Last Month One of the Greats
passed away. Ned Johnson, Chairman Emeritus of Fidelity Investments, who built the company into a global financial services powerhouse over four decades, died at the age of 91. Hearing the sad news sent me down memory lane.
The Year Was 1996
Yikes, that’s 26 years ago! I was hired by Fidelity to coach Mr. Johnson on a speech he was to deliver at the Ford Hall Forum, this nation’s oldest continuously operating free public lecture series. In partnership with my long-time colleague Beryl Loeb, this was an extraordinary opportunity.
How Do You Prepare
when the stakes are so high, and your famous client is on the cover of Time Magazine that very week? I knew I would have only minutes to make a favorable impression and build trust.
I carefully mapped out my opening for our first coaching session: describe how the process works over several rehearsals, explain my approach, my background and, most importantly, ask five probing questions about his goals for the speech. Every detail of this, of course, was pre-approved by Corporate Communications.
Remember Your Personal Power
I don’t mind telling you, as I paced the room waiting for him to arrive, I struggled with nerves and fear. Who was I to give guidance to this extraordinary man? How could I possibly offer him what he needed? I prayed. Quite literally, I silently prayed to be of service. In other words, to get over myself, get grounded and remember my expertise.
And there he was, tall and lanky, striding into the room with his Communications Executive, who made brief introductions and left. Mr. Johnson immediately marched up to the practice podium and stood there expectantly. I launched into my planned opening, and then said, “Mr. Johnson, before we begin, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” And gestured towards one of the tables and chairs.
He left the podium, sat down, took a pen out of his jacket breast pocket to fiddle with as he looked up at me, and I STAYED STANDING. By continuing to stand as I asked my questions, I subtly but noticeably altered the power dynamic. I was “bigger” than he was. Well, not really. But you know what I mean.
I did that for myself, so I could be who I needed to be, in order to do the job I was hired to do. That’s on us, as communicators. We all need to find and remember our courage and our expertise, so others will listen to us.
It’s not a given. It’s not your audience’s job to listen. It’s our job to make them want to listen. Stand your ground. Be brave. Be the biggest you that you can be.
means continuous, incremental improvement. It’s a Japanese business philosophy that Ned Johnson espoused and lived by. Did he really need to have a presentation coach? Truthfully, he could have pretty much said whatever he wanted, and people would pay attention, simply because of who he was.
But his commitment to Kaizen was legendary and he wanted to be better. Did he enjoy rehearsing? No, he hated it! He’d procrastinate and regale me with stories; anything to keep from having to start. I had to speak truth to power, and hold him accountable to the task at hand.
We worked together over several years, with great mutual regard. It was a remarkable client relationship I will always treasure. May his memory be a blessing.
May you find inspiration and become, in turn, an inspiration to others.
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