Case Study: UNDP

United Nations

Communication for Global Impact

Using Clarity to Improve Human Welfare


The Challenge

For eight years, I have had the privilege of helping UNDP’s top officials inspire and make presentations to sprawling bureaus, national offices, and one-time campaigns. I’ve also trained field staff in Africa, Asia and Europe, so they’re better able to present policy, teach, and achieve cooperation with, their audiences: UN colleagues, media, government agencies, funders, volunteers. Most of all I’ve trained them to communicate and present ideas to their own workforces on various continents.

Imagine trying to make a clear presentation when the message is complex, wordy, insider jargon. Then imagine trying to bridge dozens of languages and cultures, all the while constrained by diplomatic delicacy. It’s a challenge.

It’s no wonder some people I’ve had the privilege to work with at the UN’s development arm, on several continents, get lost in a thicket of vague talk, protocol, and bureaucratic constraint. The goal is that my clients can deliver key messages that are well understood, both at the General Assembly and in small village meetings. Plugging their messages in to my presentation system, they deliver, inspire, and reach audiences. I’ve often been told my training reignited their passion by making their hard goals seem practical.

At the heart of all the training we always need to remember that the work on human development – poverty reduction, equity and sustainability – affects hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

The Solution

i. Policy Directors and Bureau Chiefs

Once, a brilliant and powerful director, formerly a head of state, was presenting a much-awaited speech. His think-tank of experts each contributed a dry, detailed paragraph, on governance, the environment, gender. The speech had no cohesiveness, no sweep or theme. I had to be honest: It made no sense!

Using my presentation outline, and my fresh set of eyes, we pulled out highlights. Then we added rich and relevant stories, getting to the heart of the matter: What can we do? What must we do? How can we do it? Where do we start? We added a conversational tone, one people could relate to.

Sometimes my clients need to stop being international managers or researcher/thinkers and pause to share a genuine, larger vision. After our training, my esteemed colleague began to be valued for his inspiring, clear and illuminating presentations. He was able to move people to action.

ii. United Nation Volunteers

I worked with 30 researchers and analysts in Bonn, Germany in 2011 on presenting the first-ever “State Of the World Volunteerism Report,” at hundreds of pages, to the UN General Assembly. They also took the presentation around the world, from Brazil to Bosnia, hoping to inspire volunteerism, and to enlist cooperation with UN’s detailed anti-poverty agenda.

From a dense and scholarly report, I was able to elicit stories. Like this:

“Right now, as we assemble here, a human rights lawyer is advising a refugee in Iraq, a doctor is attending an HIV patient in Namibia and a group of students is helping rebuild homes in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Right now, a midwife is assisting a 13-year-old girl to deliver a baby in South Sudan, an engineer is drawing up a plan for a village community centre in Bolivia while working from his home in Indonesia, and a retiree is cutting the hair of a young cancer patient in Australia.

Right now, here in this country, someone is offering a helping hand to someone who needs it, out of free will, and is saving lives and sustaining humanity. This is the power of volunteerism.”

iii. The Human Development Report Office

Every year, HDRO publishes a much-anticipated report that measures Human Development progress across the globe. For the past few years, I have worked with the full staff, researchers and analysts, who don’t often present to the public. Together, over many revisions, we capture the essence of the report. Then these scholars rehearse and finally present confident 10-, 15-, and 20-minute PowerPoint presentations to UN offices and the media everywhere. Besides the boiling-down, we tailor the presentation for each individual country where they will deliver.

My Approach

Once I asked a high-level UN official about the day he was appointed. He went home, I suspected, sat in his study, and thought what a chance he had to make a difference in the world. As we worked, we returned to that moment. Remembering that turning point let him infuse his presentation–of data points and policy details–with humanity and power.

I always seek to harvest the wisdom of the speaker, and to capture their unique spark and insights. That’s what makes a presentation sing!

Videotaping my clients and offering feedback achieves the final polish. Sometimes, viewing video makes for a moment of realization: Once I trained a senior policy specialist who was eloquent, beautiful and well-respected. Together, we viewed a tape of her presentation. It was so verbose, I didn’t know what she was talking about. After three minutes, I took a chance and said with a smile, as kindly as I could, “So far, you haven’t said a thing!” At the five-minute mark, I asked, “What am I meant to learn? What should I take away to make people’s lives better?” We could both see that nothing was clear. Nothing was complete. It was flowery, vague, a river of buzzwords. She paled, because she knew, too.

“I can’t believe how unclear I am,” she said. It was a wake-up, and the beginning of her transformation as a compelling presenter.

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“If you want something really important to be done, you must not merely satisfy reason, you must move the heart also.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

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International training workshops – Bangkok, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Copenhagen, Bonn, New York.

International training workshops for UNDP staff brought together representatives from around the world. Hearing about their development projects, development challenges and accomplishments, was heart-warming for me. Presentation Training workshops helped these participants enhance their speaking skills so they can be more powerful, when they regularly present to their national offices, governments, and partners worldwide.


UNDP Team — Copenhagen

UNDP Team Copenhagen

Specific Tools used:

  • Individual coaching
  • Small group workshops
  • Large group seminars
  • Skype conferences and training
  • Videotaping and feedback
  • Individual coaching via telephone
  • Online speech editing
  • Interview Training
  • Retreat workshops
  • Role-play and practice sessions
  • Team brainstorming sessions to elicit key messages
  • Business writing workshops

Photo Credit: Benjamin Dumas via Compfight cc