top female-led business in Silicon Valley, the class asked Duarte about the difference between male and female leadership.  She explained that, to her, males had more of a “go it alone” attitude while females were more supportive of the people around them.  Since I’ve only had female bosses in my lifetime, I can’t personally speak to this claim; however, my experience does affirm Duarte’s ideas that a matriarchal-led business world is swiftly approaching.  With women outnumbering men in colleges today, more opportunities for women occur and will continue to occur due to that shift.

However, Duarte also warned that women must stop talking about frivolous, meaningless things.  She said that at events or parties, she often gravitates to the men because they talk about “important” ideas while women just want to talk about shoes.  I would argue that as women play a larger role in fields like business, politics, and media, women will be able to talk about those things.

(Side note: is this the golden era of female leadership?  This infographic explores that idea.)

If you want to hear a bit more of Duarte’s perspective on female leadership, a great video interview with her called “Don’t Believe the Lies” can be found on her website.  Click here and scroll to the bottom under “Watch Videos.”

To Nancy Duarte, I’d like to say this: thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You are an inspiration to my students and a role model for me.  I cannot believe I am lucky enough to have “met” you (virtually), and I am honored and still quite shocked that you devoted an hour of your time to my class.  You are an incredible person.  Thank you for the work you do, the lessons you teach us, and the example you set for women.

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