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4 Inspiring Leadership Lessons from the 1st Memorial Day Observance

4 Inspiring Leadership Lessons from the 1st Memorial Day Observance

by Terri L Williams

The Department of Veterans Affairs, defines Memorial Day as a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the members of the armed forces whom died while serving during service to our Nation.



As you can imagine, there is much debate on the origins of the first Memorial Day BlightObservance. David William Blight, professor of American History at Yale University and Director of the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, states Memorial Day is an event that began on May 1, 1865, when group of former slaves in Charleston, SC gave a proper burial to 257 Union soldiers who’d been put into a mass grave.

The black community of Charleston then Blight-2consecrated the new cemetery with “an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people.” The event was initially called “Decoration Day” and was led by 3,000 black school children who started off by singing the song “John Brown’s Body.” They were then followed by hundreds of black women with baskets of flowers and crosses. After that, black men marched behind them in cadence, followed by the Union Infantry.





As a member of the military and veteran community, Memorial Day is a somber occasion of reflection and gratitude for me.   I personally reflect on the myriad of service members I served with in the United States an Overseas, whom died during their service or passed away years later.

There are 4 key lessons we can take away from the first Memorial Day Observance, which contributes to an overarching impact of our ability to observe our fallen comrades for more than 150 years. Each of these lessons is well integrated within the 4 pillars of executive presence, inclusive of first impressions, communications, gravity, and appearance.

1. HONOR, RESPECT, AND THANKFULNESS. Honor deceased service members whom fought for our country with a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for our freedom. The impact of the slaves’ honor, respect, and thankfulness has impacted our Nations gratitude for the contributions of more than one million servicemembers, whom died serving our nation. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 1-FIRST IMPRESSIONS and Pillar 4-APPEARANCE. The slaves understood the importance of burying service members appropriately and the impression this would leave on how the Nation would demonstrate its compassion for their efforts to the country. Understanding that the appearance of a mass grave was not appropriate for the ultimate sacrifice given by the deceased soldiers, whom were fighting for their freedom, the slaves set out to provide physical efforts of gratitude with appearances of soldiers marching and citizens bestowing flowers and crosses in their honor.


2. DECISIVENESS AND TIMING. Timing is important in honoring our fallen comrades. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 3-GRAVITAS. Major General Logan’s careful decision making on the time of the year to celebrate Memorial Day, speaks to a time of the year that is open and seasonally beautiful, mid-spring. This time of the year would allow most states to celebrate without weather concerns.Logan


3. COLLABORATION AND TEAMWORK. In 1866, the Ladies’ Memorial Association in Columbus, Georgia, passed a motion agreeing that they would designate a day to throw flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers buried at the cemetery. The ladies didn’t want this to be an isolated event, so Mary Ann Williams, the group’s secretary, wrote a letter and sent it to newspapers all over the United States. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 2-COMMUNICATIONS. The ladies understood the power in collaborating (networking), expanding communications via newspapers, and expanding inclusiveness of relationships to be involved in the effort.


4. DIVERSITY. The impact of the contributions of slaves, the Union soldiers, and women demonstrates how different perspectives contribute to a untied effort for the good of everyone. This element resonates with Executive Presence Pillar 3-GRAVITAS. While the groups were not at a single location to provide their input collectively, it is clear that each group was able to build upon the ideas of their processors.


1 “Memorial Day”. United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
2. Livescience.

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Executive Presence Review: 16th Anniversary of The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One–How to Deliver It

Executive Presence Review:  16th Anniversary of The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One–How to Deliver It

by Terri L. Williams

lost art of speech

Source: Amazon Books

This month is the 16th Anniversary of the classic business book, The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One–How to Deliver It.  Authored in 1999 by Richard Dowis, a former journalist and a retired senior Vice President of Manning, Selvage & Lee Public Relations.  Dowis has won numerous awards for editing, speech writing and financial writing.  He is also the President for the Society of the Preservation of English Language and Literature and coauthor with Richard Lederer,  of The Write Way.

In The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One–How to Deliver It, Dowis covers how to prepare before you speak, preparing to write, beginning well – what your opening should accomplish, watching your language, secrets of the pros, using statistics, closing the speech, and the the final stages-editing your speech.  Key takeaways include:

  1. Understand that making presentations and speaking are skills that should be developed.
  2. Never, ever speak off the cuff, always write your speech
  3. By rehearsing your speech your other interpersonal skills will also enhance
  4. Ensure you are the appropriate person to speak on the topic you have been asked to speak about and answer questions.
  5. Research and understand the demographics of the audience you will be speaking to.
  6. Take time to ensure you are in a relaxed state mind, body and soul
  7. Your speech should structured to transition ideas flawlessly
  8. Practice, practice, practice by audio and video.
  9. Language should be simple, action oriented
  10. Use lots of examples in your speech.




Source: Google Images

Today top advice for presentations and speeches are to use best practices of icons such as Steve Jobs, usage of visuals, benchmarking Ted Talk conferences in limiting presentation time to 18 minutes, using Aristotle’s framework for persuasion, and former Senator John F. Kennedy’s rapport building strategy of shaking hands with everyone in the audience before he made his speech.




First Impressions

We are constantly judging others and being judged. While speaking is often regarded as one of the greatest fears for people, the opportunity to speak provides insight into a level of comfort and the ability to connect with an audience. Many careers have been made by those who dazzle and impress decision makers during a speech or a presentation.


Source: Google Images

John H. Johnson, businessman, publisher, and founder of Johnson Publishing is one excellent example.  While in high school he won a scholarship and was invited to speak at a dinner by the Urban League, and in the audience was the President of the Supreme Life Insurance Company,whom was so impressed he offered Johnson a job so that he could take the scholarship to attend the University of Chicago.  The rest is history as Johnson went on to create the Legendary Ebony and Jet Magazine.



The Center for Talent Innovation, Executive Presence Report shares “….the most important communication requirement – to be perceived as a leader – is not limited to speaking publicly. Rather, you must speak well at all venues, public as well as private – in large halls and behind closed doors, in front of superiors as well as with direct-reports, in one-on-one discussions and at dinners with clients, during meetings as well as in casual conversations.



From a gravitas perspective, a successful presentation should feel as though you are having a conversation with your audience. You should not feel that you are on the stand in a courtroom — that every word you say is being recorded and evaluated.

  • Before your speech:  prepare, rehearse, review your checklist; arrive early; take 5 or 10-minutes to be on your own and gather your thoughts; power pose; Drink lots of water; chat with participants; think positive — what’s the worst that can happen?; and set expectations.
  • During your speech:  keep a glass of water near you; make eye contact with your audience; pause; speak on exhale; find friends; and anchor yourself with your two feet shoulder wide apart, feel your presence.
  • After your speech:  write down how you were able to diffuse your anxiety, what made you most nervous, how well you did despite it all!

Quick Links to Great Speeches by leaders of today and yesterday:




In regards, to the topic of appearance, speaking engagements dictate the best in grooming and consideration of the key elements of dress,  image, language of clothes, and the 10 critical elements for creating a credible image.  Generally the biggest faux pas in appearance for dress include the following elements:

  1. Color
  2. Fit
  3. Style
  4. Fabric choices
  5. Age appropriate garments
  6. Finishing touches
  7. Managing trends
  8. Grooming
  9. Coordination
  10. Understanding dress codes.

Here are some examples of leaders whom show excellent examples in appearance to support their presentations and or speeches:



Source: Google Images

From a color perspective, the 2015 Pantone Color of the Year Marsala is a great addition for attire in regards to accessories in particular, shoes, belts, neckties, scarves, and purses.

“Marsala enriches our mind, body and soul, exuding confidence and stability. Marsala is a subtly seductive shade, one that draws us in to its embracing warmth.”
Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director, Pantone Color Institute®

Marsala is a rich and impressive statement color. Marsala has the ability to impact clothing and accessories with bold impact for executive presence.

Pantone estimated, with the ever-growing popularity of floral prints and striping, variations of this hue undoubtedly would carry into men’s and women’s clothing throughout the year. Marsala is also a popular choice for jewelry and fashion accessories, including handbags, hats, footwear and the burgeoning market of wearable technology.

This highly varietal shade combines dramatically with neutrals, including warmer taupes and grays. Because of its burnished undertones, sultry Marsala is highly compatible with amber, umber and golden yellows, greens in both turquoise and teal, and blues in the more vibrant range.




Source: Google Images

marsala shoes

Source: Google Ingaes


Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images


Source: Google Images











Dowis, Richard.  The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One–How to Deliver It (1999)

The Center for Talent Innovation, Executive Presence Report (2012)


panache-logo Terri L. Williams is an executive presence expert specializing in communications, gravitas, and appearance. She is a seasoned professional with more than 25 years of specialized experience in human resource management and corporate protocol. Terri is also a veteran of the United States Army, with service in domestic and international assignments. As the President and Founder of Panache Career Strategies, LLC, Terri L. Williams leads Executive Presence training programs and seminars that can help you to improve your skills. A leader in facilitating the “gold standard” in a wide range of services focused on solutions for individual, group, customized programs, seminars and keynote speeches. Working with leaders and executives Panache Career Strategies, LLC will support their executive presence goals in communications and gravitas.


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