June 25th, 2008
On June 20th in the Wall Street Journal, in response to the media coverage of Tim Russert’s untimely death, Peggy Noonan wrote in her Declarations column, “When somebody dies we tell his story and try to define and isolate what was special about it–what it was he brought to the party, how he enhanced life by showing up. In this way we educate ourselves about what really matters.”
“In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn’t. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn’t, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. [...] That’s what we talk about in eulogies, because that’s what’s important.”
Reading this, it struck me that we could say the same thing about public speaking. We make a show of admiring speakers who are clever, rich with data slides, equipped with approved platform behaviors and polished texts. But in the end, what we really like in speakers is character.
Character traits that appeal to audiences are varied, but certainly confidence is one, tempered, we hope, with humility. Genuine interest in the audience is another, or at least an empathetic understanding of their needs and concerns.
Finally, I myself like speakers who appear to be authentic, true to themselves, not working too hard to please me, but are nevertheless skilled at holding my attention.
Think about this. When a speech or presentation is over, which do you remember the longest: what the speaker said, or the impression the speaker created?
Decision makers rarely undertake an important project without first hearing the project leader explain it to them. They are listening for two things–grasp of the material, and the requisite character needed to overcome the inevitable obstacles any large project will encounter.
When a presentation is over, and listeners gather to discuss it and pass judgment, the speaker’s expertise is the dimension they consider overtly. But deep down, their decisions are informed by their perceptions of the speaker’s character.
January 11th, 2008
Michael Jendrzejczyk died at the age of 53. His obituary in the New York Times reveals a remarkable man: empathetic, principled, and, most instructive for those of us seeking to become more skillful influencers, a very effective advocate for what he believed in. His cause was human rights in Asia.
What set him apart from many advocates,” wrote Elizabeth Becker, the author of the obituary, “was his mastery of the details of his subject, as well as his network of contacts with officials, academics, and dissidents he helped protect.”
“Mr. Jendrzejczyk joked about the difficulty of pronouncing his surname, telling others not to waste their time learning to say it or spell it, but just to call him Mike J. His easy manner was partly responsible for his wide reach.” It’s pronounced jen-DREE-zick.
Susan Osnos, former Associate Director of Human Rights Watch, said he used information to promote his ideas. “Over the years, he evolved into someone who worked well in Washington, creating two-way streets that are the bread and butter of getting things done…”
When the Chinese dissident Liu Qing was released after 11 years in prison, Mr. Jendrzejczyk took him around Washington to explain to policy makers the human consequences of their votes.
He pressed Mr. Harold Koh, then an assistant secretary of state, for countless changes in foreign policy to reflect human rights concerns, but, Mr. Koh said, he was never irritated by the demands.
“You start out in a professional relationship with him and end up considering him a dear friend,” Mr. Koh said. “He was one of those happy warriors who never let you forget that you are holding a job not for personal gain but for the betterment of American policy.”
May I point out the obvious lessons for those of us who want to be more influential?
1. Master and use information to help you promote your ideas.
2. Network, mercilessly.
3. Poke fun at yourself. Cultivate an easy manner.
4. Create two-way streets with those you seek to influence.
5. Make the benefits of your ideas vivid, human, and personal.
6. Be a happy warrior for your cause.
Mr. Jendrzejczyk is survived by his wife, Janet and his sister, Lyn Ashmore. I extend to them my sympathies and trust they will approve of my use of Michael as a good role model for those of us who would like to be better advocates for our causes.