Nancy Duarte | Ignite and Illuminate (Episode 558)

Nancy Duarte | Ignite and Illuminate (Episode 558)

Nancy Duarte | Ignite and Illuminate (Episode 558)

Nancy Duarte (@nancyduarte) and her agency have been transforming Silicon Valley companies into movements for 25 years. She is the author of several books — most recently Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • How to persuade by speaking in a way that tells a story of contrasts.
  • What great communicators have in common and how to borrow from their playbook.
  • How to frame yourself as a leader — aka a torchbearer — in your business (even if you don’t consider yourself the figurehead type).
  • How to learn and master the highest leverage communication skills for the quickest and most dynamic return on your time and effort.
  • The five stages of a venture scape: dream, leap, fight, climb, and arrive.
  • And so much more…


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When Nancy Duarte’s Silicon Valley design agency started feeling the effects of the dotcom crash circa 2000, she took advice from Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t and focused on what the company did best: world-class presentations.

In this episode of The Art of Charm, Nancy joins us to tell us how her company weathered the storm and prospered, created jobs when everyone else was cutting their losses, turned a reviled medium into one that’s respected, and how we can use her methods to lead by effective communication as outlined in her latest book Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols. Enjoy!

More About This Show

Nancy Duarte, author of Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols, has been talking about making meaningful, world-class presentations and writing books about them for the past 25 years. But you don’t have to be a company’s spokesperson like the late Steve Jobs to use the lessons she’s learned during that time — anyone can benefit from being a better communicator. Storytelling is really the key, and Nancy gives us an example of how she gently persuades her husband to help with housework by using the same structure that drives a good yarn.

“I studied storytelling for three years,” says Nancy. “And then I took the insights from storytelling and I looked at the hundred greatest speeches of all time…the greatest speeches kind of build tension and release. It has a pulse…a cadence. Like a rhythm to it…the pulsing — the building and releasing of story tension — comes from the gap between what is and what could be. So what you would do is you paint a picture of the current realities: ‘Hey, honey! Did you notice how messy the kitchen is? And how hard I’ve been working lately? Just imagine how cheerful I would be if we worked together to solve this!’

“So there’s the gap between painting a picture of a blissful future for him should he help me with the chores! So it’s a structural device. When you contrast the current realities with the hope of this great way it’ll be, the human brain processes contrast readily. That is how we’re wired to process information. So to speak in a way that shows contrast is a persuasive story form.”

Nancy also points out that she and her husband have been married for 34 years. Your mileage may vary should you try this exact approach at home.

In Illuminate, Nancy outlines the five stages of a venture, which you’ll probably notice follows the arc of a story: dream, leap, fight, climb, and arrive. If you’re leading a venture, you’re guiding the story — you’re what she calls the torchbearer.

“When you’re leading and driving a movement, you’re asking people to change,” says Nancy. “We call the leader a torchbearer, and we call the people coming along the trip with them the travelers — kind of like Frodo [from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings]! ‘Let’s head out and bring a bunch of friends with us and make a difference.’

“So a torchbearer, if you think about the concept of when and where you even need to bear a torch, usually it’s dark and kind of scary, possibly. A torch only casts enough light to dispel fear — the nearby fear, right? You can’t see for miles and miles with a torch. So the leader’s role, when you’re driving change and driving to a new future, is to communicate in a way that makes that short-term trip desirable and doable. So that’s what you’re trying to do, is get people to take the next leg…and the next leg toward this new, desired future.

“So the venture scape is a tool for empathy.”

As the torchbearer, you create the atmosphere by which your travelers make their way through the venture. Sometimes this means you coddle them with positivity, but other times the story’s not warm and fuzzy — your job is to tell the story that needs to be told in order for the venture to succeed. Does the phase where you’ve found yourself need to be motivating or warning?

“If a cautionary tale is the most important,” says Nancy, “you need to tell a cautionary tale.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about how to become the torchbearer even when there’s resistance to the idea, why you shouldn’t self-select out when opportunity to lead knocks, how people — whether introverted or extroverted — lead by connection over perfection, the communication habits of high performers, how storytelling differs between introverts and extroverts, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Nancy Duarte, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Nancy Duarte at Twitter!

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