Jane ni Dhulchaointigh: A Speech Deconstruction

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh is not a professional speaker and that’s a big part of the reason I chose to launch this series of presentation deconstructions with her 99u talk. It’s easy for us to think that only polished presenters can have an impact. That only the very best, most experienced speakers can touch hearts, change minds and move people to their feet. Not so. And Jane is a perfect example to debunk the “perfection is power” speaking myth.


Her story on its own is inspiring: she created something of value from nothing and overcame countless obstacles to do so. But it’s her doubt-ridden confrontations with failure and her humility, ingenuity and sense of humour that make you cheer for her as a person and a speaker.


Here are three key aspects of her talk that might inspire you as they did me:


  • Authenticity and Humility. One of the key strengths of Jane’s talk is how much of her whole self is on the stage. You get a strong sense that she’s being open, real, honest and vulnerable. Her humility is ever present as she tells of her repeated failures and quiet successes.


  • Use of Humour. Her humour is grounded in her humility, both of which are infectious and draw you in.


  • Storytelling. Jane’s entire talk is a story—the story of her journey to develop the material that would become Sugru and the story of building a business that would foster a passionate user community. She does a great job sharing the highs and lows, the turning points and what changed her trajectory along the way. She also does a brilliant job of telling the story of Sugru by sharing the stories of her customers and how they are using Sugru to improve their lives and the lives of the people they love.


You can watch her presentation here. You might want to watch her talk straight through first and then take a look at the deconstruction so you can appreciate the whole and then the bits that make it special. Or steal some glances at the commentary below as you watch the first time.


00:19She’s wearing orange tights and pink sneakers. Definitely a stand-out even at a creative conference about making great ideas happen.
00:20Jane starts her talk by admitting that she’d never heard of the 99u.com conference before she was invited to speak. Refreshing and honest.
00:43Jane’s talk is full of unexpected admissions, insights and colourful language. Here she shares that “good design makes everything look easy. The truth is completely the opposite. Making stuff happen is “really f#@king difficult.” A great insight, authentically expressed that resonated with the creative audience.
2:39In describing what Sugru is, Jane says, with humility and levity, “You can mend things with it. You can make things with it. And it has some really great physical properties: it’s dishwasher proof, waterproof, heat resistant, blahdey-blah [with a dismissive, humble hand wave]. That’s it.”
4:17Jane talks about moving to London at 23 to study product design “with big high hopes of becoming a famous product designer...until I realized a few weeks in that I was actually a pretty sht product designer. Really sht.” Again, a refreshingly honest confession, delivered in a humourous way.
5:05She uses her own handwriting to label the various highlights and lessons learned over the course of her discovery and development journey, making the process more personal.
6:06Throughout her talk, Jane shares the “what if” questions that drove her process, an inspiring example of humility in creative problem solving and putting the customer at the centre of a design process, instead of the designer. (Pro tip: great presenters do the same.)
8:47Jane talks about meeting a bunch of scientists who taught her about chemistry so she could perfect the silicone substance that would eventually become her product, Sugru. At 9:00, she talks about getting the white coat (like a scientist in a lab) and that helped her feel the part. As she shares this part of the story, she mimes putting on the white coat and does a little “joy wiggle” that is endearing and funny.
14:50Jane shares a picture of herself, on the floor, in shock, after the online launch of Sugru exceeds all expectations and changed the business. The antithesis of the humble brag.
18:30Jane is jumping up and down as she shares a customer letter. This spontaneous expression of pure joy is touching and hilarious and conveys the passion she has for her customers and what they’re doing with her product.
19:15She shares a moving story of a dad who uses Sugru to fix his child’s feeding tube, a beautiful example of sharing a customer’s story to engage the audience and create emotional resonance.
20:39Jane suggests that it’s not Sugru that’s awesome, it helps make [the customer] more awesome. Genuine humility at its best.
21:36She recounts how a customer who wanted to participate in an epic canoe race in the Yukon was only able to do so because she modified her paddle with Sugru to accommodate the missing fingers on her left hand. Wonderful storytelling told with joy and authenticity.

Jane’s talk works because she speaks with humility, candour and colour. She has an infectious spirit that helps her form a quick bond with the audience so we’re celebrating her victories as our own.



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