5.How to Interest People
Everyone who was ever a guest of Theodore Roosevelt was astonished at the range and
diversity of his knowledge. Whether his visitor was a cowboy or a Rough Rider, a New
York politician or a diplomat, Roosevelt knew what to say. And how was it done? The
answer was simple. Whenever Roosevelt expected a visitor, he sat up late the night
before, reading up on the subject in which he knew his guest was particularly
For Roosevelt knew, as all leaders know, that the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk
about the things he or she treasures most.
The genial William Lyon Phelps, essayist and professor of literature at Yale, learned
this lesson early in life.
"When I was eight years old and was spending a weekend visiting my Aunt Libby
Linsley at her home in Stratford on the Housatonic,” he wrote in his essay on Human
Nature, “a middle-aged man called one evening, and after a polite skirmish with my
aunt, he devoted his attention to me. At that time, I happened to be excited about boats,
and the visitor discussed the subject in a way that seemed to me particularly interesting.
After he left, I spoke of him with enthusiasm. What a man! My aunt informed me he
was a New York lawyer, that he cared nothing whatever about boats - that he took not
the slightest interest in the subject. ‘But why then did he talk all the time about boats?’
" ‘Because he is a gentleman. He saw you were interested in boats, and he talked about
the things he knew would interest and please you. He made himself agreeable.’ "
And William Lyon Phelps added: "I never forgot my aunt’s remark.”
As I write this chapter, I have before me a letter from Edward L. Chalif, who was active
in Boy Scout work.
“One day I found I needed a favor,” wrote Mr. Chalif. “A big Scout jamboree was