Jun 18, 2022

Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte is a communication expert, author, and CEO known for her work in persuasive presentation development. As the CEO of Duarte, Inc., she has helped shape the speeches and presentations of many influential figures, including CEOs of top brands and leading global organizations. Nancy is also the author of several best-selling books on communication and presentations, such as “Resonate” and “Illuminate.” Her expertise lies in helping individuals and organizations tell compelling stories that drive change and inspire action.

Episode Highlights

  • (0:00:00) – Nitin Bajaj welcomes Nancy Duarte to the show
  • (0:00:55) – Let’s play a game about themes that impact us as a community
  • (0:02:17) – Duarte Inc. was founded in 1988 to transform how people communicate
  • (0:04:10) – The largest skills gap right now is around communication
  • (0:06:12) – If you look inward at your own business, what’s the biggest challenge
  • (0:08:21) – You’ve hired 20 salespeople to help you reach a million people
  • (0:10:22) – Something that worked out really well as an entrepreneur was focusing solely on presentations
  • (0:12:39) – We had a customer who was a VP at IBM
  • (0:15:16) – You share your one line life lessons with your children on the show
  • (0:15:57) – Do you have other life lessons you would like to share with us

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:00) – Hey, everyone. Welcome to the industry show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj. And joining me today is Nancy Duarte. Nancy, welcome on the show.


Nancy Duarte: (0:00:09) – Hey, it’s good to be here.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:10) – Nitin, pleasure to have you here. Big fan of your work. Thanks for making the time to be with us today. Let’s start with who is Nancy?


Nancy Duarte: (0:00:21) – Well, there’s what I do and there’s who I am. Those aren’t always necessarily the same. So I’m a CEO, author, and public speaker. I have a company here in the Silicon Valley where we write and produce and help you get ready for your great talk. Or we teach you how to do that for yourself so you could work with us or learn from us. And I’m a grandma. That’s my favorite job I’ve ever had. And I’ve been married for 42 years to the love of my life. And I think I’m in a really comfortable season in my life, I guess.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:52) – You could say that’s really awesome. And now that we know a little about you, let’s play a little game about themes that impact us as a community. And a one word response from you, your take on it, whether it’s underrated or overrated. When you’re ready, we’ll get started.


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:11) – Sure. Yeah.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:13) – So let’s start with NFTs.


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:17) – Moderately rated, neutrally rated. Anyway, my one word answer was more than a word.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:26) – What about crypto?


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:30) – Underrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:32) – Metaverse?


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:33) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:37) – Startup valuations?


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:41) – They were overrated. And now they’re. Yeah.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:45) – What about real estate prices?


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:47) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:48) – Jeez. The great resignation.


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:53) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:55) – Cash?


Nancy Duarte: (0:01:56) – Underrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:59) – And let’s see. Stakeholder capitalism?


Nancy Duarte: (0:02:05) – Underrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:02:07) – Okay. And stock market prices?


Nancy Duarte: (0:02:10) – Overrated.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:02:12) – All right. Awesome. That was fun. Thanks for playing along. Really appreciate it. Now let’s come back to something that’s maybe more dear to you. Tell us a little more about Duarte Inc. The mission, vision, and also the size and scale of your operations.


Nancy Duarte: (0:02:29) – Yeah. So we exist to transform how people communicate. And we started in 1988, and we are just thrilled with where we’re at right now. We grew. Everyone took a bit of a hit during COVID and now we’re growing. And we’re actually kind of bullish on growth. So all the markets and everything, I’m trying to watch that be like, is this the right time to be bullish about growth? We have a great team. I have a gorgeous team, a gorgeous leadership team, and they’ve been starting to really drive the company. And so before you started recording, we were talking about. I’m excited about how I’m making bets with my time because I have this great leadership team. And so we have a Duarte method, and that method is getting put into place and systematized in some of the greatest brands in the world, which is so fun. So if you work with us and learn from us, you will actually see a transformation in how your company communicates, which has been just an honor and a privilege. And so we’re here in the Silicon Valley, but. Or we, you know, about two and a half years ago, pre Covid, three years ago, I guess we made a big intention of hiring remote, especially hiring outside of California, because it’s so litigious and so difficult and blah, blah, blah. And so now we have a large contingency of employees that are remote. And so we are a work from anywhere culture now. Just, you could work from anywhere, but we’re going to move out of our massive building and get a small presence here. So there’s just a watering hole for people who want to come into town. So it’s exciting. I think it’s exciting times for us right now.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:04:10) – Sounds like it. And lots of change. Been almost a 35 year journey.


Nancy Duarte: (0:04:16) – Yeah, it’s been a long time. 1988, technically 87, but we just say 88 because that was the whole full year that we were there.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:04:23) – Yeah, that is awesome. And tell us a little more about the why. You touched upon a lot of those things. But over the 35 years, has the why changed? And if so, how?


Nancy Duarte: (0:04:37) – Yeah, I think the how has changed a lot. I don’t think the why has. We definitely have this ability to transform your culture, to really sharpen your impact and scale your influence. Right. And so if you think about the power of the spoken word, it can make what’s invisible and nonexistent visible and real. And so we have helped escalate, animate, and spread some of the world’s most important messages. And I think that clear communicators and clear communication could actually solve a lot. I would say most. Almost all. I would say almost all. There’s only a small sliver of problems that can’t be solved with clear communication. And so it’s a real honor to kind of feel like we get to play a role in that. And the other thing that’s happening right now is most jobs. The largest skills gap right now is around communication. So LinkedIn, they put the resumes into their tool and along with the job openings, and they look at the gaps of the job openings and the resume gaps to fill it. And communication, especially spoken word. And written word communications, are the number one skills gap. So there’s so many fronts. Like, what we do can solve big problems, but what we do can also help you in your career if you pick up these skills. And it’s just fun. It’s squishy, it’s hard to measure, but we see really incredible results, which has been just fun.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:06:10) – Yeah, I can imagine. So if you look inward at your own business, what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?


Nancy Duarte: (0:06:18) – That’s a good question. What challenge am I facing? I feel like I’m just coming out of some of those challenges. I think my exec team, it had been off for about five years, like, just one seat. I kept putting a different person in that one seat, and now that one seat is filled, and it’s almost like, it’s like putting a rocket booster on. Like, the alignment is quick, the. The communications are clear like that. And, and so that’s been really fun and taken quite a load off. I’m trying to figure out what my next book is. So I’ve always done my own research because I think in the process of research, when you’re branching and digging and choosing to choose what to research, you learn a lot in the research phase. So this will be interesting. So I’ve spun two researchers at USC, which is fun, and I’ve never done that. And it’s a challenge, right. Because I want to jump in and be more directive, and I’m letting someone else have that joy of the journey. But we’re doing exciting stuff. I think some of the, quote, problems are because of opportunity. We’re building out new tools and new things that we’ve never done before that I can’t speak of yet because our competitors copy us all the time. And that’s really been fun. And we have great people leading it, and we’re doing such innovative things. I have paid a fortune in professional consultants, just a fortune. But you know what? I’ve done it before, and it didn’t work out. And we’ve done it on a couple of fronts this year, and it’s just what we needed to get unstuck because none of us have done this great new, glorious thing. And it’s been fun to walk with really smart people to help us unlock this new thing. So, I don’t know, those sound more, like, totally awesome problems that we’re having right now.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:08:21) – Well, you kind of stole my next question a little bit and put some pixie dust on it. But I understand, within the limited constraints of what you can share, what’s the most exciting opportunity you’re targeting.


Nancy Duarte: (0:08:41) – The most exciting. You know what? This may sound like a dereliction of duty on my part as the CEO, but our business is always, I publish books, we publish books. I have other authors that publish books and it creates really great air cover and the phone just always rings and the inquiry forms are always filled out. And it’s always been a nice inbound flow, enough for us to grow every year. And so I never felt this hardcore pressure to build a sales team. And so we built a sales team. Like, I hired 20 salespeople and have now a leader in that seat who’s doing this really great job. So it’s this really big risk and we assigned accounts and we’re like, go chase them. So we’ve never been the pursuer. We’ve always been the pursuit, in a way. And so that’s going to be really interesting. It’s a big, expensive experiment, but everyone else has a sales team. So it’s just almost like, you know what? We’re not going to reach our goal of transforming a million people. We have to be a much bigger company. And it dawned on me, like, if we keep blathering out one side of our mouth that we’re going to reach a million people, but our revenue numbers don’t make it look like we’re ever going to get there. And so this is in service of kind of keeping our promise of wanting to transform a million people. And so it’s been really fun. It’s been really fun. And it’ll shift the culture, it’ll shift everything. And I’m just glad I’m not the executive doing it all. I have someone glorious who’s doing it all, and it’s really fun. Yeah.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:10:19) – That’s amazing. That’s super exciting. Now let’s take a look back in the rear view mirror, if you will, and talk about two experiences. One that really worked out and maybe you want to show off and brag a little bit, another that didn’t work out as you had planned and became maybe a lesson learned.


Nancy Duarte: (0:10:44) – Yeah. So something that worked out really well, I think, as an entrepreneur, was focusing solely on presentations. So when we started as technical illustrators, which is a gateway drug into presentations, in a way, my husband is the illustrator. I was account strategy and all that stuff. And I think presentations found me. It wasn’t like I hotly pursued them. And so we started eons ago, longer ago than most of your listeners were born. And so we had kept being in denial that we were a presentation company, because back then it was reviled like, presentations were reviled. No agencies did it. Everyone kicked it over to me because it was like the bottom of the barrel and all that stuff. And so we even had our website, we had five different creative services, and we put presentations last because we were like, oh, and we do this. But it was the bulk of our business. And so in 2000, Jim Collins book, good to great came out. He has in there the hedgehog concept, which says, if there’s one thing you can do, you could be best in the world at be passionate about and be profitable at do only that one thing. So here we were in the.com downturn, and I shuttered four out of five of our services, and we went big on presentations. And that was the smartest thing I did. And what’s interesting is, seems like almost every downturn, every economic cris, I do something counterintuitive. Most people would have probably added ten services just to cast a bigger net, but I trimmed them all down, and that was the smartest thing I did. And it was a weird time to have done it, but I think that really worked out. Here we are, what, 22 years later, and we have the defining works for that medium. And we redefined the medium, to be honest. I mean, we really redefined the presentation medium. There’s been a lot of hard things I can’t really point to one thing I would say that’s above all, but I’ll tell a story that it was a season that was really hard. We had a customer who was a VP at IBM, and he came over into what I’ll call the Apple ecosystem. Apple, HP and IBM had done a consortium at one point in time years ago. And I remember when I was first introduced to him, it was like, hey, meet VP. I won’t say his name. Like, hey, meet VP so and so. And he’s fired every presentation person he’s ever worked with. Right? And right then I was like, oh, I’m going to throw down the gauntlet and I’m going to push through this. And it was hard. I mean, it was hard. It was so bad. Like, we would be in one meeting and he would say one thing, and then the next meeting we would pitch it back to him and he’d be like, I don’t know where you’re getting this information. This is dumb. And we were just like, oh. To the point where it was like, well, I might just tape all of our meetings, but he would get this amnesia and yell and scream at people and at me. And what was interesting is I endured it and I became his beloved presentation lady. But what’s interesting is that working around how to get to work with him, working around how to present things to him in a way that he would calm down or whatever was the genesis for resonate for my body of work. So when he would walk in the room, if you presented slides to him linearly, and he was expecting his favorite little pet slide to be at slide three and it wasn’t, it derailed the whole meeting for up to 2 hours. But that’s when I realized if I print out his slides, tape them, he can see the big structure across the top, he could see all the supporting points and he could see that his pet slide was at slide eight, not at slide three, but he could see it. It just made so much more of a constructive meeting. That’s what life is, right? If we are dealt really difficult things and hardships, if there’s resolution and it’s a happy ending, it means you learned something valuable and it made the journey worth it. And I feel like that was a very difficult person to work with, but it made the journey worth it because it bore fruit that have helped a lot of other people. So anyway, that’s my hardship story. I don’t know, it take too long to think about really dramatic ones.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:15:12) – Thanks for sharing this one. I really appreciate it. That’s a good transition into my favorite part of the show, which is the one line life lessons. These are simple, profound, and I find them, some of them at least, to be life changing. I would love to hear some of your one line life lessons.


Nancy Duarte: (0:15:35) – Yeah, I think it’s something we raised our kids and I think they turned out beautiful. It’s follow your peace and your passion and you’ll find your destiny. That is what I would say it is. And both my kids, even though none of them want to be me or do what I do, they are walking in their destiny and they love what they do. So it’s gorgeous.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:15:55) – Beautiful. Do you have other life lessons you would like to share with us?


Nancy Duarte: (0:16:01) – So many.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:16:03) – We’ll take as many.


Nancy Duarte: (0:16:06) – I think in business we have a value that choose your reputation over revenue. And again, in an economic weird economic season, we fired massive client like it was 15% of our revenue. I kept all the employees. It was a conscious decision, 15% of our revenue. And I was like, you know what, CEO. Wow. Like team. No way. Just the demands, their lack of planning. The team has to work all night, work on the weekend, come in on thanksgiving, you have to fly. It’s just like, wow. And through all the conversations there was not going to be any sort of transformation. And so we’re like, but bye, I don’t care. So choosing, and that’s actually an example of choosing my people over profit, but we choose reputation over revenue. So I also let a client go. It was a half a million dollar account when my team showed up to present to them, this is what we did. This is the creative. This is how we solved it. After the meeting, they pulled me aside and said, the CEO is offended when someone shows up with tattoos or long hair. So we need you to show up with a different team. And I was shocked, right? I got back to the office and sent an email saying that we’re not a fit anymore. And it was an annually recurring account. So that’s just one of those things where you’re just like, yikes, let’s just narrow it down to people who treat us like partners who we love to work with. I think you can post a value like that. Like, I choose people over profit, but people want to see it. They want to see it demonstrated when they’re suffering. And if I was to force them to endure with this client, that’s not choosing people over profit. It’s been an interesting ride the last few years. It’s been fun. It’s been hard and amazing all at the same time.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:18:05) – Well, that’s what leadership is about, right? And you’ve extracted the best and enabled so many people. So many lives have been transformed. And I can imagine it couldn’t have been easy. You love it, but it’s not easy.


Nancy Duarte: (0:18:22) – It’s not. I mean, I do think Covid was hard and communicating during COVID I really had to show solidarity because I was in it with them. And it’s 150 lives. I don’t think that’s that trivial. I mean, there’s a lot of other people probably listening that have much larger organizations. But when you have an organization, when one of your values is belonging, creating belonging, when everyone gets scattered across the country and world, and how do you keep sustaining that promise? So it’s been good. I think we’ve emerged way stronger and gorgeous. My team is gorgeous, so I have amazing employees.


Nitin Bajaj: (0:19:05) – That’s really awesome. Nancy, thanks again for sharing those online life lessons and for our audience, we have an entire collection@onelinelifelessons.com. And wherever you socialize digitally, we’ll have Nancy’s one liners there pretty soon. Nancy, thank you once again for making the time to be with us and sharing your journey and your lessons with. We really, really appreciate it.


Nancy Duarte: (0:19:30) – That’s fun. I appreciate you having me. It was great.


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