The Man in the Overcoat – 20 years in and he is still following me

I cast my mind back to 1998 – I am 12 months into dental business coaching and accepting every speaking invitation that comes in, no matter how far away or obscure, to build my visibility and community (hmmm… maybe not much has changed).

Imagine, if you will, an evening at Stockport Town Hall, presenting to the local chapter of The British Dental Association (BDA), not necessarily known for innovation.

A small audience of rather senior dentists listen politely to my ramblings about marketing and customer service (if only I had a recording – I wonder what I was saying – “hand out business cards”?).

The event concludes and “that bloke in the overcoat” hangs around my top table as I’m packing my gear. If you’ve ever spoken, you’ll know about that bloke. Not overly keen to get home and on the look out for a chat to give you his feedback.

As always, I greet and listen and the feedback arrives:

“Very good talk that – you remind me a bit of Jennifer de St George from America – she’s the next level up from you.”

Thanks buddy.

Happily, the intervening 20 years have perhaps levelled that speakers playing field but there’s no doubt that the bloke in the overcoat still lurks in every audience.

This weekend you’ll be aware that I’ve presented 3 times in 3 days in South Africa.

Friday was The South African Dental Association (SADA) in Durban and a very lively audience of around 125 people who listened for an hour either side of lunch as I talked about innovation in The Patient Experience.

During the lunchtime break, the man in the overcoat found me in the gents toilet (don’t panic).

As we washed our hands side by side, he offered his feedback:

“Very good talk that but you need to realise that a lot of what you talk about will never catch on in South Africa because we are simply too apathetic as a nation.”

I smiled, patted him on the back and responded with:

“Well let’s change that shall we?”

He clearly didn’t know how to respond to that, other than with a smile of resignation and wandered off back into the trade show.

Whilst I don’t for a minute agree that South Africans are apathetic, the fact is that, from my perspective, there is a lot that I can contribute here.

My sessions on Marketing and Patient Experience of Saturday (200+ people) and Sunday (70+ people) illustrated that many of the business concepts I take for granted have not yet arrived in this marketplace.

That, of course, is a bottle half full, both for me and for those practitioners who have open minds.

The man in the overcoat doesn’t think that things can change.

However, I’ve had some emails overnight from those attending the weekend that indicate change can, indeed happen, when someone ignites an internal fire.

It’s Monday morning here in Johannesburg and I’ll be leaving my hotel in a couple of hours to begin the journey home.

Of the 400 or so people I have met over the weekend, most will go back to work today and carry on as before.

A few will have had a fire ignited this weekend and realise that they have more potential than they knew.

An even smaller number will decide to do something about it.

I’ll be back here in 2020 with a full workshop programme – determined to be a catalyst for change.

The man in the overcoat? Probably quite happy with his half empty bottle and waiting for the next speaker….


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

5 thoughts on “The Man in the Overcoat – 20 years in and he is still following me”

  1. So true Coach Barrow. I was there yesterday and hope I’m of the small group who can do something about my practice having ,on good days 3 walk in patients come in. Going to do my best to put the valuable info you gave us into practice.

  2. “there’s one at every lecture” – a respected colleague told me that some years ago and it still rings true! It’s fun to look at the audience and try to guess who it’s going to be!

  3. I attended your lecture during your first visit to India in February 2016, and same person in the overcoat was there!!! 🙂
    He asked,” but it won’t work in India, it is different here”. 🙂
    I still emember your response to that question!!!

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