Lessons from the Gym Floor

By Saturday, November 8, 2014 0 No tags Permalink

I haven’t always been a female corporate traveler. I started my career in non-profits and then academia and I buttressed my professional life with an aerobics career. I can thank my friend Ginie for taking me under her wing and spurring me on to become a real live leader of “power hour.” See, all aerobics teachers were either dancers or cheerleader in high school – Ginie spotted my high kicks and told me that those 12 years of ballet and jazz were about to pay off.

Thing is, while I could heel, knee, kick, for 50 minutes straight, I didn’t know how to inspire others to do the same. If the gym gave me a class with 30 regulars in it, I could clear the room in minutes. The feedback cards regular lambasted me as being “boring,” “hard to follow,” and “disinterested.”

Then one day the director observed my class and gave me some tough feedback. It’s hard enough reading feedback, but having to sit there and listen to it proved painful. Izzy must have seen tears starting to form and she stopped, looked at me and said, “Do you enjoy teaching…because you look miserable up there.” She had some advice, “Maybe you could smile a little!”

I took Izzy’s advice. I took it to the gym, I took it to the office, and years later I even took it to the podium. About five years ago my boss arranged for all of us institutional sales folks to have public speaking training. We had to present a ten-minute pitch and then answer unexpected and difficult questions. After my go, the trainer stopped and asked the group if anyone could tell what my “tell” was. You know, the give away that we do when 1. We don’t know the answer to the question; 2. We need to buy time; or 3. We are uncomfortable.

Some people say, “uh.” Others blink a lot or look around and avoid eye contact.

I smile. And, according to the public speaking trainer, it’s a great tactic. It disarms the questioner, it seems open and understanding, and it exudes confidence. And, it buys me time to think of the answer.

I was feeling pretty impressed with myself when the rest of the team was essentially told that they, too, could smile a little. That clients may actually like it. That it may impart a sense of “wanting to do business.” See, we don’t smile a lot when we talk about stocks or bonds or real estate. We strike a serious and self-important stance.

I think some people in the industry think me “light,” no doubt because I smile and laugh instead of somberly talk about information ratios and smart beta and de-risking portfolios.

But I won’t trade Izzy’s advice for a reputation. And I think more people should smile when they talk about money since we’re really talking about dreams. And those can pay off.

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