John Southard 

  • Customer Experience 

  • Employee Engagement 

  • Trust 

  • Cultural Differences 

  • Communication 


About John Southard

After spending 10 years as an academic historian, I joined the corporate world. I have worked in several business functions: strategy, operations, change management, and innovation. Regardless of the corporate role, I have always reverted to my training and expertise in U.S. military history to solve business problems. I absolutely love presenting, through my keynote, how businesses can leverage the power of empathy in history to build trust with customers. 

I published a book on how a small group of U.S. Marines leveraged the power of empathy, in the middle of a war, to build sustainable trust in the most unlikely of places. The marines, unbeknownst to them, actually built the foundation for a business playbook on how to empathize and solidify trust with business customers. After studying this group of marines for more than a decade, I applied their playbook for empathy in the corporate world, which yielded impressive business returns.  

As I realized the connection between my history PhD and my business career, I wanted to share the empathy lessons with the rest of the world. Whether I am presenting in front of 10 people or 10,000, I am addicted to the excitement of transferring this knowledge to audiences. There is no better feeling than experiencing the “light bulb” moment when audiences make that connection between history and business. This is why I decided to give keynote presentations that combine my business experience with my passions for history and teaching.
With my history integration, I offer a unique perspective on business that you will not find anywhere else. 

Featured topics

Defend and Befriend: Leading with empathy  

It may surprise some people to discover that the greatest, yet unknown example of empathy in world history comes from the U.S. Marine Corps. During the Vietnam War, this small group of young Marines had to live, 24/7, with people they hated - Vietnamese villagers. But, through empathy, they completely transformed their perceptions of the villagers and in some cases, even died for them. This is a story of strong leadership and impeccable teamwork in the most trying of circumstances.  It is also about the power of embracing differences, and solving problems by respecting different perspectives. John is the world’s leading expert on this topic, and believes that the world needs to hear this message of empathy now more than ever.  

  • Learn how to apply specific empathy lessons in your everyday life 

  • New methods to drive social change and enable culture transformation 

  • Learn the value of respecting opposing views and different perspectives

A New and Unique Approach to Understanding Customer Needs 

This keynote revolves around a small group of U.S. Marines in Vietnam who leveraged the power of empathy, in the middle of a war, to build sustainable trust in the most unlikely of places. The marines, unbeknownst to them, actually built the foundation for a corporate roadmap on how to empathize and solidify trust with company stakeholders. After studying this group of marines for more than a decade, John has applied their playbook for empathy in the corporate world, which has yielded impressive business returns. John will explain not just why you should empathize with your customers to build trust. He will also provide specific steps that explain how to build sustainable trust, giving you the tools and principles to implement immediately. 

  • Learn how build a sustainable trust with your customers 

  • Understand how and why overt and covert needs are the key to empathy 

  • Build a culture that buys in to prioritizing customer needs 

Speaking to your passion 

Are you a speaker, or an aspiring speaker that is apprehensive about getting started in speaking? Are you lost in terms of figuring out what you should speak about? If you even thought about saying “yes” to either question,  this talk is for you. You see, at one point, John answered both questions with an emphatic “yes.” Through his own journey of going from military history PhD to business professional to speaker, John inspires you to not compromise with your genuine passion in life. More importantly, he explains how you can take your passion and turn it into a professional speaking topic and a self-fulfilling career.  

  • Be confident about converting your passion into a speaking topic 

  • Understand how to find a career and speaking topic that actually excites you 

  • Improve how you communicate the value of your passion to others 

What People Are Saying…

Regional Director of Sales
John’s unique perspective on empathy helps you identify customer needs that you didn’t even know existed.
Senior Director of HR
John’s keynote will change how you think about engaging with customers, employees, and even people in your personal life. The world needs to hear his message right now!
Marketing Manager
I consider myself a history buff and a marketing research guru. But John’s incredible story about these U.S. Marines empathizing in the middle of a war absolutely blew my mind. I have never heard a keynote like this before. It is unique, inspiring, and very applicable for someone in my field.

"The vast majority of people in the world have unique experiences and perspectives that probably challenge, if not clash with your own. But rather than ignoring the differences, or even vilifying them - embrace the differences. Challenge your assumptions and perspectives through empathy, and become a better version of yourself."

- John Southard


Defend and Befriend: The U.S. Marine Corps and Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam 

After relatively successful military interventions in Iraq in 1992 and Yugoslavia in 1998, many American strategists believed that airpower and remote technology were the future of U.S. military action. But America's most recent wars in the Middle East have reinforced the importance of counterinsurgency, with its imperative to "win hearts and minds" on the ground in foreign lands. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has studied and experimented with the combined action platoon (CAP) concept used from 1965 to 1971 by the Marine Corps in Vietnam. 

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