Well, I was there last night. Me and about 200 Bay Street guys and gals all suited up at the Toronto Board of Trade to meet the richest guy in the world (okay, he’s #2 after Bill Gates).
Warren Buffett came into town yesterday, courtesy of his new company purchase, Business Wire, which is now set up in Canada to do business. Another wire service for us PR folks to choose from…goody.
The evening was spectacular and I was pleased as punch to get on the select invite list. Only a few months before when he was in town speaking at some gala event, the going price for a coveted table was $25,000 … and there I was with a free ticket to hear him speak for 90 minutes, with some free drinks and munchies to boot!
I had no idea just how charismatic and funny Mr. Buffet is. He is full of “quotable quotes” and wonderful anecdotes. The program for the evening was exceptionally well done. Mr. Buffett set the stage for the evening – an open Q&A session allowing the audience to participate in the conversation. He said he is open to discussing anything and would answer any question because, as he put it, “I’m not that discreet.”
Well, the evening got off to a quick start with a number of hands shooting up instantly to get some mic time. They came fast and furious: questions on the recession, inflation rates, the mortgage crisis, the state of the U.S. dollar, the U.S. election blah, his investment habits blah, blah… okay, they are all important questions, especially for one of the richest guys. But I can read that by grabbing a copy of his book The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America. Or by reading the paper.
But I went last night wanting to know something about the real Warren Buffett. Like if he works out, his favorite leisure activity, whether he ever made a decision based on gut instinct, how he spends his weekends, his favorite travel destination. As one of only a handful of publicists in the room, I wanted to know the human side of this extraordinary individual.
I was relieved when someone finally asked him a question about his philanthropic views, his charity-giving, and why a lot of his fortune is going to Bill and Melinda’s foundation. “I can only sleep on one mattress and watch one T.V. at a time,” he answered. Poignant and moving, much like all of his answers were (but I bet he owns some mother of a flat-screen television!).
Mr. Buffet can teach all of us a thing or two about public speaking. Although he addressed complex topics, all of his answers were colorful and easy to understand. He didn’t use jargon, he wasn’t convoluted. He answered like your next door neighbor might speak if you asked him why his rosebushes always look so healthy and yours never even bloom: he used simple language, threw in a few compelling anecdotes, and gave a big hearty smile. I was so impressed.
At the end of the evening, I finally got up to approach Mr. Buffett. As the scrum around him started to dissipate, I mustered enough courage to stand in the queue to say hello and ask him my very profound questions. He looked at me with a warm smile and, as he shook my hand, all I could utter was an excitable schoolgirl squeal and the words, “Mr. Buffett I can’t believe I’m shaking your hand!” To which my new American idol so graciously replied, “And I can’t believe I’m shaking yours!” Everyone around us roared, while I blushed. Don’t ask me what I asked him – it was all a blur after that.
What a cool rich guy.