Excellent article on stage fright and what you can do about it.  The author, Mikael Cho, talks about how adrenaline and the fight-or-flight syndrome get in the way when we’re getting ready for a presentation (or even a difficult conversation).


I teach a class on adrenaline flooding, using material from Conflict Unraveled (I’m a certified instructor).

Along with Cho’s suggestion of slow breathing, I’d recommend adding some strong large-muscle movement to help disperse adrenaline.  Climb a few flights of stairs, for example, or lean against a wall and use your legs to push forcefully against it.

And don’t forget the best way to put yourself at ease:  practice!  As Cho says,

We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.” The main benefit of practice is to increase your familiarity of a given task. As this familiarity increases, feelings of anxiety decrease, and have less of a negative impact on performance. In other words, the more comfortable you are with your presentation, the anxiety you feel about speaking in public.

I’d add:  when actors rehearse, they use the time to explore the possibilities of a scene, not to repeat it mindlessly.  So even in practice, keep coming to the task as if for the first time.  Discover unexpected meanings and new ways of expressing your ideas.  Then you’ll be ready for surprises when it’s time to do it for real.

And breathe!

My latest review for Perdido MagazineStandOut:

“Know thyself.” – temple of Apollo at Delphi

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” – Margaret Mead

Self-assessments are irresistible.  We all love to compare ourselves to others, find out what our strengths are (and our weaknesses, if you force us to look at them).  We proudly proclaim our communication styles (“I’m very high D”), our Myers/Briggs types, even our zodiac signs.

I’m usually a little skeptical of these assessments, though.  With most of them, it’s pretty obvious where the questions are heading, and it’s hard not to skew your answers toward a flattering outcome.

I remember taking the Kuder Preference Test as a senior in high school, after a frustrating week as editor of my school newspaper.  I was so fed up with dealing with others that I swore I would never put myself in charge of anything ever again.  Of course, the test the next day produced a near-zero score on leadership, as I shuddered my way through every question that proposed heading up projects or managing employees.  (I’ve since held several leadership positions and enjoyed the experience, so clearly my low score was a product of the moment, not of destiny.)

But bearing in mind that assessment tests can be ephemeral, I was intrigued by the one that comes with StandOut.

Marcus Buckingham, formerly of Gallup, has specialized for years in helping people discover their strengths:  their natural abilities, interests and orientations.  In this new book, Buckingham premieres a new test, developed with Dr. Courtney McCashland, which promises to “unlock your best performance.”

This new assessment identifies nine “strengths roles” that represent constellations of qualities.   The test would identify my top two roles – where, according to Buckingham, I would make my greatest contribution:  “Your top 2 Roles are the focal point of all your talents, themes and skills. They describe your instinctive way of making a difference in the world. Know them well and you will know how to win at work.”

I carefully cut open the sealed insert bound into the book and then messily scraped off the foil with a quarter, to get my secret access code to the online test – free with the purchase of the book.  After creating an account on Buckingham’s website, I was ready to begin.

The assessment was more interesting than most.  Each question is timed, to discourage rumination and calculation.  The situations were often unexpected, and usually the multiple-choice options were all decent solutions; I had to pick the one I was most likely to do.  Not once was I asked, “Would you rather read a book or go to a party?”

My top two roles, when revealed, turned out to be not quite what I was expecting.  Apparently, that’s not uncommon; in the book, Buckingham says, “It’s not unusual for people’s Top 2 not to reflect what they think they should have gotten….Try to keep an open mind about what StandOut is telling you regarding how you may be perceived by others.”

Mind open, I began to read what the book said about my roles.  And it’s an interesting collection:  not only the definition of each role, but also suggestions for how to describe myself at a performance appraisal; how to make an immediate impact; how to take my performance to the next level; what to watch out for; and how to win as a leader, a manager, and a salesperson.  Although it’s hard to imagine myself saying “I’m one of the most resilient people I  know” in an interview, I found a lot of the ideas intriguing.  I especially liked the suggestions for how to communicate with those whose strengths differ from mine:  allow them time to sift and reflect, provide more details than I might think are necessary, and so on.

The book has a few short chapters that describe how the assessment came into being, why innovations work better when they’re keyed to people’s roles, and how to build on your strengths.  Except for those, all of the material in the book is available on the StandOut website, where you can take the assessment and receive your results for $15.  The website also shows you how your top two roles work in combination, ranks all the roles from your assessment, and gives you an action planning form called the Strengths MAP.  So if you consider paper and ink “so last century,” you might want to skip buying the book and go directly to your computer.

There are useful ideas here, although I wouldn’t agree with the author that StandOut is “The Rosetta Stone for understanding your strengths and those of the people around you.”   But then, I’m a Gemini.

Photo by Alice Feldt

When I sat down to write this article, my idea was to point out all the ways that being a good salesperson doesn’t prepare you for becoming a good sales manager.  But as I wrote, I started to see how that isn’t necessarily true.  What do you think?


You’re one of your company’s top salespeople.  You’ve spent years honing your skills, and you’ve brought in a lot of business.  So much that now your boss wants you to show everybody else how to be a success.  You’re being promoted to sales manager.

And you’re a little unsure if you’ve got the chops.

Sales management is different from sales, you’re thinking; it’s about management.  Uncovering salespeople’s weaknesses and strengths. Helping them take ownership of their process.  Empowering the salespeople to get out there and meet their goals.

In other words, a whole different set of skills from selling.


Let’s take a look at just a few of those skills:

Sharing knowledge

Sometimes, a thorough understanding of a subject can make it harder, not easier, to teach to someone else.  It’s called “the curse of knowledge.”  Experienced salespeople know the basics of selling deep in their bones.  That can make it hard to remember that others don’t know what you do.  Being able to go back to basics, with patience and encouragement, is necessary for passing along  what you know.

But wait – isn’t that something a skilled salesperson already knows how to do?  After all, your customer doesn’t know your product.  She may not even know she needs it.  In talking with a new prospect, you have to start at square one, carefully watching for understanding and answering questions patiently.  That ability can transfer directly to sales management, if you remember that now your “product” is more skilled selling, and your “customer” is your own sales team.


Good sales management is much more than teaching, though.  A manager must help the salesperson develop his own methods.  That’s coaching, and that means asking the right questions and having the patience to wait for an answer.  As a sales manager, it’s crucial to resist the impulse to take over – to make the call yourself, to solve the problem rather than letting the salesperson struggle through it.  But that’s often how people learn best.  So that’s very different from selling, isn’t it?

Not really.  A good salesperson knows you can’t force a solution down a customer’s throat.  If you listen and encourage a prospect to think it out for himself, you may discover an application for that product that you never thought of before.  And your customer will feel more like a partner.  Apply that to your sales staff, and you’re on your way.

Target the outcome

As a manager, when you meet with a salesperson for a coaching session, there’s a tendency to try to do too much.  You’re in a hurry to bring them along, to help them get that pipeline going.  So you talk about how many calls they’re making, and how they’re presenting material, and follow-up, and maybe you critique the way they handled a gatekeeper recently.  The result is that your sales rep is confused and doesn’t know what to do next.  The management skill here is to pick one thing that needs improvement, target that, and let the others go for another day.  Know what outcome you want from the salesperson – what needs to be different – and figure out how you’ll know when that outcome is reached.  Then you can move on to the next one.

It seems a pattern has emerged here:  you use that skill in selling, too.  You don’t try to unload your whole inventory in one sales call.  You know if you can make a start, make a small sale, you can start to develop a satisfied customer.  If there’s anything salespeople understand better than anyone else, it’s goals.  The difference here is that your goal isn’t a sales quota; it’s a solid behavior you want to see from the person you’re coaching.


But how do you get your staff to try the methods you’re suggesting?  Change can be unsettling.  Not everyone is open to improvement, if it means the discomfort of trying something new.  How do managers motivate their people?

Well, you already know how to communicate your value proposition:  what’s in it for the customer.  Same thing for your sales team.  You persuade by talking about the benefits to them: more money, bigger territory, more opportunity – whatever is meaningful to the person you’re talking to.  Just as in sales, it’s not important what you think is the best feature; what matters is what the other person wants.  You get to know your salespeople to find out what they want.  And then you help them get there.

So maybe great salespeople do have the skills they need to be great sales managers.  With a change of perspective and a change of goals, you can turn your expertise into success for your entire sales staff.  Think about it. How can your sales skills help you engage, motivate and sharpen up your sales people?  Look at them from a different angle, and you might find you’re already an expert.

Some of our Interactors

Photo by Alice Feldt

People who attend our programs often ask me how we find our Interactors.  They’re all professional actors, of course, but the job calls for quite a lot of additional skills.  (I sometimes joke — well, half-joke — that we offer one of the few opportunities for actors where intelligence is an asset.)

Seriously, all kinds of acting require intelligence, but much of it is physical and emotional intelligence.  You have to be able to imagine how your character would feel in the circumstances that the playwright gives you.  You have to know what drives people, what makes them do what they do.

And, as Ralph Richardson is reported to have said, you have to “know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”

Interactors have to do a lot more.  They work directly with learners, one-on-one and in groups.  They have to understand at least the basics of the industry we’re working with, so they’ll be believable as employees, customers, managers and co-workers.  They have to know the learning points and recognize the behaviors that learners are practicing, to reinforce them when they see them or cue them when they don’t.  They have to think very fast on their feet, and they usually have to have a little bit of the teacher in them, too.

And the best of them love every minute of it.

Reading this over, I’m amazed we’ve been able to find anyone — let alone the 30 or so terrific Interactors we’ve worked with over the last 15 years.  And we’re always on the lookout for more, to fit the demographics of our clients’ employees and customers.

You’re the best, guys.



Erika Andersen of Proteus International is coming out with a new book next month.  It’s called Leading So People Will Followand I’m looking forward to it.

A few years back, Erika wrote the best book on management that I had ever read.  I was reviewing books then for Perdido Magazineand they sent me a copy of Growing Great Employees.  It’s still the book I recommend when clients or friends ask me for a solid, useful approach to management in general.  Here’s the review I wrote, courtesy of Perdido:


Say you’re a manager.  The people who report to you are pretty good, but there are a few problems, of course.  You’ve had some management training from your company – mostly focusing on theory, rather than practice.  Some of the approaches you’ve learned are useful, when you can remember them in time.  Often you run on instinct; often you regret it later.  You recall vague terms:  “core competencies,” coaching for performance.”  It’s kind of a jumble in your mind.

You’ve read a few books on management, but most of them are either too simple or too abstract.  Usually they tout one skill, such as listening, as the cure for all workplace ills.  You’d give a lot for a clear, well-organized manual on the people side of management.

Got fifteen bucks?

Growing Great Employees might be the handbook you’ve been waiting for.  It’s the best management training book I’ve seen.

Beautifully organized, comprehensive, and straightforward, Growing Great Employees is better than its title.  (And don’t be put off by its unifying metaphor, gardening, which appears mostly in chapter headings and introductions.)  Erika Andersen, founder of the consulting firm Proteus International, has put twenty-five years’ experience into a reader-friendly, meaty guide to “all that people stuff.”

In admirably clear language, Andersen covers an astonishing amount of material:  the hiring interview, TRACOM’s Social Styles ™, delegating, positive and corrective feedback, performance agreements – even how to fire someone.  There’s a guide for making sure new employees start out well; a technique for discovering the key responsibilities of a job; a model for changing your own mindset to become a better coach.  Each topic is discussed step by step and illustrated with dialogues and case studies.  Diagrams and models are lucid, logical and easy to follow.  Every chapter ends with a page of “Big Ideas” that summarizes the main points just covered.

Even more useful are the many practical exercises throughout the book.  Called “Try It Out,” these experiments cover actual practice (using listening skills in a real conversation), planning (writing out statements and questions you might use in a corrective feedback session), analysis (filling out a job description template) and self-assessment (determining your preferred learning style).  There are checklists and charts, and even space to write in the book.

But what makes Growing Great Employees a true handbook – and truly useful – is its structure.  In the introduction, Andersen offers a summary of each chapter, acknowledging that many readers might not choose to read the book “in a straight line.”  Since reading non-fiction books out of order is a secret vice of mine, I was delighted; what’s more, throughout the book Andersen provides references back to earlier chapters as needed.  For example, in Chapter 4, during a discussion of non-verbal signals, she writes, “…if you’re reading this book out of order, at this point you might want to go back and read the first chapter, where we focus on listening skills.”  This interconnected approach, reminiscent of hyperlinks on a website, makes the book much more accessible if a reader is trying to work through a particular management problem.

Throughout, there’s a personal flavor, as if you’re having a private consultation with Andersen.  The tone is positive, down-to-earth, and specific – a welcome change from most management books, which seem either to oversimplify or to wallow in impenetrable jargon.  Growing Great Employees does neither.  Non-gardeners may roll their eyes a bit at chapter titles such as “Staking and Weeding” and “Some Plants Don’t Make It,” but Andersen has a charming way of laughing a bit at her own tendency to push the metaphor.  (She says in the introduction, “I intend to wring every last drop [from the gardening image] by the end of the final chapter.”)  It’s not really a gimmick:  more of a useful trellis on which some prize roses grow.

Is Growing Great Employees for you?  It’s worth a look.  As productivity demands increase and hierarchies flatten, hiring and keeping good people becomes crucial.  As Andersen says, “Most of the things that make employees want to work for a particular company can be provided by a skillful manager.  I can help you be that kind of manager.”  I think she’s right.

Photo by Alice Feldt

I wrote this article for the Mondo Learning Solutions newsletter.

Many years ago, a sappy book declared, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” A lot of otherwise smart managers took this a step further, deciding that business and apologies don’t mix. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Customer service has become an essential part of all business these days. We recently did a multi-session awareness-raising project for the IT department of a major university focusing on customer service – although these highly skilled folks rarely deal with anyone outside of their own organization. Even those who never ring a register or shake hands with a client need to know how to fulfill the expectations of everyone they encounter in the workplace.

And when – occasionally but inevitably – those expectations aren’t met, you’ve got to make it right. Good relationships, quality, reputation, and customer loyalty demand that you do something. And the first thing you should do is apologize.

Your employees might resist. “Why should I admit I might have done something wrong? Wouldn’t I open myself up for blame, attack, maybe even liability?” you might hear. Here’s how to explain to them what a real apology is all about.

What an apology isn’t.
A real apology has nothing to do with accepting blame. It doesn’t assure the customer you’ll pay for repairs. It doesn’t even mean you’ll take responsibility for fixing the problem. (If you do take responsibility, that’s another statement that comes later, after you apologize.)

What an apology is.
A real apology is nothing more than a sincere acknowledgement that your customer isn’t satisfied. It’s a statement that you recognize your customer’s feelings, and that you wish he or she felt better about the situation. That’s all.

Examples: “I’m sorry you were inconvenienced.” “I’m sorry you feel you aren’t getting enough information.” “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time.”

Another word for recognizing the other person’s emotions is empathy. You don’t have to join in the emotion or even agree that it’s justified. But you should let your customers know that you’re aware of their frustration, anger or disappointment – and that their trouble means something to you.

Customers love it.
An apology shows your customers and colleagues that you care about how your work is received – that you want them to have a good experience working with you. Above all, that you’re on their side. So rather thanaccepting blame, a sincere apology helps defuse blame. The customer stops seeing you as the problem, and starts seeing you as an ally in finding a solution.

It’s how you say it.
Make sure it’s sincere. Remember that apologizing actually puts you in a position of strength: it takes a big person to respond to criticism by being open rather than defensive. So take a moment to look at things from your customer’s point of view, and then speak with empathy.

Watch out for the “non-apology.” (We hear politicians make these all the time.) Those run something like this: “If anyone was offended by what happened, that wasn’t the intention, and the entire situation has been blown out of proportion.” This attempted apology fails on all counts: no acknowledgement of feelings, no openness, and no personal connection.

An apology is more powerful if you put yourself into it. Use an “I” statement, such as, “I’m sorry you’ve had such a frustrating time with this,” rather than, “These things can be frustrating.” Remember, people want to feel that you’ll work with them to help resolve the situation. Impersonal statements won’t create that trust.

First apologize, then investigate.
As soon as you hear a complaint, apologize. Don’t wait until after you explore what happened, who did what, and what the solution might be. You’ll get the information much more easily if your customer knows that his or her feelings are acknowledged and respected.

Just do it.
So give it a try! You’ll find that you end up with better communication, more effective problem solving, and, best of all, more satisfied customers.

The best way leaders can teach employees to apologize is by example. Recognize that an apology is a sign of strength, and give them yourself when circumstances demand it. You’ll create trust and good will – and you’ll also jump-start a culture of responsibility, kindness, and excellence. Big return for a few small words.


Photo by Stephen Danelian

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma, quoted in Imagine by Jonah Lehrer:

When people ask me how they should approach performance, I always tell them that the professional musician should aspire to the state of the beginner….To become a professional, you need to go through years of training.  You get criticized by all your teachers, and you worry about all the critics.  You are constantly being judged.  But if you get onstage and all you think about is what the critics are going to say, if all you are doing is worrying, then you will play terribly.  You will be tight and it will be a bad concert.

Instead, one needs to constantly remind oneself to play with the abandon of the child who is just learning the cello.   Because why is that kid playing?  He is playing for pleasure.  He is playing because making this sound, expressing this melody, makes him happy. 

That is still the only good reason to play.