The art exhibition, “Read My Pins: The Madeline Albright Collection” is completing it’s two year tour this spring. The collection features more than 200 of the brooches former Secretary of State Albright wore as symbols of her diplomatic messages.  She wrote, “I found that jewelry had became part of my personal diplomatic arsenal.”  Her most infamous fashion statement being the gold snake pin she wore to a meeting with Saddam Hussein. Albright had criticized Hussein’s lack of cooperation with weapons inspections and Hussein was furious. An Iraqi poet called her an “unparalleled serpent” and the Iraqi press seized on this phrase. In response Albright sat through negotiations wearing her snake pin. Brilliant. Creative. To the point.

This is one of hundreds of stories of her use of accessories to communicate her mood, opinion, and intention.  She wrote in her book, “While President George H.W. Bush had been known for saying ‘Read my lips,’ I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins.”  Bees, butterflies, suns, crabs, Lady Liberty, Berlin Wall fragments, fused glass, missile interceptors, the collection is open to endless interpretation. I expect that international press and diplomats began to look at her lapel before they looked her in the eye!

So, while you are probably not a diplomatic negotiator, this story can still be relevant to your communication arsenal. Symbols and gestures are cognitive shortcuts, and can be powerful on their own (think Boston drivers!) or in concert with your words.  What symbols or gestures can you bring to your next presentation?

  1. Symbolic Words:  Find one word that represents your intention for your presentation and repeat it to yourself before and during your speech. It will help you keep your focus and remember your goal for your audience.  It might be Connect! Persuade! Enable! Energy!
  2. Symbolic Gestures:  Never underestimate the importance of that very first symbolic gesture your audience needs: a smile.  Our operating systems are still very primitive and your smile signals your non-threatening intention. Both you and your audience can begin to relax.
  3. Symbolic Imagery:  If you are using PowerPoint or video to support your presentation, find one image that resonates with you and your message and use it. Natural imagery works well and is very accessible for most audiences. Be true to yourself here, because if you feel it, it will work for you. If you are NOT using images for your audience, find an image for yourself that you can look at (or wear) that helps you embody your message.

Now, thanks to Secretary Albright, I will look at my own jewelry with renewed eyes and opportunity.