I was glad for the chance to talk with John McDonnell, a global leader in the beverage alcohol industry. He is widely credited for having established the ultra-premium tequila category around the world.
John began his career at Joseph E. Seagram & Sons — first in domestic sales and marketing, then internationally. In less than five years at Patròn Spirits, he led the brand’s expansion into 130 international locations. Today, as Managing Director International, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, John has expanded this brand, too – now into 125 countries and counting. I was aware that he’s often asked to give speeches and I was intrigued to learn more about his approach to connecting with audiences.
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 a lot of 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 ahead of time 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” in the past including TEDx speeches. How has the experience complemented your ability?
I was honored to be invited to give a TEDx talk at Suffolk University. My topic for them was “The New Global Economy in Action.” But 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 130 countries and islands worldwide — 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. I’ll then do my utmost to deliver!
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