Christie's Lydia Fenet on Being the Powerful Woman in the Room

Phebe Wahl | April 12, 2019 | Feature Features

As the country's leading auctioneer and managing director, global head of strategic partnerships at Christie's, Lydia Fenet always owns the room. Hot on the heels of her newly bowed tome, The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You: Command an Audience and Sell Your Way to Success ($26, Gallery), Fenet shares a page from her book.
Lydia Fenet in the Long Gallery at Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Plaza

What prompted you to write the book?
After a 20-year career at Christie’s and over a thousand nights onstage as an auctioneer raising money for nonprofits around the world, I want to share tips and lessons I learned in hopes that I will empower other women—in business and in life.

Have you always felt like the most powerful woman in the room or has this been a journey for you?
Such a journey! I spent much of my 20s and early 30s consumed with the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. I was always concerned with what other people thought, and many times it kept me from putting myself out there because I was worried about being rejected. There were so many times that I didn’t stand up for myself despite the fact that I knew I had the right answer. Writing this book made me face those fears head on and realize that I am the one putting up those roadblocks. If I stop listening to what other people think and focus on accomplishing my goals with integrity and grace, the sky is the limit. Roadblocks aren’t meant to stop us in our tracks; they are meant to be hurdled. Once you realize that, life becomes so much fun.

When did you first realize you had the power to own the room?
When I was able to stand onstage in any room at any auction in front of a crowd of thousands and realize that I wasn’t intimidated by them; that the minute my gavel struck the podium in front of me, they would be listening to my voice and doing what I was asking them to do. It was such an incredible moment.

How can this book help all and not just those in sales?
Everything I discuss in the book applies to anyone who feels like they want to move forward in their life. It doesn’t matter if you work, stay at home or do some combination of the two, we all want to feel empowered to go after what we want. This book is meant to help you get there—whether that means you want to start your own company or run for president of the PTA.

What is your secret to closing a sale?
Understanding the motives of the person sitting across the table. When I am selling something at a charity auction, I always try to find a common theme that might connect the audience to a particular lot. If I am sitting in the boardroom pitching something for Christie’s, I always let the other person speak first and tell me what they are interested in. Closing a sale is about connecting someone to what you are selling.

What is some of your favorite advice from the book?
I love the chapter titled ‘You Are What You Negotiate.’ It’s time for women to realize that if you don’t ask, the answer is already no. Get into the habit of asking for things, even if you don’t believe that the answer is going to be yes. Rejection is like anything. It gets easier with practice.

Why do you think this is such an important and empowering time for women everywhere?
We finally understand the power in community and unity—and how our voices together are stronger than any one voice. I titled my book The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You because I want women to understand that they have the power to do anything they want—and when they find that power, I hope they will look around and bring others along with them. What fun is success if you can’t share it with others?

What do you hope everyone will take away from the book?
I hope that it will give you the courage to go after whatever you want in life. That it will give you permission to overcome the fear that has been holding you back or negotiate that raise you deserve.

What is up next for you?
First and foremost, I am so excited to embark on my book tour around the U.S. this spring and the U.K. this summer. I have started working on my second book, and I am also in talks with a few agencies about film and television rights. I like to think that I am just getting started.


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