Jill Goldenziel of Marine Corps University: “Drop your notes and speak from the heart”

Drop your notes and speak from the heart. Speaking conversationally and from the heart — and connecting with your audience that way — is more important than including every word or nailing the script perfectly. The first time I was asked to speak about women and leadership I started writing out a script. The words came so fast I […]

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Drop your notes and speak from the heart. Speaking conversationally and from the heart — and connecting with your audience that way — is more important than including every word or nailing the script perfectly. The first time I was asked to speak about women and leadership I started writing out a script. The words came so fast I realized I didn’t need it. I stopped writing and spoke the next day before 70 women, without notes. They remembered my name for years.


As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jill Goldenziel.

Jill Goldenziel is a professor of International Law and International Relations at Marine Corps University-Command and Staff College, and an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership International program and Penn’s Partnership for Effective Public Administration and Leadership Ethics. She teaches International Law, the Law of War, and international security to senior U.S. and foreign military officers. She is also a consultant, arbitrator, and public speaker who has spoken at the United Nations and dozens of events throughout the world.

Dr. Goldenziel’s award-winning research focuses on international and constitutional law, refugees and migration, lawfare, information warfare, and business and human rights. Her popular TEDx talk, “Leadership Has No Gender,” argues that it’s time to change public discussion away from divisive, gender-based leadership models and instead to focus on the traits that make good leaders great. She is working on a book on how politicization of refugee crises threatens national security, an article on civil-military relations, essays and, and several projects on the use of law as a weapon of war.

Dr. Goldenziel is breaking down the walls of the ivory tower by making scholarly research accessible. She is known for her ability to translate complex academic ideas for all audiences, from the popular press to the highest levels of government around the world. Her own award-winning research is among the most downloaded in the world, according to the Social Science Research Network, where she is in the top 10 percent of most-downloaded authors on the Social Science Research Network. Her research has appeared in top academic journals and is also regularly cited and quoted in publications like The Washington Post, the International Business Times, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, and The New Yorker.com. She has published pieces in The Washington Post, the L.A. Times, The Huffington Post, and The National Interest, and she has been a commentator on NPR, Public Radio International, and in other media. She has briefed United Nations officials, world parliamentarians, and senior military leaders on her research. Dr. Goldenziel represented the Academic Council for the UN System in the negotiations to adopt the UN Global Compact for Migration. In 2018, Dr. Goldenziel spoke alongside Angela Merkel and other world leaders before 164 UN Member-States at the Intergovernmental Conference to adopt the Global Compact in Marrakech.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scranton prides itself as a scrappy, working class town that had its heyday when coal mining was booming in the early 19XXs. At my K-12 public school we were required to learn the words of the “Pennsylvania Polka” in elementary school and had mandatory square dancing classes through at least middle school. I was very close with my grandparents, 3 of the 4 of whom did not attend college, and who raised my parents in working-class families. They prioritized education above all else, and my parents went to college and professional school, and worked hard to make sure I had a comfortable life. They also made sure I understood the importance of hard work and the opportunities that education provides.

Growing up in Scranton means I had a very different frame of reference for what it meant to achieve the American Dream — and the importance of helping others achieve it — than some of my college classmates. I was the first person from my high school to get into Princeton in more than a decade. Not everyone I knew in Scranton had heard of Princeton. Meanwhile, I’d never heard of crew or fencing or investment banking or management consulting or the Hamptons like it seemed like everyone at Princeton had. A friend kindly pulled me aside in my first year of college to point out that I’d been mispronouncing certain words in a way that made me sound poorly educated — but that was just the way we pronounced them in Scranton. But I knew that I had a work ethic that could match anyone’s in the Ivy League. And my ability to make friends with people from all different backgrounds brought me a lot of friends who helped me along the way.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am a 4th generation lawyer. I grew up talking about negligence at the dinner table with my Dad. I never found anything else so fascinating until I was writing a required 25-page paper during my Junior year of college and I couldn’t stop writing. I didn’t want to stop writing. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I knew then that I wanted to become an academic and do research on law that would influence policy in the world.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I wrote an article on creating a new international agreement to protect people fleeing war and violence. I thought it was very idealistic and no one would read it. A mentor had to convince me to write it. A few years later the UN started working on a similar agreement, the Global Compact for Migration. The Academic Council on the UN System asked me to represent them in the negotiations process for the Global Compact for Migration. I ended up speaking at the UN every other month for 2 years, and eventually, speaking alongside world leaders like Angela Merkel at the Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Migration in Marrakech, Morocco in 2018.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A professor asked me to give a guest lecture in a class at the Harvard Kennedy School. When I got there my slides wouldn’t work. They had been designed on a Mac and the presentation was on a PC. I had to speak for 45 minutes, impromptu, without my slides, to an audience that included policymakers from around the world. It worked out, but now I come with several backup copies of my slides and am always prepared to present without them. And I present without slides whenever I can.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had a fabulous mentor for the past 20 years to whom I owe more than I could ever express. He has seen me fall flat on my face so many times and helped me to pick myself back up. He has pushed me in moments of self-doubt. He has shared his early, incomplete drafts with me, and his willingness to be vulnerable has pushed me to share my work early and get his invaluable feedback. I can’t imagine coming this far without his support.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Failure is a step on the way to success. Always take stock of lessons learned and use them as you keep moving forward.

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

My students drive me to get up every day because they tell me how much I inspire them. I want to empower people to shift the narrative away from divisive conversations about gender and leadership ant to focus on inclusive conversations about building the traits that make good leaders great. I especially want to empower women not to be held back by naysayers about women’s ability to succeed in the workplace. By spreading awareness about discrimination against women in the workplace, women sometimes hold themselves back by blaming others for their lack of advancement. We also create divisive conversations in the workplace that alienate potential male allies. We can do better be promoting a positive narrative to ourselves and others, and by building alliances in the workplace.

Can you share with our readers a few of your most important tips about how to be an effective and empowering speaker? Can you please share some examples or stories?

Speaking is a conversation with your audience. Drop your notes and speak from the heart. I was the plenary speaker at the Academic Council on the UN System’s annual meeting in Rome in 2018, speaking about my work on the Global Compact for Migration. On a prior panel, the audience had given me some harsh questions because the US had pulled out of the Global Compact for Migration and President Trump’s detention of children at the US Southern Border. I knew I had to distance myself from US policy in my introduction — not an easy task since I work for the Marine Corps. I threw down my notes and spoke from the heart in my introduction. I thanked my University, James Madison, and the First Amendment to the US Constitution for allowing me to speak in my personal capacity despite my Government’s policies on migration. The audience of hundreds of people burst into applause. From there, my speech was easy.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Thinking of speaking as a conversation rather than a presentation helped me a lot. I always try to connect with my audience beforehand however I can, whether researching them or meeting some of the audience members beforehand.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Speaking is a conversation, not a lecture. Connecting with your audience is critical. I always get complimented on being authentic.
  2. Don’t look over the heads of the audience. Look at individual members of the audience as if you are speaking to them. A speaking coach taught me this and it made all the difference.
  3. Pause and breathe. This will help you sound more natural, even if it doesn’t feel natural. A speaking coach watched a video of me and realized I was not breathing properly, and then taking loud, deep breaths at the end of sentences. It made a big difference.
  4. Drop your notes and speak from the heart. Speaking conversationally and from the heart — and connecting with your audience that way — is more important than including every word or nailing the script perfectly. The first time I was asked to speak about women and leadership I started writing out a script. The words came so fast I realized I didn’t need it. I stopped writing and spoke the next day before 70 women, without notes. They remembered my name for years.
  5. Be early for your speaking gigs. This allows you to get to know the organizers and your audience beforehand and will allow you to speak more comfortably.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I’m writing a book on how politicization of refugee and migration crises affects national security. I’m also working on building my speaking business and continuing to speak on law, leadership, and political risk. I want to help global leaders understand how law and politics affect their work, and keep making complex academic ideas accessible for any audience.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

I exercise for an hour almost every day. This keeps my energy level high and my body healthy. Recently I’ve been doing HIIT workouts with my son to get him ready for baseball and basketball.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mom taught me that “nothing takes too long, but everything takes time.” This helps me with time management whenever I try to squeeze in “one last thing.”

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

What a great question! I would want to encourage a national service program for all Americans, whether military service or social service. I think that many of our social problems could be solved by sustained attention from a corps of young Americans, and that societal rifts would also heal if diverse members of society came into contact with one another, especially at a young age.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I would love to have lunch with Bill and Melinda Gates and learn more about how to leverage philanthropy for social good and to inspire others to engage in public service.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @JillGoldenziel

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JillGoldenziel/

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jillgoldenziel/

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


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