Business Class: Neal Conan — Being good is not good enough
By Randall Kenneth Jones
Originally published in the Naples Daily News
Monday, May 5, 2014
Though Neal Conan, the former host of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” was never a member of the Boy Scouts, he learned—the hard way—the importance of their legendary motto: Be Prepared.
“As someone who was able to improvise my way through school, I never learned to prepare until I started as a broadcaster,” says Conan. “In particular, I remember a man who called in after a newscast to ask about a story I’d written on a battle in Vietnam. After speaking with me for a few minutes, he concluded, ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about.’ On reflection, I decided he was right.”
Conan continues, “Later, I did an interview with the great reporter Neil Sheehan about “The Arnheiter Affair,” one of his books on Vietnam. Afterwards, he asked, ‘When were you there?’ I wasn’t, but took that as a great compliment and a lesson on the value of preparation as a base from which to apply my improvisational skills.”
For over eleven years, Neal Conan was the host of “Talk of the Nation,” the news-talk show from NPR—a program that reached 3.8 million listeners a week on 425 NPR member stations.
At the time of his departure, Conan had spent more than three decades with the network.
Though some say proper preparation has fallen victim to a current corporate climate chock-full of interruptions, “doing more with less” and/or a do-as-little-as-I-can-get-away-with attitude, Conan’s success provides irrefutable evidence that there truly is no substitute for preparation.
More specifically, to Conan: “The work is in the preparation.”
Of course, broadcasters are not the only ones who benefit from the ability to think on their feet. Everyone from the sales team to customer service, from the CEO to the stay-at-home mom must become skilled at thinking and acting quickly.
To Conan: “Preparation is command of the subject. My favorite moment of the day is when I get to stop worrying and just do it. Plus, if you listen, the guest