What would one gain from traveling to and working in 145 countries around the world? Aside from jet lag, I bet you’d get a lot of valuable perspectives that most of us never get to accumulate. That’s what’s happened to John McDonnell – not only one of the world’s foremost branding and marketing experts in the spirits business, but now an author for Forbesand an in-demand guest speaker for corporate audiences, commencement addresses and more. 

John began his career at Joseph E. Seagram & Sons — first in domestic sales and marketing, then internationally. In less than five years at Patrón Spirits, he led the brand’s expansion into 130 international locations. Now as Managing Director International for Tito’s Handmade Vodka, John has expanded that brand, too – hence those 145 countries and counting.

I’ve followed John for several years now and I reported on some industry-changing recommendations he made in a speech at the Trinity Forum duty free conference in Shanghai, China. But his audiences are quite diverse – like students at Suffolk University in his Boston home town. They attended John’s TEDx talk entitled “The New Global Economy in Action”.  In it he shared such insights as the growing need for authentic “high touch” experiences – the opposite of Digital Everything — in an increasingly “high tech” society. Here’s a video of the what he shared.

Many people are terrified to stand in front of an audience and give speeches. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that “stage fright” (or glossophobia) affects about 73% of the population.  It’s been reported that more people fear public speaking than suffer fear of heights, of spiders or even of death.

I was intrigued to learn how John became an effective public speaker. Here are the results of my chat with him.

John, what inspired you to become a motivational speaker?

You can’t be successful in business if you don’t learn to communicate well in the first place. Of course, that also takes hard work, which I’ve never been afraid of. As I rose in the spirits industry, people began inviting me to share my perspectives at conferences. I got positive feedback from my talks and discovered that I enjoyed public speaking. Eventually, I realized that the lessons I’d learned in marketing my products around the world applied to many other businesses, too.

Ed Kelly, President of American Express Publishing said after one of your talks that “you combined innovative, state-of-the-art content with a natural, down-to-earth charm that makes you incredibly engaging.” That’s quite a compliment.  How do you do it?

Learning to be a public speaker is no different than learning anything else, even though I realize so many people have “stage fright.” I’ve learned a lot over the years about speaking — like the importance of rehearsing aloud ahead of time, making each rehearsal as “real” in my mind as I can.

The most helpful thing I’ve learned is simply to be myself. Audiences in every country appreciate a speaker who’s genuine – someone who means what he says. I’m a truth-teller. Can’t help it. People seem to respond to that.

Once you’re in front of an audience giving a speech, what do you to do hold their attention?

In whatever I do – for example, with a speech I deliver called “Powerful Branding” – I always customize my talk for each particular audience and its needs.  I’m just being my genuine self, sharing what I’ve learned. It’s the relevant content, itself, that holds people’s attention because of the value I work hard to give them.

What benefit have you gained personally from other motivational speakers if any?

I’ve seen many inspiring speakers over the years. I’ve also experienced some duds who clearly hadn’t thought enough about their audiences.  I get benefit from hearing any speaker … and then thinking through why they were (or weren’t) successful.

You have done many “talks” and speeches. Is there an overall approach you use with them?

Truthfully, I work hard to keep learning with every talk I give, prestigious or not, big or small. I’m a big believer in continuous self-improvement and every audience deserves the best that I can give them.

Is there a specific company you’d wish to talk to and why?

Not really.  I’ve found that the knowledge I’ve gained from working in those 145 countries and islands you’re aware of  — building #1 brands in their fields — can be useful for just about any business.

Someone thinking of hiring me should know that I’ll always do my best to learn about THEM first … the kinds of insights THEY most need. Then I’ll do my utmost to deliver!

The official website for John McDonnell may be found at https://www.McDonnellSpeaks.com

Follow John McDonnell on Twitter@McDonnellSpeaks

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