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What Speakers Can Learn from General Ulysses S. Grant
Frank DiBartolomeo --  Presentation Coach For Technical Professionals Frank DiBartolomeo -- Presentation Coach For Technical Professionals
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Centreville, VA
Tuesday, May 28, 2024


“In every battle, there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins.”

– Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War Union General and U.S. President

Several years ago, I read a business book, The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson and Teresa Amabile. From Amazon: “It shows how breakthrough ideas most often occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory and offers examples of how we can turn the ideas we discover into path-breaking innovations.”

I am reading a fascinating biography of Civil War General and President Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow. The book is simply entitled Grant. Even though The Medici Effect talks about how we can take lessons from entirely different life disciplines and create innovations, I was struck by how speakers can use General Grant’s traits he displayed during his Civil War years: The Medici Effect.

What follows are three of those traits:

Never Giving Up

Grant’s life was not illustrious, rising through the ranks from the Mexican War to becoming commander of all Union troops during the Civil War.

Although a graduate of West Point, his military and civilian life was a scattered string of failures and bouts with alcohol. However, he never gave up pursuing what he thought was the right thing to do.

All speakers have “bumps in the road,” including you. Do you use these “bumps” to learn what did not work, implement the needed changes, and then move on?

Some people think life has to be perfect. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our life depends on what we do with those “bumps in the road.” Do we learn from them and improve, or do we sink into melancholy?

Perhaps you didn’t have sufficient time to practice your presentation. Or maybe there is an audience question that throws you off. Or possibly you are under the weather and do not deliver as well as you thought you could.

This is the very time not to give up. Very often, success is the other side of failure.

General Grant was the first Union general that President Lincoln could rely on to relentlessly prosecute the Civil War on the Union side without Lincoln’s supervision. Lincoln learned about Grant’s victories the same way the American public did.

Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4, 1963, catapulted him to the position as commander of all Union forces, where he eventually won a war of attrition with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s troops in Virginia. The North could replace those lost, and the South couldn’t.

Brian Tracy says, “There are no failures, just practice shots.”

There can be no success without failure. Learning from failure is much more valuable than learning from success. Grant did this many times in his Civil War years.

Don’t ever give up.

As a speaker, you enjoy the admiration of your audience. It‘s sometimes easy to fall into the trap of believing you are better than your audience. This can sometimes turn into an immodest attitude for you.

Being humble is another of Grant’s traits that speakers can use.

Being Humble

It’s ironic, but Grant’s humility made him more beloved by the people of the North than if he sought adulation. Grant shunned adulation.

Grant was not a big man, five feet eight inches in height. He was not imposing. When Grant walked into a room, he did not turn heads. In fact, at one point, Lincoln said it could be five minutes before he realized Grant had entered the room.

Grant’s humility was one of his greatest strengths. You can also use humility in your speaking.

Being humble means respecting your audience, treating their questions with seriousness, and always striving to give the audience what they need and want and not what you want to tell them.

As speakers, we work with event planners all the time. How humble are you with your event planners?

Do you bend to their schedule? On a program with many speakers, including you, do you gladly reduce your speaking time if the program timing warrants it? Do you have a post-event meeting with your event planner to review what they liked and what you need to improve in your presentations? If you speak for the event planner at another event, do you incorporate improvements from your post-event meeting?

Event planners invite back speakers that are easy to work with. Being humble with your audiences and event planners goes a long way to enhancing your speaking career.

However, the main reason to be humble with your audiences and your event planner is it is the right thing to do. If you were your audience or event planner, you would want to be treated this way.

So, you should emulate two of Grant’s traits: never giving up and being humble.

One of the biggest turnoffs for audiences and event planners is taking someone else’s credit.

Giving Credit to Others

Grant was a master at giving credit to others.

Grant was also a master of taking the blame if one of the generals under his command made errors on the battlefield.

Grant grew more confident in defeating the enemy as the Civil War raged. When commended on his battlefield victories, Grant made it evident the execution of his battlefield plans by his subordinate officers was the difference.

What does this trait of giving credit to others have to do with your speaking? It has everything to do with it.

Although audiences come to see you speak to hear what you think and not what others think, there will be times when you can use quotes, short stories, and experiences from others to make your speaking points. Whenever you do this, attribute the quote, short story, or experience to the person who said it first.

I am sure you have heard the wisdom that reputations take a lifetime to form and can be lost in an instant. One of the best ways to lose your reputation instantly is to claim your own words that belong to someone else. Don’t do it. You will regret it.

Grant had supreme confidence in his generals. One stood out: William Tecumseh Sherman. Grant gave broad orders to Sherman, and Sherman decided on the tactical battlefield plans. Grant was sure to give accolades to his generals for their battlefield victories.

There is a saying attributed to 19th-century English historian, writer, and politician Lord Acton (1834-1902) – “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Grant had as close to absolute power in the Civil War as any American general had had up to that point in American history or has ever since had. He could have parlayed this power into something bigger but didn’t. Why?

It was not in Grant’s nature to lust for power. Again, it is ironic that Grant’s giving away power to subordinates gave him more power.

There was an old Sunoco commercial for Sunoco 260 gasoline. The tagline was, “Power to be used, not abused.”

Grant used his power to bring the Confederate Army to its knees. He never abused that power for his gain.

Give credit to others in your speaking because it is right. A by-product may be more admiration for you, but you are doing it for the right underlying reason.

So, three of Grant’s traits you should emulate as a speaker are never giving up, being humble, and giving credit to others.

Practice these traits as a speaker and person, and you will have a good life.

Call to Action

  • Never give up when things don’t go as planned in your speaking. You will always get a chance to improve. Take it.

  • Show humility when you speak. It is the bedrock of wisdom. It opens your mind to new ideas.

  • Always give credit to those who are due it. You will sleep better at night.

    “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who have helped relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”

    Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War Union General and U.S. President

    Frank DiBartolomeo is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and award-winning speaker, presentation and interview skills coach, and Professional Member of the National Speakers Association. He was awarded Toastmasters International’s highest individual award, Distinguished Toastmaster because of his outstanding work in public speaking and leadership.

    Frank formed DiBartolomeo Consulting International (DCI), LLC (www.speakleadandsucceed.com) in 2007. The mission of DCI is to help technical professionals to inspire, motivate, and influence their colleagues and other technical professionals by improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence. Reach Frank at frank@speakleadandsucceed.com and (703) 509-4424.


    Don’t miss Frank DiBartolomeo’s latest book!

    “Speak Well and Prosper: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Better Presentations”

    Available now at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

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Name: Frank DiBartolomeo, Jr.
Title: President
Group: DiBartolomeo Consulting International, LLC
Dateline: Centreville, VA United States
Cell Phone: (703) 509-4424
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