The following is excerpted from: THE MOST POWERFUL WOMAN IN THE ROOM IS YOU: COMMAND AN AUDIENCE AND SELL YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS by Lydia Fenet. Copyright c 2019 by Lydia Fenet. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
“Lydia, you are on in thirty seconds.”
[The stagehand] hands me the microphone. I close my eyes and my mind becomes laser-focused on the perfect opening line. So much is at stake in the first five seconds of an auction. If I don’t come up with something dynamic enough to hold the attention of the audience, within seconds the noise from 1,000 guests will completely overpower the room, and I might as well join someone at the table for a drink because no one will be listening to me.
“Lydia, stand by for the Voice of God announcement,” he said, referring to the man who announces the next speaker from behind the stage curtain. “Go in 5, 4 . . .”
I walk quickly from the wings onto the stage, adjusting my eyes to the bright lighting and surveying the crowd. I have chosen my dress carefully: a power red that is eye-catching enough to attract attention but also shows I mean business. My long brown hair is curled to show that I put in the effort, but having three small children running around at home means that I rarely have time for Drybar before going onstage in the evening.
“3, 2, 1 . . .”
“Please welcome Lydia Fenet, managing director and lead benefit auctioneer for Christie’s Auction House!”
I stride purposefully toward the podium, take a couple of seconds to spread my notes across it, pausing just long enough to make the crown look up to figure out why I am not talking.
CRACK, CRACK, CRACK. I slam down my gavel so forcefully that half the audience jumps in their seats.
I call it “the Strike.”
The Strike has become my signature move. I never start an auction without it. A few times I have forgotten my gavel and had to improvise—an empty saltshaker, a jar of Kiehl’s face cream from the goody bag at my chair, a tube of Laura Mercier lipstick. Other time the organization doesn’t have a podium and I have had to use other things—the rail of a staircase, the top of a piano, a wooden block I found backstage. A frequent auction bidder once told me I should patent the gavel strike; there is little doubt who is leading the auction when bidders hear the repeated cracks of my gavel against the podium. Whatever it takes. I always start with the Strike. And once the gavel hits the podium, I never back down.
Even at the earliest stage in my career, it was clear to me that preparation, focus, and hard work were important to achieving success in any aspect of my life. But what I understand after almost two decades of working at Christie’s is that these three things are crucial if you want to be successful. It doesn’t matter if you are a high school teacher who is regularly speaking to a group of students, a CEO of a tech start-up trying to raise seed funding, or an artist who is negotiating a commission; you need to find your version of the Strike to help you crush your sale. Now, for the average person, walking into a meeting and slamming down a wooden gavel isn’t likely to win you anything but a confused look and an invitation to exit the building. As an auctioneer, I get the immediate sense of empowerment from the Strike that I need in order to own a stage in a crowded room of guests who have had more than one cocktail. The gavel strike shows that I am the person in charge—that there is only one person who will be speaking for the next half an hour, and that person is me.
Your “Strike Method” needs to be something that feels authentic to you—something that you can use every time you walk into a room so that you feel confident and comfortable from the minute you engage with the people in front of you. I have spoken with professional athletes, world-renowned actors, and influential motivational speakers, and every single one of them describes an action or a motivating thought that helps them quiet their brain, center their thinking, and move forward from a place of strength. My gavel strike is something I do every time. I don’t need to think about anything when I slam down the gavel because it is routine and eases my nerves immediately. After all, I have done it more than a thousand times at the point of writing this. Your Strike Method should give you a moment to gather your thoughts and provide those few seconds of clarity you need in order to launch into your pitch. For me, it is a gavel strike. For some, it will be an action like clasping their hands together or pressing their hands firmly on either side of a table. For others, it will be a single sentence that moves the conversation from pleasantries to serious business. Whatever it is, your Strike Method needs to make your feel like you are about to own whatever room you are in and you won’t be leaving until everyone there knows it.
The next time you are in a situation when you are in charge of selling, pitching, or speaking, make sure you have thought through your Strike and opening line so you come into the moment like a woman who knows what she wants and is going to tell you how she is going to get it. Find whatever motion or sentence will help focus your thinking and pull all your ideas together. Once you have figured out what that is, you can channel it into the moment to give you the confidence to present yourself in an authentic way. This will also help if the person or people in front of you are doing something distracting or unnerving; their performance will not unsettle you or catch you off guard. You will be able to deliver your Strike from a point of strength and let the momentum that you have created in that moment carry you forward into a well-thought-out presentation, speech, or discussion.
Lydia Fenet serves as the Managing Director and Global Director of Strategic Partnerships at Christie’s. In addition to her role within Christie’s, she has raised over half a billion dollars for more than 400 non-profits worldwide as the leading benefit auctioneer in the country. Ms. Fenet has trained all of Christie’s benefit auctioneers for the past seven years, and travels around the country to speak to corporations and groups on “The Art of Selling.” Lydia’s auctioneering achievements have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Vogue, Crain’s, Elle, Vanity Fair, WWD, Vogue.com, and WorkingMother.com. The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You, her first book, was published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in Spring 2019 and continues to be a #1 best seller on Amazon. You can follow her auctions, antics, and anecdotes on Instagram: @LydiaFenet #ownyourpower
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