The Best Speech In The History of Television? – The Presentation Skills of Jon Hamm

If I had to pick one speech, from any television show, that would help you improve your presentation skills, it would be this one.

The clip comes from season 1, episode 13 of Mad Men, and is considered by many to be not only the best sales pitch in the entire series, but the scene that ultimately sold the show itself.  Hailed for its writing brilliance and emotional impact, it offers a treasure trove of insight for an aspiring public speaker to learn from.

Now, before we get any further, let me just hammer home something very important.  The reason this presentation works isn’t because the character doesn’t use Umms and Errs, isn’t because he pauses effectively, isn’t because of how he uses his body language.  All of these things matter, and *not* doing any of those things well could have ruined the magic of the presentation, but once you reach a certain level, the focus needs to go beyond “don’t speak badly.”  Jon Hamm’s character doesn’t deliver a spectacular presentation because he “doesn’t speak badly” – he knocks it out of the park because he does the one thing that every speaker needs to do to take their presentation from “good” to “great.”  He is delivering a presentation that has been crafted from the ground up to elicit a profoundly emotional impact from his audience.

This is so important, and so overlooked, that I’ll say it again even louder:

He is delivering a presentation that has been crafted from the ground up to elicit a profoundly emotional impact from his audience.

How you’ll be connecting emotionally with your audience can’t be an afterthought.  It’s not something you accomplish by reading over your speech and adding pauses, changing around your inflection, and tossing in a heartwarming story.  No matter how hard you try, the end result will always sound stilted, patched together, and incomplete.  You may get positive feedback; your speaking club may compliment you on your “emotional opening” or how “when you said X, it was really powerful,” but it will still utterly lack the jaws-on-the-floor, that-was-a-masterpiece reactions that I want to see you getting from your audiences.

If you *really* want to improve your presentation skills…

I know that I’m asking for a pretty fundamental shift in your approach to writing and preparing your presentation.  But if you really want to see a dramatic improvement in your presentation skills, beyond just the ironing out of bad speaking habits, I think this is one of the most critical lessons I can pass on to you.

I don’t want to leave any room for confusion or vagueness either, so I’m more than happy to give you a succinct,  step by step roadmap on how to actually implement this in a systematic way.


1)Ask yourself, “what is my emotional cornerstone?”  In other words, what is the emotional state you want to create in your audience that will make them the most receptive to the objectives of your presentation?

That emotion, in effect, becomes the unofficial “theme” of your entire presentation.  It will be the through-line that directs every other decision you make in building your presentation.

It does NOT have to be the *only* emotion in your speech–in fact, in most cases, it probably shouldn’t be.  Sharing a story of triumph can ultimately make an audience even angrier, when it is contrasts with how others who were not allowed the same opportunity; a touching story of kindness and affection can ultimately make the pain even more heartbreaking when we discover it was a couple’s last day together before a tragedy would tear their world apart.

When you know what you want as the cornerstone emotion for your audience to experience, you have a foundation to build from.  It’s the scaffolding you can use to connect all of the rest of your speech together.

2)Ask yourself, “what stories or examples can I share that will make my audience feel that cornerstone emotional state?”

This next step is where *many* speakers lack the presentation skills to nail correctly.

What I’ll often see are speakers who themselves feel passionately about a subject, and therefore treat the emotion the subject generates in themselves as somehow being universal and self evident.  They take it for granted that sharing statistics or personal experiences that the speaker finds tragic, or inspiring, will obviously have a similar impact in their audience.


Here’s the cold, brutal truth: I don’t care about your experiences.  I don’t care the people you work with.  I don’t care about people I’ve never met, and statistics I can’t put a face to.

You *have* to assume the worst from your audience.  You have to assume that they’re distracted, disinterested, and disengaged.  That might not always be true, but just as “a rising tide raises all boats,” a speech that can win over the hearts and minds of even the most apathetic listener, will only be that much more impactful to a more sympathetic ear.

A similar failure is when a speaker words of portion of their speech such that they’re effectively *telling* the audience how they should feel, instead of actually creating the emotion inside the listeners own hearts and minds.

“This tragic reality has been worsening for years.”

“This situation is completely unacceptable.”

“We can no longer be apathetic and turn a blind eye to the actions of this administration.”

Lines like this are fine *if* you’ve already brought me to your emotional cornerstone.  *If* you’ve already made me feel absolutely emotionally devastated, *then* you can carry me forward to your call to action to address the “tragic reality.”  *If* you’ve made me utterly outraged and absolutely furious, *then* you can tell me that “the situation is completely unacceptable.”  First, you need to make your audience intimately feel the emotion, *then* you can build to your conclusion or your call to action.

A great way to achieve this is to read.  Read voraciously.  Specifically, track down stories, articles, and and news posts that you personally react to emotionally.  Hilarious stories.  Personal accounts that humanize stories of suffering and tragedy.   The sort of stories that instantly inspire you to be a better person today than you were yesterday.

Archive them.  At the same time, the more such stories you read or watch, the more common treads you’ll start to find in how they’re crafted.  The more clearly you’ll begin to understand exactly why certain stories effect you in certain ways.

That understanding will ultimately help you in crafting your own stories to produce the same emotions in your audience.  In the meantime, it will also give you a “cheat.”  If you can find even a handful of pieces that are deeply emotional and relate to the central message you’re trying to get across to your audience, you can easily integrate them into your presentation and profit from their power.

One last point…

This concept will get expanded on in it’s own article in a future post, but note that you can also use your tonality and body language as additional tools to put your audience into an emotional state.  Long or frequently placed pauses over time can heighten a sense of anxiety in an audience; taking on a smug demeanor–smiling too widely, gesturing too broadly, and so on–can put your audience into “cringe mode” as you proceed to mimic an opposing politician or share a quote from them intended to illicit disdain or resentment.

As you watch the video…

Hopefully, with everything we’ve discussed today, you can watch the video and catch how Jon Hamm zeroes in on particular emotions and structures his entire presentation and call to action around them.  In the next post, we will break down the video in detail–so stay tuned!


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