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Interview with Mimi Donaldson

Mimi Donaldson talks about communication, gender differences and her most memorable moments as a keynote speaker. Read on below.

What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?

The message is always that they have countless layers of potential they never knew they had.  With the tools for skillful communication I remind them of, they can be much more productive in both their professional and personal relationships.


Do you have a favorite experience from your speaking career?

An event happened early in my career when I realized I was NOT a celebrity.  I was a hired speaker. I experienced a wake-up call that it’s NOT about me.  I was booked to keynote at a women’s conference at a university known for its blue football field.  In the pre-conference phone calls, the client asked some questions that struck me as very strange: “Do you require a limo from the airport?” After finding out the airport was only 20 minutes from the venue, I told her I didn’t even need a hired car – that someone could pick me up, or I would hop into a taxi. She was astonished: “You mean I could pick you up in my Toyota?” I said, “Sure.” She said, “With a baby seat in the back?” I said, “Sure.” She then asked, “What kind of bottled water do you prefer?” It was the 90’s. I didn’t know the names of bottled water, never mind the difference between them. I said, “I don’t care. I usually buy my own water, but it’s great that you will provide it.”

There was a pause. I said, “Where are these questions coming from?” She said, “Well the last speaker we hired from Los Angeles was very particular. She insisted on a limo, and yelled at the conference volunteer staff when they brought her the wrong designer water!” I told her I was shocked. After learning the name of the “speaker/celebrity,” I was not that shocked. I assured her, “I am not a diva and I certainly don’t ACT like a celebrity, and I’m always very nice to the staff.” She sounded relieved. Voila!

That was the beginning of my reputation as the “No Prima Donna’s here” speaker. I arrive early, stay after my speech, and never bring my wheelie suitcase with me into the speaking room, so I can run away quickly right afterwards. AND – here’s the most important part: If there are speakers before me that day, I attend. There is nothing worse than the third speaker of the day unwittingly contradicting or repeating what previous speakers said! The audience knows you were not there, so they already don’t like you.

Be smart, people.  From the moment you enter the taxi on the way to the airport to go to a speech, all the way through the airport, to everyone with whom you interact, to checking in at the hotel (you never know who may be in the line – once, someone recognized my voice from an audiotape she had previously purchased) to dealing with hotel staff, your job is to be THE NICEST PERSON ANYONE HAS EVER MET. Your reputation is all you have, and no one wants a Prima Donna.


What do you gain personally from being a public speaker?

My personal and business mission is, “To assist people to realize and achieve their full human potential.”  So I am always carrying out this mission whether I’m speaking or not.  Writing books accomplishes more of the mission more efficiently.  When I’m not paid for it, I call it “mentoring.”


What do you feel is the biggest difference in communication style between men and women?

I have written whole speeches on this subject!  One aspect is women use more words than men.  Studies show that women use an average of 25,000 words in a typical day.  Men use about 15,000.  I always quip, “The problem is by the time men come home from work, they’ve used all 15,000 up.  We haven’t even started on our 25,000.  We’ve had to be concise all day long!”


Are negotiation skills necessary for everyone?

Negotiating skills are absolutely necessary for everyone.  Every negotiation is premised on alignments of fundamental values.  We must understand ourselves and what we wish to accomplish and then develop these values and feelings with those who might seem, on the surface, to be our adversaries.  I teach people how we all may be more effective in resolving the big and little negotiations that our turbulent existence reveals every day.


How are your keynote presentations unique?

My background in human resources provides me with solid content.  I’m also hilariously funny.  As my brochure says, “When Mimi speaks, people listen. And they laugh…even if they weren’t expecting to.  Audiences light up when hearing Mimi speak.  Feedback forms say ‘funny – and profound.’”


Who is your biggest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is my mom, who was my biggest cheerleader and taught me never to quit.


Do you have 3 tips for improving public speaking skills?

  1. Never worry about breathing, your voice cracking, or the “I’m not polished-enough-syndrome.”  The audience is rooting for you – they are glad they are not up front. There are only 2 things an audience won’t forgive you for:
  2. Making them nervous: distracting them with nervous hand gestures, aimless pacing, and lots of “um’s and uh’s.”  When you do this, you take them back to their terrifying presentations in eighth-grade speech class.
  3. Being phony – not being yourself.  Don’t try to look “professional” by using dramatic pauses and speaking in a voice that is not natural to you.  Be yourself.  They will love you for it.


Click here to see Mimi Donaldson’s profile

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