Meet Dr. Nick Morgan, Communications Jedi

Name: Dr. Nick Morgan
Job: Communications coach, consultant, story-teller, author, blogger, teacher, Communications Jedi and just a really really nice guy
Superpower: Ability to teach people to give speeches that change the world

One of the greatest skills you can have in business is the art of communication. The ability to stand in front of a room and deliver a presentation is one of the biggest fears most have but if done successfully, one of the biggest highs. I’ve had a couple of home runs in my career thus far and I’m hooked. Public speaking is truly an art if done right. I admire people like Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs and Mitch Joel on how effortless they make it look but also how hard they work to pull off that illusion. The reality is that it takes a ton of preparation and practice to harness your adrenaline and channel it into an effective speech. The best thing you can do is find a Communications Jedi and luckily I discovered mine, Dr. Nick Morgan.

Give Your Speech, Change The WorldNick is the author of many books but the one that changed my life was, ‘Give Your Speech, Change the World: How to Move Your Audience to Action.’ It was one of the first book reviews that I wrote on this blog.

After earning his Ph.D. in literature and rhetoric, Nick spent a number of years teaching Shakespeare and Public Speaking at the University of Virginia and Princeton University. He first started writing speeches for Virginia Governor Charles S. Robb and went on to start his own communications consulting organization, Public Words, in 1997.

I had the privilege of speaking with Nick and asked him the following:

How did you decide that teaching people how to deliver speeches that change the world was your calling in life?

That’s a great question. The short answer is, originally I was going to be a College teacher. That’s what I set up my career path to be. I went to graduate school, got a PhD and at the time that I got my PhD the job market was terrible. There were 3,000 applicants for one job in my field so I took a position at the University of Virginia as an Administrator to just try it out and see what my options were going to be and see if the job market was going to improve. While I was doing that I got a call from a friend who asked me if I’d like to be a speechwriter for the Governor of Virginia as a speechwriter as he lost his previous speechwriter due to a nervous breakdown. That should have warned me that there was something wrong with the job but I didn’t think twice as it sounded exciting as I got a PhD in literature and rhetoric. My specialty was studying rhetoric from Aristotle and Plato to present day so I was particularly interested in public auditory and speech making so this was my real chance at trying it out for real to see what the practical application was rather than just teaching about it. I loved the job but it was exhausting. It was never-ending and I had one day off in two years, which was Christmas. It was a job of a lifetime and a wonderful experience despite all of the work. After that I wanted to combine my love of teaching with this experience I had and coaching seemed the way to go.

How did you obtain all of the knowledge and tools that you now possess? Did you have a mentor?

The first thing I did was get a PhD which was enormously helpful. The four years of intense learning was a wonderful foundation for what was to come next. But the thing that kicked it off for me was that first speech-writing job. The Chief of Staff for the Governor was a man named David Macleod and he had been a speechwriter in the past. He took me under his wing and taught me the practical business of real life speech writing so he was a very important mentor for me. Also, in the 90’s I taught public speaking at Princeton and I learned a lot from my students. The practice of teaching always is a learning experience for the teacher if the teacher is open to that and I learned a tremendous amount from the issues that my students faced.

Which presenters do you admire and look up to?

There are so many and the whole Ted Talk world has opened up this huge wealth of speeches and speakers for us but the first to come to mind from Ted is Sir Ken Robinson, who is a wonderful low-key kind of speaker. I have political heroes too like Obama, especially when he was on the campaign trail, and Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King with his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Anybody who works in the business world like I do has to give a nod to Steve Jobs. He was great at putting excitement, interest, fun, drama and suspense into a business speech that most business speakers have a hard time doing.

What advice do you have for students in university or college? How can they prepare themselves while in school to be a great communicator before they enter the corporate world?

As a student they have a wonderful opportunity to take a public speaking course to practice. The opportunities for practice are tremendous. It is relatively a safe environment. While you may be afraid of embarrassing yourself in front of your fellow students, it is far less embarrassing and career killing than embarrassing yourself in front of your colleagues or boss when you have your first job. My advice would be to take any opportunity you can to give speeches in class or any other campus opportunities. These in-school opportunities like running for student office, debate societies or joining a club are wonderful experiences for someone who wants to get involved in communications and public speaking. Take advantage of all the opportunities you can.

Power Cues

What projects are you working on right now? Are you working on a new book? What is it about and when is it scheduled to be released?

I have a new book coming out in May of 2014 –  ‘Power Cues:  The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact’. Power Cues are nonverbal cues, non-verbal tricks, ideas and concepts to help you take charge of your communications and the people around you and the way they communicate.

What is your favourite book on Communications/Presentations?

There are three, two well-known and one virtually forgotten. The first is ‘Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery’ by Garr Reynolds on how to design good slides. The second is ‘slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations’ by Nancy Duarte. The unknown one is one that is a little hard to find but is called ‘Classical Communication for the Contemporary Communicator’ by Halford Ryan and it’s about how to organize a speech. It’s based on ancient classical oratorical principles from the Greeks and Romans and I think there is a tremendous amount of wisdom in that which is largely forgotten today.

Have you got a favourite quote?

The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.

What do you want to say to people who think they could never get in front of an audience and do what you teach? What advice do you have for them?

The most important one is that, everybody can have a conversation with a human being. The vast majority of people have no trouble sitting down and talking with someone over coffee. A speech is no different. It really is a simultaneous series of conversations and if you think of it that way, you can talk to one person, a couple of people, or even 50, you are doing the same thing. You just have to get over the idea that it is somehow scary or worse if you have a room full of people. It really isn’t. It really is just a conversation.


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