Two Things One Professor Taught Me

Business meeting

I grew up in a family of academia. My father was a professor and my two older brothers went on to become professors as well. While I appreciated the books, music, and culture that come with this world, I distinctly remember being drawn to the idea of Wall Street after seeing the New York Stock Exchange. It was like Christmas, everything lighting up, people moving, buzzing, and talking; I wanted to be a part of that—it was the complete opposite of everything I knew.

So, I went to school and prepared myself to land a job on Wall Street. While college wouldn’t really prepare me for what it would take to be successful, there was one professor who said two things that I will never forget. When addressing us, he said, “there are two things you need to do: (1) inspire, and (2) persuade.” I never forgot how important it was to be a good communicator.

My Professor Was Right…

There is more to Wall Street than numbers. After studying finance in college, I came to New York with the naïve notion that I was ready for an exciting and dynamic career on Wall Street. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t. My college career simply hadn’t provided me with all the tools I needed to make a swift ascent up the corporate ladder.

When I saw my company’s leaders in action, I noticed there was something unique about the way they spoke. They commanded authority and respect. They exuded confidence that attracted colleagues like moths to a flame. Before they said a word, their body language communicated an intensity and sense of purpose. When they spoke, it was with passion and conviction. They opened meetings with themes that grabbed our attention. They closed meetings with strong calls to action that inspired us to exceed their expectations. People hung on their every word. Whether they knew it or not, they were some of the best teachers I ever had.

Since they were too busy to directly teach guys like me, I watched and studied their every move and mannerisms. All day, people were in presentations, either giving or receiving information. Success, in my mind, seemed dependent on a person’s ability to communicate ideas with passion and conviction—inspiring and persuading those around them by establishing both trust and enthusiasm. I realized that if I didn’t figure out how to significantly improve my communications skills, I’d be stuck where I was on my career climb with little hope of advancement.

Taking Control

If I was going to stand out and succeed, I needed to heed the lessons I’d learned in my debate class in college. I had to “speak with purpose and listen with intent.” It was time to construct my own career development plan. Developing significant communication skills became my singular goal.

Focused on a career that integrated finance and sales, I constantly read books on salesmanship, leadership, and communication. I integrated the best of all of them into a book that became my Communications Bible. I constantly added to it and read it over and over again as if it were scripture. For years, I kept a copy in my briefcase and referred to it at will. This booklet I created was a “how-to” manual that kept my approach powerful and compelling.

Through the years, I committed to practicing the principles of persuasive selling and communication in every situation possible. I was determined to establish myself as someone who could always be counted upon to stand and deliver persuasively and with passion. That’s what the company’s leaders were doing well. And that’s what I wanted—and needed—to do. Just as my professor said.

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