In an era where effective communication stands as a cornerstone of success, Leopold Ajami stands out as a guiding force, helping individuals master the art of public speaking.

He helps creative leaders design a voice that matches their worth. He is a trusted private coach and mentor for entrepreneurs, experienced speakers, and top executives at companies like Google, Russell Reynolds, and General Electrics. Leopold is also a creative & strategic consultant and the founder of Novel Philosophy Academy, where he Integrates philosophy, creativity, and communication.

Leopold has studied at Notre Dame University in Lebanon and Stanford University Graduate School of Business, USA. This classical education, bound with his passion for teaching have led him to all those mentioned points. Recently, the public in Serbia had the opportunity to attend his lectures at the NICON conference and John Galt School.

We have talked with him about motivation, confidence, and the link between public speaking, creativity and philosophy.

Can you share a personal experience or story that has been a major source of motivation for you throughout your career?

Five years ago, my daughter was born, and she changed everything for me. Her first look into the world, a pure blend of innocence and curiosity, sparked a profound reevaluation of my approach to life and work — especially my coaching method. Her world became my classroom. I started documenting her every action and word, then inferring insights and lessons about life. Suddenly, I realized that I was discovering novel principles about creativity, communication, and philosophy. I was discovering the art of connecting with myself and others. Each of her actions, from building Lego blocks to reacting to new experiences, became a lesson. I distilled these into principles for my coaching – and turned them into frameworks that transcend traditional speaking techniques. They emphasize deep connection, vulnerability, and clarity in communication. This journey with my daughter has been a personal and professional awakening. It’s shown me that profound insights often come from the simplest interactions. I bring these lessons into my work, helping leaders find and refine their voices by raising their self-awareness and becoming eternal students of observation. My daughter taught me to find the treasure in the trivial.

What strategies or techniques do you use to stay motivated and overcome challenges in your professional and personal life?

You can’t overcome a challenge that you can’t see. I learned this principle in my 15 years in advertising. You have first to see the dragon, name it, understand it, and sometimes reframe the way you think about it. Without this process, you will be overwhelmed and will revert to the same old strategy of slaying the dragon. I love solving problems, and I turned this passion into a process called “I.C.U.” — an acronym that playfully stands for “I See You.” It’s my reminder to stay focused and energized, both professionally and personally. Here’s how it works: I – Introspection: Daily, I dedicate two sacred hours to reflect on my values, my emotions, and the ideas that I’m learning. Then, I express myself by writing. I keep these words in my idea file, which I call Speaking Vault, and I turn them into articles, frameworks, or new lessons worth sharing. In essence, introspection raises your self-awareness. C – Create and Communicate: I’ve established a system for consistent idea generation and communication. Each day is an opportunity to explore new concepts, solve fresh problems, and express these ideas. This not only fuels my creative engine but also sharpens my skills as a communicator. As a public speaking coach, this practice is essential in keeping my approach innovative and dynamic. U – Uniqueness: I believe that what makes us unique isn’t just inherent but something we actively sculpt. Every day, I ask myself, “How can I further refine my uniqueness today?” This could mean integrating new knowledge into my existing skill set, achieving goals that shape my mind and character, or impacting others’ lives. Particularly in my role as a coach, helping clients craft their unique voices is a significant aspect of this process. I definitely get demotivated sometimes, and it’s normal. However, instead of waiting for a muse, I look for the cues I build daily.

As a renowned public speaker, what is your approach to preparing and delivering a compelling and engaging speech or presentation?

Give them a piece of you. This is my mantra every time I gear up for a presentation. The essence of compelling public speaking, I’ve found, lies not just in the content but in the connection it fosters with the audience. Too often, speakers get lost in their material, turning dynamic speeches into monotonous spoken articles. To truly capture your audience, to make them hang on every word, the key is to share a part of yourself. It’s about transforming your personal experiences, lessons, or stories into universally resonating messages. This balancing act – making your speech both personal and relatable – is the art of designing a message that speaks to particular and universal experiences alike. Being consistently involved in speaking and training engagements requires a process-driven approach, and this doesn’t start a week before the event. It’s an ongoing journey. I always tell my clients: “What you do backstage puts you on stage”. Backstage here isn’t just about preparing for a particular talk; it’s an endless cycle of gathering ideas and honing your intellect. That’s why I built my Speaking Vault, my personal repository of daily thoughts, observations, and insights. This habit keeps me perpetually equipped with fresh, relevant material, ensuring I’m always prepared to craft a meaningful speech.

Can you share some tips or advice for individuals looking to improve their public speaking skills and gain more confidence on stage?

Confidence isn’t something you suddenly manifest on stage; it’s cultivated behind the scenes through learning how to think, structuring your ideas, and mastering clear expression. As I said before, what you do backstage puts you on stage. Many people mistakenly view public speaking as merely the act of delivering a talk. However, delivery is merely the final step. The journey begins with a deep dive into self-discovery and thoughtful contemplation. It’s about understanding and shaping your message long before you step into the spotlight. Moreover, unless you are talking to yourself, every time you speak, you are engaged in public speaking. It encompasses every interaction where you communicate with an audience, whether selling a product, making an argument, or simply sharing an opinion. Each of these instances is an exercise in public speaking. For those seeking to improve, hire a public speaking coach. Michael Jordan would not have been Michael Jordan without a coach. With the right coaching, you’ll learn not just to communicate, but to persuade and influence. You’ll learn to grasp the psychology of your audience and design messages that resonate and provide solutions. This blend of art and science is a journey that takes years; a coach can expedite and streamline this process. As for a practical tip to start immediately, I recommend this simple exercise: Ask yourself three questions: What is one memorable lesson I’ve learned? Where and from whom did I learn it? How have things changed since I learned it? These questions will help you develop a story that illustrates a personal struggle, the guidance you received, and the transformation that ensued. It could be as simple as a childhood lesson about spending money wisely, or not eating too much candy.

What are some of the most memorable moments or lessons you’ve learned from your experiences as a public speaker?

I got a standing ovation after 5 seconds of being on stage. Before even uttering a word, I tripped — and barely held myself from falling off the stage. They didn’t know I tripped on purpose — until I looked them in the eye while still on the floor and said: “Never ever mistake falling for failing.” That moment taught me something profound: the ovation wasn’t for me, but for them. In that split second, I made the audience feel seen, heard and understood. I didn’t plan for this opening. But before my talk, I studied the room, sensing a palpable tension and a feeling of being overwhelmed among the audience. In a split-second decision, I chose to trip and speak about failure, not just as a concept but as a shared experience. The more you raise your awareness and live consciously, the more you can connect with yourself and others.

How do you see the link between public speaking, creativity and philosophy?

I think this “Ph.C” (Philosophy + Creativity + Communication) is the most important degree you’ll need. I’m convinced that our future hinges on mastering three pivotal skills: philosophical thinking, creative problem-solving, and effective communication. These skills are fundamental, yet their true power is unleashed only when they are seamlessly integrated. I designed the “Ph.C” system inspired by music. Think of creativity as the process of arranging basic sounds and rhythms to transform them from mere noise into music that stirs emotions and captures imaginations. Communication is the ensemble of instruments. Each has its own function and role and is meticulously orchestrated to produce a harmonious, coherent, and clear symphony. The human voice is a powerful instrument that is often taken for granted. But it has the unmatched capacity to inspire, influence, and change lives. Philosophy is the foundational melody of the composition. It often operates subtly, emanating from the composer’s view and sense of life — even when not consciously acknowledged. That’s why, in public speaking, the journey doesn’t begin on the stage with delivery techniques. It starts with a deeper exploration – a philosophical quest to understand one’s identity, thoughts, and feelings. Philosophy doesn’t merely teach you how to think — but how to think about thinking, which is the most important kind of thinking. It allows you to solve problems creatively, and use your voice to make a difference.

What philosophical principles or beliefs have had a profound impact on your life and career choices?

I struggled for a long time, living like a fruit salad. It’s like picking an assortment of uncoordinated ideas and beliefs without a cohesive guiding system. I’d mix one idea from here, another from there, and wonder why I’m unfulfilled and directionless. Until I read and studied Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. It was a turning point, offering a systematic approach to understanding my self and my life. Rand’s philosophy, with its deep respect for human potential and view of individuals as heroic beings capable of greatness, offered me not just insight but a blueprint for living. Her novels and philosophy challenged me to own my mind, to shed limiting beliefs, and to embrace independent thinking. It was the only philosophy that encouraged objective thinking and personal happiness, rather than blind adherence. As a public speaking and thought leadership coach, Objectivism has significantly shaped my approach. I see my clients and students as individuals of immense potential, each with their unique story and capabilities. My role, therefore, is to help them uncover their potentiality and design a voice that elevates their worth. We live in an era where ideas spread faster than they are formed — where often those with destructive ideas have the loudest voices. It’s why I see my work as a calling not to merely be better than the prevailing narratives; but to be different and to know that we are true and right. A rational philosophy, coupled with creativity and articulate communication, is crucial in elevating life-promoting ideas and developing true thought leaders.

Interviewed by: Vanja Ratković

*Interview was initially published on Serbian on web portal Original magazine.