Nancy Duarte, global expert on presentations, on how she prepares for her own presentations

Nancy Duarte is the world expert on designing and delivering presentations. Nancy’s firm Duarte, is the largest design firm in Silicon Valley. They help very big and famous companies and people, from Apple through to Al Gore, design and deliver great presentations.

Nancy has also written several books about storytelling and presentations, including the Harvard Business Review guide to creating persuasive presentations.

I’ve been a fan of Nancy’s work for a long time so I was very excited to chat with her. We covered a heap of ground in this interview, including:

  • How Nancy overcomes writer’s block
  • How email changes her body chemistry
  • Why Nancy hasn’t been on facebook for three months
  • Why Nancy always has a major and a minor work on the go at all times
  • How she decides which opportunities to say yes to
  • Nancy’s ultra organised approach to managing her inbox
  • Why Nancy has reduced the amount of emails she sends
  • Her favourite “productivity” app
  • How Nancy prepares for her own presentations
  • Nancy’s pre-presentation ritual

And a whole lot more.

If you want to read more about Nancy, you can find her on Twitter or via her firm Duarte.

Here are links to some of the things Nancy referred to during our chat:


Masters of Scale
Revisionist History

Dual Transformation
Measure What Matters
Monetizing Innovation

The Information

For a full transcript of the episode, see below:

Nancy Duarte: What happens for me when I’m in a creative mindset, if there’s an email and it gets me a little electrically charged like someone says something dumb or something terrible happened in the news or there’s an issue that needs to be resolved and I didn’t need to be copied on it, on it, but I was copied on it. Now, I’m just mad. That kind of stuff. It just makes me not be able to stay. It changes my chemistry. I could actually tell when my chemistry flips out of its creative mode. Once it’s flipped, I can’t flip it back.

Amantha Imber: Welcome to How I Work, a show about the tactics used by leading innovators to get so much out of their day. I’m your host, Dr. Amantha Imber. I’m an organizational psychologist, the CEO of Inventium, and I’m obsessed with finding ways to optimize my workday. On today’s show, I speak to the world expert on designing and delivering presentations, Nancy Duarte. Nancy’s firm, Duarte, is the largest design firm in Silicon Valley. They help very big and very famous companies and people from Apple through to Al Gore design and deliver great presentations. Nancy has also written several best-selling books about storytelling and presentations including the Harvard Business Review Guide to creating persuasive presentations, which has an excellent rate. I’ve been a fan of Nancy’s work for a very long time. Sorry, I was extremely excited to be chatting with her.

I think one of the things I found most interesting about this chat, where Nancy’s strategies for getting into and staying in a creative work zone and also has strategies for when she feels stuck and how she overcome to write this book. Now, if you want to read more about Nancy, you can reach her in Twitter @NancyDuarte, which is N-a-n-c-y D-u-a-r-t-e or via her firm, Over to Nancy to find out about how she works. Nancy, welcome to the show.

Nancy Duarte: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Amantha Imber: It’s my pleasure. Now, you’re, pretty much, the world expert on communication and presentations. Your work has had such a big impact on the way I approach presentations. Firstly, thank you.

Nancy Duarte: Oh, that’s so nice. Thank you.

Amantha Imber: Now, you run a presentation design firm called, Duarte, which she founded 30 years ago. Now, I think you’ve got well over 100 staff. Is that right?

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. We have 100. Actually, it’s funny, we just were looking at that. I think I have 109 now.

Amantha Imber: Wow.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah.

Amantha Imber: Oh my gosh. Your firm, basically, helps design presentations, but I imagine, you’re also delivering a lot of them yourself and traveling around. What does a typical week look like in your life?

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. We actually write and design and help people deliver their next talk. I also am delivering talks. I obviously have control over my travel calendar. You were saying, what does a typical day look like, right?

Amantha Imber: Yeah. Or even a typical week, because I imagine there’s probably not a typical day in your life.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. A lot of people, like even getting us connected on a podcast, I think there’s a perception that I’m very busy. In reality, I’m very protected, which I think is smart. I am early riser when I’m on a deadline. I won’t even tell you what time I get up in the morning. That might-

Amantha Imber: Oh, please do. Please do. I’m curious now.

Nancy Duarte: When I’m on a deadline, like I just finished one, I get up at 3:30 and then work until noon.

Amantha Imber: Wow.

Nancy Duarte: My normal rhythm is, I’m in my chair working at about 6:00 in the morning until noon. No interruption, just straight through. Then all my meetings start piling. I work from noon until about 5:30 or 6:00. Go home, eat, and then there’s a little bit of rhythm in the evening. Sometimes I just want to have had a little glass of wine. I’m just like done. I don’t do anything, but sometimes I do my lower priority emails in the evening, but I do get through all my emails at some point on a weekend. That’s if I’m really packed up, but a lot of weekends. It’s really weird when you love what you do. Sometimes, I ask myself if my hobby is my work, and is that okay, is that healthy, but every weekend day, I get in a two to three-hour hike each day. I sit in jacuzzi each day, visit with my husband, have a nice dinner with friends.
The rest of the time, I’m creating something great. I don’t know. In this last body of work. It was like I couldn’t sleep because I was too excited about the insights, right? My creative energy just makes me in a really positive mind and heart space. It’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to go to the boardwalk with anyone. I just want to stay home and write this next paragraph.” It’s funny. I’m really drawn to making work that matters. I think that’s why my time is so protected.

Amantha Imber: I love that. I love that. I want to hone in on your mornings. I’m loving that you’re getting up at 3:30 in the morning sometimes when you’ve got a big deadline. Can you talk me through? What does that first hour of your morning look like, whether it’s a 3:30 wake up or a 6:00 a.m. wake up? What does that look like?
Nancy Duarte: Yeah. What’s funny is, I don’t set my alarm. I told my husband this week, for the last two weeks, it’s like my brain told my body the deadline is done. It’s not like “Set my alarm, 3:30, up, working, on email.” My brain is like “Time to go.” My body just gets up and goes and I start. What I try to do is, I at least treat myself to working in my jammies in the morning, right?

Amantha Imber: Nice.

Nancy Duarte: Kind of, oddly, it depends. I have long hair. It’s like if I have to wash my hair, I will shower and then it just air dries all morning long, but I do, definitely, spend time. First thing when I get up, I try every morning to give thanks to God for the opportunity to help others. I think my husband and I, every Tuesday, every Thursday sounds weird and your listeners might even be offended, but he and I spend 30 minutes together just saying prayers for our people by name. If we know any of them have pain or joys or whatever, we just spend time in the other world, for lack of a better metaphor, just being grateful for them and making sure they’re healthy and happy. We do, definitely, have some morning rituals.
When I’m ready to go, I’ll glance at email. If I’m not expecting any surprises, I’ll glance at it, but if I’m in a creative modality and I’m like “Oh my gosh, I have these ideas and I need them out of me,” I won’t check emails sometimes. Because what happens for me, when I’m in a creative mindset, if there’s an email and it gets me a little electrically charged like someone says something dumb or something terrible happened in the news or there’s an issue that needs to be resolved and I didn’t need to be copied on it, tagged on it, but I was copied on it. Now, I’m just mad. That kind of stuff. It just makes me not be able to stay. It changes my chemistry. I could actually tell when my chemistry flips out of its creative mode. Once it’s flipped, I can’t flip it back. It took me a long time to realize I was a morning person.
When my kids were small, I was a night person out of necessity. I was still up at 6:00, but I was getting them up, getting ready, da da da, da da da. After I put them down, I would work from when they went down until like I met my deadline. This is when I was more involved in the agency. My creative modality is interesting. If something happens and then like, let’s say, I get up at 6:00 and by 7:00, just my modality got shut down for some dumb news story. I can’t go on the internet, anything, off of Facebook. When I’m on a deadline, I haven’t been on Facebook for three months. I just can’t handle the fighting and all that stuff. If I lose my creative mode, I just decide, I just know I just write off the whole day and can’t work.
I use to sit there and bang my head on the computer and be frustrated, but now, I just concede. I’ll either strike my office or have some spontaneous conversations in the hallway with employees, but I just get up, out of my seat. I can do things like approve expense reports after my creative mode has been offset. I have a whole lot of other things that pile up I could turn to, but definitely, I don’t know how. I just know. I just know it’s time to be creative and then I try to keep it on as long as possible. I can go for up to six hours not really moving out of my chair.

Amantha Imber: Wow. That’s amazing. Have you always been that way or is that a way that you’ve evolved to work over the last few years?

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. I would say, when I decided with myself to write my first book, if you had told me at that time that I would love long walks of uninterrupted time, I would’ve laughed. I would’ve said, “Are you kidding me?” I was like “No, no, no.” Now, I’m hooked. It’s almost like a slideology. I was codifying what was already here, getting the examples off the server. With Resonate, that was a deep, rich, research assignment. I have a major work like that and a minor work at all times. While I was working on between Resonate and Illuminate, which was another major work, I had a minor work called, Slidedocs. That way, again, I was just pulling the work we do from my internal shop. What I could do is, depending on my modality, it’s like “Oh, I’m running on a brick wall on storytelling in Illuminate. I’m going to go just pander around on the Slidedoc book.” This last deadline, I don’t normally get up at 3:30 like that at all, but I did a two and a half year body of work in seven months.

Amantha Imber: Wow.

Nancy Duarte: It was super demanding. The market kept asking for this course. I knew I was the one to write it. I
just hunkered down and wrote this beautiful course. It’s amazing. It got five out of five stars on the first beta.

Amantha Imber: Wow.

Nancy Duarte: It’s a really beautiful course, but I took a toll like my hair was falling out. It was terrible. I don’t want the listeners to think that’s okay because it’s not. I had a deadline. It was set. I had to make it. I had myself paced. I had to run a certain speed. I would say, probably 20% of the time, I was getting up at like hours in the morning to work, but that’s not normal. I don’t think that’s healthy.

Amantha Imber: Can I ask, when you’re doing these six-hour marathons of deep work if you like, are you ever tempted
to do like just check of something in the outside world whether that would be the internet or social media or email or you literally just didn’t flow for six hours? What’s that like?

Nancy Duarte: I have to. Sometimes there’s urgent things. I just don’t check unless I know I could take a quick break or I’m getting up to go coffee or I’m getting up to use the bathroom. I don’t use my cell phone for work at all. If a text comes in, it’s from my children or my husband. Then I have this other mode you can set with the moon. I don’t know what it’s … or do not disturb. Only my favorites come through when I have my do not disturb on and that it’s a setting on your phone. If I have that on, not even spam calls get through. I try my best and then I do. Like if it’s a big news day and I can keep going, I do look. I have to. I have to get up and see what happened or gently, overnight, if anything did. I’m not in the day-to-day anymore here. That was a big part of it. It’s not like a project will be held up if I don’t get to email.
What will happen is, maybe, one of my execs will have question and they might be stuck, but there’s not a lot of alarming things in my email. It’s mostly, like I’ve got a sweet, sweet note from my niece that it was confirmed she couldn’t have kids. I wasn’t expecting it. I cried. I cried for a couple hours when I woke up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to work that day. It’s that kind of thing. It’s not like tragic news or fake news and all that stuff.

Amantha Imber: Yeah. Yeah. I want to go back to what you said earlier about how, if you do end up in your inbox first thing and your energy gets changed, have you ever experimented with different strategies to try to get back in the zone? Does anything helped at all or is it just a write off?

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. Yeah. What I found as a pattern, if it’s a weekend day, it’s easier for me to do is, if I go on a walk or if I clean my office for a little bit or if I go pick blackberries in the yard or if I do something very different than sitting and writing and I think and I self-talk myself out of being disappointed in humanity or whatever. When I wrote Resonate, it was really interesting. Resonate, I was still a bit more in the business than I am today. I wrote most of that book on the weekends. Every Saturday, Sunday, I would come into the office and I would write. I’d write for about two hours. Then whenever I got stuck, it wasn’t stuck like distracted. It was just stuck. I’m like “Oh, I can’t see.” It’s like a big puzzle in my head, but I’m stuck and I can’t see the puzzle.
I would go on a walk and no sooner, I’d be, maybe, 10 minutes down because there was a trail I call, The Stevens Creek Trail. Very close to my office. I would go on a walk. Whatever I was stuck on, it was divine. I would see it. I would solve it. I would actually run the entire way back to my office, so excited because then I could sit and just keep going again. I worry a bit about the younger generation and the quick hit, text this, this and that, this on Facebook. I’m hoping some of them get a discipline to be able to do the deep thinking and let your brain travel for a long time down an unexpected path because that’s where the beauty is. There’s so much beauty in that.

Amantha Imber: Absolutely. Absolutely. You mentioned that you’re very protective of your time. I’m curious as to how do you decide? Because I imagine, you must be inundated with different requests on your time and different opportunities presenting themselves. How do you decide what to say yes to and what to say no to? What does get into that protected time of yours?

Nancy Duarte: Well, what’s funny is, for a long time, it was based solely on what had the most leverage. Speaking gigs would be based on the size of the audience, but then it became … You get leverage. It’s like, well, it’s the size of the audience and is that the right audience to maybe bring work into the firm? Then my filter got tighter and tighter or I do get a lot. Every email I get, there has an unsubscribe, gets unsubscribe from. My assistant helps with that. I have a lot of people that want my time. Let me think about it. This a good question. I do have this mechanism with my assistant where I have three salutations. One of the salutations is, do not let them get … I can be an enthusiast. “Oh my God, this is great. Oh my God, this would be fantastic.” Then if I use the salutation, it means, “No way. No way let them on my calendar.” I have different sites.
Another one is, “I’m interested but schedule it in when it’s best.” She knows I have a certain capacity for outside activities. Then the other one is, if I do it in others, it’s like “Make this as immediate as possible.” That’s how I tell her, but I’ve not had anyone ask how I feel through the mouth. Sometimes I filtered someone out, then when they reached out again or when I met them socially, I realize, there was a very, very famous venture capitalist. He became famous. He was reaching out to me when he was just a tonne of wealth. He wasn’t a billionaire yet. He was just a millionaire. I kept filtering him out. It’s tenacious, tenacious, tenacious. I’m like filtered out, filtered out, right? He threw a big swanky party. I didn’t know it. I went to a party, but I didn’t realize it was at his place. I didn’t know it was at his … I showed up. I realized how everyone was worshiping this guy, just worshiping. When I met and went to introduce myself, he’s like “You blew me off. You just shoot me out.”
I have filtered out, maybe, the wrong … He and I are friends now, but it’s just hard. It’s just hard. I don’t know how other people do it. It’s disappointing that I can’t meet everyone, but I’m protected and I’m healthier that way, I think.

Amantha Imber: Do you have strategies for saying … No. I’m going to say, I’m loving the code language that you use
with your assistant. That’s wonderful, but how do you say no?

Nancy Duarte: Now, I notice that I do that.

Amantha Imber: Yeah.

Nancy Duarte: That’s, a lot of times, how I say no. I am generous. One of our values at Duarte is to be generous experts, but I do think you can put yourself into what I would call almost like altruistic danger because you’re so kind. That is one of the ways that I say no is through the salutation at the end of an email, how I address my goodbye to the person. That’s how most of it is done. Others, I have to say no too. “Adore it. This is amazing.” Because I get a lot of request for money, for contributions. “Can we donate workshops?” I try to accommodate as many as I can if it doesn’t have financial harm, but I flip it. I’ll copy someone on my team on it so that they either say yes or no and can decide if it’s a match or if it’s just not of interest, I just say “I just really can’t at this time.”
I get a lot of asks to do blurbs for books. If I close and I know the person, I’ll look at the book. I have a stack of about 12 of them. I need to really read.

Amantha Imber: Wow.

Nancy Duarte: I’ll just say “I admire you. Send me the book. Let me just flip through it versus read it and then let’s co-create a blurb. You take a pass.” It’s just things you do to buy time. I do a lot of things to buy time. I can say I only do that tough when I’m on a deadline.

Amantha Imber: Yeah.

Nancy Duarte: I had to do that a couple times in the last season. I just finished.

Amantha Imber: Can I ask about books? Because I get the sense that you’re probably quite a veracious reader.

Nancy Duarte: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amantha Imber: Yeah. What’s your approach to reading books? Because I find with the average person, I think the average person, maybe, reads one book a year or something like that. I’m imagining that you read a lot more than that. What’s your approach to reading a book? Are you just reading chronologically from front cover to back cover? Are you speed reading? Are you taking notes? What does that look like when you’re reading a non-fiction book?

Nancy Duarte: It depends on the book. If it’s a book that I think I’m going to want to reference over and over, I buy the physical book. I am a book freak. I buy a lot of books. I would say I probably only read half the books I buy just because I’m more optimistic about my time. Then if I do with the audio book of it and I loved it, I actually buy the physical book because I can look at my book case and I remember when I read that. “Oh my gosh, I remember this need it met. I remember I was stuck and that book got me unstuck. Oh, that book really moved me. I remember crying. I remember I was at the beach when I read it.” It’s like I don’t know why. They’re like little baby trophies. I don’t know, trophies. It’s not like I look at it with, “Oh my God, I’m going to impress everyone because I read these books.” They’re precious to me. They’re like a memory trigger or something.
In the move, when we moved buildings a few months ago, I threw out probably half of my books and kept only the ones most precious to me. I probably have 1,000 or something.

Amantha Imber: Oh, wow.

Nancy Duarte: I’m into podcasts lately. I would say, my reading is a little lower than usual, but probably, I read about 25 thoroughly and sent a lot of books. Any books sent to me, I skim unless it makes it to my absolutely read this pile because I don’t know. All the publishers, when you’re an author, they send you every book that they publish. If it’s someone’s book who I admire, I will write a blurb or write a tweet and post it when I support it. It didn’t really answer your question. Some of mine have sticky notes and I leave them and highlights. My co-author and I, my favorite ones is, she goes through a book and she sticky notes and highlights. She just does it and then I just have to go through and read her highlights which is nice, and then I’ll do the same. We pass books back and forth, which reduces the reading time which is nice.

Amantha Imber: Shifting gears because I’m always really interested in how very busy people manage their inbox, their emails. Because I imagine, you must get so many a day.

Nancy Duarte: I do. Yeah.

Amantha Imber: You mentioned that your weekend, sometimes you’ll use the weekend just to empty the inbox. How do you approach your inbox? What does that look like in your world?

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. I’m just coming out of this deadline. I have more replied to emails than usual. I think I’m at 700. This is maybe a tip for people. The only reason they sit there is, it’s going to take anywhere from five to 20 minutes to reply to. What I do is, anything that can be dealt with immediately or anything that’s going to slow my shop down, my Duarte … well, my children are obviously my highest priority but my shop, anything that’s going to show them down is a high priority. My assistant, sometimes when I’m on vacation or something, she’ll reply as me so that some stuff keeps going. She knows my preferences. I tag things. I use the categorize tool. I don’t know if people know, but you can color code things. If there’s something in my inbox that I need that’s better as a discussion, I tag them all and then if I have a one-on-one with Laura, I just sort by color and I see all the email things that came from Laura that I thought were better for a discussion.
All my direct reports have a color and then I can sort by color only when it’s a discussion. I use tasks a lot. I have running one-on-on topics. I’ll go in and type a topic in a task when it comes through email. The other thing I do is, I use the red flag as I’m going through something. If I’m like “That puppy is going to get buried and I’m going to be sorry it got buried.” I’ll just quickly tap it just so that when I get home at night, I sort by the red flags and make sure that anything I felt was urgent, but I thought was going to slip to the evening and make sure. Then it’s usually two or four and sometimes five would be big and I just reply to those quickly.
Right now, I do have emails from friends from high school that are sitting there for two weeks. I think that’s why people think I’m so busy, but I was really doing deep six, eight-hour a day deep working. “Oh, can we get together? Yeah, can we have some wine on the veranda.” Just those things. My assistant usually takes care of those. I keep a lot of my deleted, which bugs my IT people. A bit about three times a year, I sort by size and I delete everything that’s big so I could keep some of my email hot, which I know it’s not the best way. I file the things that are very important. An email that’s precious to me, really precious, gets filed. Or anything that’s like I have certain emails, like the emails from finance, sometimes I need to keep a string of them. I keep those in a folder. If there’s any emails I need to see grouped together, I make a folder so they always stay together but that’s about it. I-

Amantha Imber: That is so organized. Wow.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. It’s primary.

Amantha Imber: I’m blown away.

Nancy Duarte: I would say I’m primary in email, second in PowerPoint, third in Google Docs.

Amantha Imber: Yeah.

Nancy Duarte: That’s my primary thing. About two years ago, I got feedback from my tech team that they felt like because email is primary, I’m in it all the time and then I send a lot of email. Lately, it’s been interesting. I’ll get an article. I’m going to be like “Oh my God, I think Patty should see this or whatever.” I’m like “Does she really … does Patty really, really” … I keep saying, “I don’t really need this answer.” I’ve reduced my email a lot that I’m outbounding. Then I watch really closely. If I’m not on email, “Does my inbound email slow down?” It does. I was like “Well, maybe, I’m the culprit.” I get a lot done through email. Actually, instead of emailing people, I’m just adding to a task instead of opening up email, opening up task and I just add it to the one on one that don’t do it in an email. They’ve noticed a difference, which is nice at the volume slowing down. If it can wait, I make it a conversation.

Amantha Imber: I like that. I like that. Look, on the topic of apps and technology, aside from the ones that you mentioned, which you’re in most often, do you have any favorite apps or tools or tech that you find and really helpful in helping you get stuff done?

Nancy Duarte: You know what I love, this is probably totally appropriate for this particular vein that you’re probing around is, there’s an app called, Pocket. That’s called, Get Pocket.

Amantha Imber: I love that app.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. Because I’m a humming bird, right? Like I was saying, I’m distracted or maybe when I’m on a vein of research and something else pops up that fascinates me, I can get distracted. What I do is, I click the pocket knowing I’ll read it later. That’s been my favorite thing to do on an airplane, all these humming bird, these articles where I was like zip, zip, zipping around, looking for something else and it caught my attention or a news article that I knew might make me cry. I knew I couldn’t spend the emotional energy, I’ll put it in Pocket. Sometimes I read them at bed time, but a lot of times, they download onto your phone for the people that don’t realize. You just tag it and it’s on all your devices as long as you have Pocket. It cashes. I can be on an airplane without the internet and I could read on my articles, which is really nice. That’s what helps me, actually, stay focused.
If there’s an article that I think is going to spin me out, I just put it in Pocket and keep going, which is nice. That’s my favorite thing. One of my employees told me about that.

Amantha Imber: Yeah. I discovered it a few years ago. I got to say, it does help avoid going down the black hole of the internet when you find interesting articles to read. Yes. I love that you’re using that.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. Yeah.

Amantha Imber: Before we get into some final questions, I was curious. Now, you’ve spent the last 30 years thinking about, writing about, helping create presentations, what does the process now look like for you when you’re asked to give a presentation? From that request being made to leaving the stage. What does that look like?
Nancy Duarte: Yeah. Sometimes I have a deck already in the can and maybe already delivered it 100 times, but what happens is, I get bored with the same thing over and over. I also know that no audience is the same. No matter what, I tweak it. If it’s more analytical kind of audience, I put different things in and then if it’s a more an emotional audience or if it’s a female audience, I have different modules I can move around. If it’s new, if it has to be half 50% new or nuance in a bigger way, my assistant schedules it out. When I accept it and I’ll tell her how long I need blocked. She knows to ask if I don’t. I’ll say, “I need two 90 minutes sections blocked. I need this.” No matter what comes up, those don’t get moved.
My working session, she finds new space for it. If it has to get moved but it really gets moved. If I commit to a speaking gig and I know it’s new, I realize that there’s a whole lot of other opportunities that are going to come up or I wish I had that 90 minutes back. It has to be worth it to me to put that effort in. I just finished one to a major venture capitalist and I spent two 90 minutes, which isn’t that much. My data story one, when I’m done with this course, that key note is probably going to take me about 25 hours to really get done. Then, if it’s new, new, which is very different process than riffing on an old one. If it’s new, new, I take a first pass.
Now, someone in the whole world thinks I’m a presentation designer because they keep putting that up on Wikipedia and I pay someone to keep taking it down. I’m not a presentation designer. I do very crude concepts. Some of them I have to sketch by hand because I don’t know how to make a loop. I sketch it by hand, scan it and put it on the slides and then I have a designer actually create my deck. A new talk might take up to 40 hours, 40, 60 hours but I pace myself. I do that, instead of writing in the morning, I would make my deck in the mornings. Then I hand it off to design. Then to get ready, if I know the material, I don’t get nervous. My ritual is, if there’s a green room and I’m alone, I’m okay. If there’s a green room and there’s a bunch of yappy people in there, I have to breathe slow. I have to be quiet. I visualize my slides. I have to be quiet and visualize myself on the stage.
I was going to do a piece on, well, that’s weird. I’m quiet and inbound, right, or looking in. There’s a private Facebook group with a bunch of public speakers and I’m like “Well, what’s your pre-talk ritual?” It was mostly dudes. They’re like “I put on like Led Zeppelin and I head bang. I do this. I jump around and do this.” Really like chest beaty stuff. I’m like “What am I doing? I should be doing Amy Cuddy’s power poses.”

Amantha Imber: Yes.

Nancy Duarte: I should be doing that, right? Why am I not doing that? I was doing this arm stretches just before I go on stage, do a squat, do a little jump. What happened was, for about the first 20 minutes of my talks, I couldn’t catch my breath. I wasn’t doing anything super aerobic, but two people that heard me … three, actually, two were local and one was in Boston. They thought I was ill. They asked me if I was sick.

Amantha Imber: Oh.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. I was just trying to get all amped up. I went back to sit quiet because I already have a ton of energy. I think that if I do anything stretchy or it wasn’t like I was spazzing out, but I would just stretch or do something a little more active right before I walked on stage and I stop. No more. If I know the material well, I don’t get nervous, but if I don’t know the material well, I’m really nervous. I practice but I have to way calm myself down. My heart races and I have to just get my heart to calm down. I hope that was good enough.

Amantha Imber: That was fascinating inside. Gosh, I think it’s so much about what works for you. Yeah. I’ve, definitely, heard about a lot of the typical male motivational hype speaker listening to the theme from Rocky before they go.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah.

Amantha Imber: Things like that.

Nancy Duarte: That was a lot of people.

Amantha Imber: Yeah.

Nancy Duarte: What was weird is, the guys answered in a multi-step process. It was like in my room, I do this and then I check my teeth. I jump, jump, jump or I listen to this music while I walk to the venue. It was really funny. I check my zipper. It was just really awesome. It was exactly in those steps every time because that’s their lucky sequence or whatever. I’m like “Wow, I’m not as into this clearly.”

Amantha Imber: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Fascinating. Having that insight into other people’s worlds. Well, to finish with, I want to ask you about some of the things that you’re consuming because I think it’s quite hard for the average person to know what stimulus should they tune into and what do you tune out because there’s so many choices. You mentioned that you tend to podcast quite a lot recently. I’m curious, what are your go-to podcast right now, your absolute favorite ones?

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. Sometimes they’re situational where I just had a consultant in to help with the agency and he has podcast. That one, what I normally listen to. My go-to ones, I love what Reid Hoffman has, Masters of Scale. That is a great podcast for business people and entrepreneurs. I listen to … God, I have so many. I have On Being who I love. She has a ton of people on from all kinds of different spiritual perspectives. I love that. I’m skimming through it. Everyone loves Freakonomics. Everyone loves Malcolm Gladwell’s new ones. Of course, I listen to all of Serial. I listen to S-Town. I do like the popular story ones also. That’s good.

Amantha Imber: Yeah. Fantastic. On the topic of books, what’s the best book that you’ve read in recent months?

Nancy Duarte: Oh, wow. In the recent months, I read one called, Dual Transformation because I’m trying to lead a transformation at my own shop. I’ve read a whole … God, how many books did I read to get ready for this data story course? I’m looking at my shelf right now, I would say the one that really got me was called, Monetizing Innovation, because we’re launching a digital platform. It’s this company that has 900 employees around the world and all they do is pricing strategies. They put all their pricing strategy thinking in a book called, Monetizing Information. I’ve read a bunch. I read John Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters, and that was good.

Amantha Imber: I’m reading John Doerr’s book at the moment, actually …

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. Good. Yeah.

Amantha Imber: … and loving that. Yeah. I’m a big Scott Anthony fan. Yes, I love Dual Transformation. Finally, A newsletters, are there any A newsletters that you actually look forward to receiving?

Nancy Duarte: Yeah. I like the aggregation sites. The only two I open every time, almost every time it comes in, I subscribe to one. It’s called, “The Information.” It’s a lot about the valley but it’s got good articles every time. They’re curated, they’re fact checked, they’re good and they’re insightful. A lot of my clients are featured in it. The other one, believe it or not, is my girlfriend started this company. It’s called, Accompany, A-c-c like you accompany someone somewhere. What it does is, because it’s connected through Office 365 and because it’s connected to LinkedIn, it’s connected to all these places, it serves every person I know, practically, that hit the news that day. I love that. It’s like everyone I’m connected on LinkedIn, everyone in my inbox, it just knows who I know. Then I can be like “Oh my God, I saw you in the news. Congratulations.” It’s fun, which is that was nice.
Her company and she just got acquired by Cisco. She’s a top exec over at Cisco now. That tools they made, like if you have a meeting and you set up a meeting maker, it’ll give you the LinkedIn profile and a summary in the news of every single person you’re about to meet with. It’s really amazing.

Amantha Imber: Wow.

Nancy Duarte: It’s a really powerful, powerful tool. I was not expecting to enjoy the roll up of all the people that
I love and know in the news, which was nice. I like getting that.

Amantha Imber: That’s awesome. I’m going to check that one out. I love the sound of that.

Nancy Duarte: Yeah.

Amantha Imber: Look, on that note, Nancy, thank you so much for your time.

Nancy Duarte: Oh, thank you.

Amantha Imber: I love hearing about your process. It’s just fascinating getting that behind the scenes look into what you do. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Nancy Duarte: Well, thanks for having me. It was fun.

Amantha Imber: Hey, there. That’s it for today’s episode. If you’re looking for more tips to improve the way you work, I write a short monthly newsletter that contains three cool things that I’ve discovered that help me work better, which range from interesting research findings through the gadgets that I’m loving. You can sign up for that at It’s You’re probably sick of podcast telling you to give them a review in iTunes if you like the episode. I promise I won’t ask you to do that, but if you would like to then go for it. If you like this episode and you want more, just hit the subscribe button. See you next time.