Leadership and Career Success—On Purpose: An Interview with James Whittaker


James: Look, I can't turn you into Steve Jobs. I can't turn you into me. I can't turn you into Martin Luther King. But I can make you better. I can make anybody better.

Cameron: Fantastic. You also mentioned that it's really important to not only tell a story but build your presentation from the foundation up. Why is it really important to build from the basics and tell a story?

James: The storytelling is the most important part of that. How you build your presentation, whether it's from a ten-thousand-foot view down or whether it's from the details up, I'm flexible on that. The storytelling piece of it is crucial. It has to have a contiguous whole. It has to have a strong start. You have to stick the landing, and the pieces in the middle have to be right, and they have to be on point. I lay out the structure. How you build it, front to back, top to bottom, I don't really care. I lay out the structure of a good story in this talk. It's actually my favorite presentation to give. I gave it this week and really enjoyed the hell out of it.

Cameron: You also mentioned the importance of literary and oratory instruments that can be used to help build that story. What are some of those ...

James: I've stolen from the literary, right? Literary means writing. We're not writing these down. Oratory instruments are literary instruments that are taken out of the literary realm and put into the speaking realm. It's really crucial because they make a story come alive. You can take a story and tell it in a very boring way. You can take a story and tell it in a very interesting way. A lot of times the difference between boring and interesting are those oratory instruments. I do it partly by demonstration, where I'm speaking and presenting and then I stop and go back and talk about the instruments that I use. I also showed some videos of people who are really, really good at using certain types of oratory instruments, so we build the catalog through example.

Cameron: You have some great advice and you have a lot of great knowledge and wisdom as far as making people better leaders . . .

James: Keep saying great. This is good, man.

Cameron: OK. And making them greater presenters, and you're just making them greater overall. What is some advice you would give to someone who is a young business person, someone who's just now starting out?

James: You mean to make them successful, or to make them a better orator, or . . . ?

Cameron: Really anything. Let's say better career success.

James: First of all, my advice is do something that's worthwhile. There is enough picture-taking apps out there. There's enough social apps out there. I know they're worth a lot of money, but at the end of the day, do something that's going to make humanity better. There are hungry people out there. There are brain researchers that need good technical talent. There's some really important problems out there that are being solved.

I feel like a lot of the start-up industry right now is just going for the dollar, and it depresses me. Big companies buying small companies and making them go slower or taking them off the market I think is a real shame. The real innovation for the future is going to come from small companies. People need to solve problems that are actually important to humanity. We have so many of them. Better ways of taking pictures of our cats and various body parts isn't particularly high on my ranking of a contribution to humanity.

Cameron: You talk about giving presentations. What if someone's very nervous? A lot of people get very nervous when giving presentations. What are some tips ...

James: No, I cover that.

Cameron: OK.

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