insights on communication skills

Insights on Communication Skills and Relationship Building

Presentation Skills Training: Don Draper and the Tongue Twister

Posted by Bridget Beirne on March 21, 2012

Don Draper's secret presentation skills training.

presentation skills training 4We at Ovation have a confession to make. Like the rest of the world, we are eagerly awaiting the return of one of our favorite dramas, AMC’s MAD MEN, on March 25th. Sure, we tune in for the fantastic acting (something that is very important to us), the gorgeous costumes (Those suits! That dress!), and the great storylines (SC! No- SCDP!). However, a past episode included a small detail just as near and dear to our hearts as any of those things.

Don Draper used a Tongue Twister to warm up before a presentation.

Here’s a little background in case you’re not familiar with the show.  When it comes to closing a deal with a strong, unique presentation, Don Draper is the go-to guy in the ad world of the’ 60s.  He wins over the competition again and again, and can save the day with a big name client. He is Mr. Cool.

Until he’s not.

In a past season, Don was about to give a presentation that would make or break his firm. He was nervous.  What did he do to ease his mind and warm up before the presentation? He recited the old standby, “red leather, yellow leather” over and over again.

We know stage fright is a very real thing, and that we all suffer from it at some point. One of the best ways to channel that fear and anxiety is to have a few Tongue Twisters at the ready before you go on. Not only do they warm up the articulators (the parts of the mouth that form words) and the voice, but they have a greater benefit. Tongue Twisters are mental puzzles- if you are focused on the pronunciation of these difficult phrases, it is harder for your mind to wander. There is no room for thoughts like “what if I blow it?” or “what if I go up*?”  All you can think about in that moment is achieving the phrase “I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit, upon a slitted sheet I sit”. (Although the ensuing hilarity in THAT attempt may also be helpful in calming you down...)  Next thing you know, you’ll find that you are able to breathe, concentrate and perhaps even relax a bit.

Tongue Twisters are a valuable tool when you need them. They have a silly reputation, but they are used by professionals in many fields for just this reason. And if it works for Don Draper, couldn't it work for you?

*Bonus fact:  Actors use the phrase “going up” to say they've forgotten a line (or many!). For example “I don’t want to go up in the middle of that soliloquy” or “I went up right in the middle of my big number!” No one ever wants to “go up”.         


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Topics: Public Speaking, Presentations