Fear of Public Speaking? Five “P’s” to Help Harness Your Energy.

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
– Jerry Seinfeld

We often read that people’s fear of public speaking is greater than their fear of death. The science behind this claim is probably dubious, but like any other juicy factoid this one has a life of it’s own.  I have spoken in front of many audiences, and some people mistakenly think that I don’t get nervous before walking on stage. But I do, and I want to share with you two mindsets that can help you as your heart rate elevates, your palms start to sweat, and your “fight or flight” instinct tells you to run for the nearest exit.

If these mindsets were on Sesame Street, we would say that they were “brought to you by the letter P” since each use alliteration and the letter P to help us remember them.

How To Respond To Job Offers

This is a story about when I almost blew it.

I had moved to be closer to my girlfriend (now wife!) and was looking for work. I had graduated from college a couple years earlier and during the interim had attended Military Intelligence Officer School (as part of my Army Reserve commitment following college) and had spent a a year and a half in a giftware importing business in the Chicago area.

As I looked for work, I was closing in on two opportunities: one was a sales position for a successful business telecommunications firm where I would be given a territory, a quota and would sell long-distance telecommunications services (voice and data) to large businesses in my territory, the other a “management trainee” position in a local bank, where I would spend several weeks in various bank departments before settling on one particular area.

The obvious choice these many years later was to take the sales role in the telecommunications firm. It was a better fit for my work style (on the move throughout the day instead of going to the same office every day, more room for improvisation, etc) and – again this is more clear in retrospect – it was a tiny but important part of the big technology revolution that was sweeping through society.

But the bank thing had a certain respectability about it, and many of my friends were in the banking space and doing well (I didn’t stop to consider the fact that they had majored in finance and I had majored in International Business for good reasons).  Anyhow, and THANK GOD, the telecommunications company called me first to offer me a job.

This was where my mistake happened. When I got the call offering me the job, I wasn’t sure this job was the right one for me (not really considering that I was unemployed and without significant work experience).  The guy who called me was a senior guy in both age and experience, and I could tell he was thrilled to be offering me the job. I was the guy they chose.

And I played it very cool.

What Are You Incenting?

When I was first introduced to economics, I found that I enjoyed the history of economic thought – the great writers such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Keynes, Galbraith, etc.  But then my econ classes turned more toward math and graphs. I eventually lost my original enthusiasm for the field but gained some appreciation for why it can be referred to as “the dismal science”.

Economics has once again become interesting to me as a number of excellent books have been published that approach economics from the standpoint of psychology and incentives. The study of incentives has always been key to economic thought – that isn’t anything new. However, it feels to me that there has been a lot of fresh writing in this area – examples include everything from Malcolm Gladwell to Daniel Kahneman to the Freakonomics books, Dan Ariely’s writings, and others. Truly, whatever behavior you subsidize or incent you will get more of.

Since I’m confounded by the morass of the American healthcare system and what passes for “debate” on this issue in Washington, I have a tendency to pick up books that help me understand different points of view on the problem. Books that fit this category include Catastrophic Care by David Goldhill and America’s Bitter Pill by Steven Brill (for the essay that launched Brill’s book, go here).

I just finished An American Sickness by Dr Elisabeth Rosenthal, a new and powerful book that I highly recommend. Keep in mind that I’m not recommending it because it’s always fun to read. Since Dr. Rosenthal relates a number of stories about people being caught in a web of overcharges and diminishing competition, it reads more like a horror novel than some of the Stephen King books I’ve read. I almost had to sleep with the light on.

Since this is a blog about leadership, innovation and personal effectiveness, I’ll leave the healthcare debate aside. However, this one section caught my attention:

“Cataracts can be detected during an eye exam long before they become a real bother to patients, so there is much discretion about when to perform surgery. Studies have shown that the rates of cataract surgery are highly dependent on how much doctors are paid to do the procedure. In one study in St. Louis, the number of cataract surgeries performed dropped 45 percent six months after a group of doctors went on salary and were no longer paid per surgery.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a bit alarming. It’s a pretty good indicator that doctors who are incented to do cataract surgeries will do borderline cases to pump up their income.  And this got me to thinking about incentives in general.

The Dangers of the Golden Story

In the past, I have written about the importance of storytelling. Companies often tell the same stories over and over to signal what is important to the company and why it exists. But I want to provide one bit of caution around something I call the “Golden Story”.


I have worked for a number of high-growth software companies – most of them private companies that were working against the odds every day, trying to secure more customers and new financing. One of the things we would be desperate for was some external validation that our product/market fit was on point. “Product/Market Fit” means that there was a 1) demonstrably large market with a particular problem, 2) that market was providing indicators that it was willing to spend money to address that problem, and 3) participants in the market had selected our product and used it to successfully address the problem.

Since a lot is riding on a young company proving product/market fit, we treated any story that validated our product like gold – and inevitably, we would hear such a story.  Perhaps a customer had a great outcome when they used our software exactly as designed, or maybe a major customer had licensed our technology at a high price. It’s natural to love stories like these and to re-tell them.

But in retrospect, sometimes these stories can be false signals, and false signals can lead to bad events. Here are some indicators that the Golden Story you’re telling is a false signal in disguise:

  1. The recurrence of the story is limited.  You keep telling the same story over and over. It is rarely supplanted by new versions.
  2. The sample size is minuscule. It’s one company out of a thousand. It’s one user out of a million. You make it seem bigger.
  3. You’re overly elated. It quiets your doubts, but if you’re honest, you’re pretty surprised.

How Empathy Impacts Your Personal Brand

When I need some fresh air and a mental break I like to go out on a walk and listen to a podcast (note:  I will pull together my favorite podcasts for a future post).  I find podcasts to be an excellent way to listen to engaging information on my schedule.  Since I spend a lot less time in a car than most people (my commute to work involves walking down some stairs to my home office) I don’t listen to podcasts in the car as many people do.  But for me, listening to great content while moving my body is relaxing and engaging at the same time.

On a recent walk I was listening to this episode of Tim Ferriss’s podcast.  It was a short recording where Seth Godin answers a number of questions and basically holds forth for thirty minutes or so on a range of topics.

One of the questions Seth addresses is the creation of a “personal brand”. Seth emphasizes that good brands deliver what the customer needs and does so consistently.

Story setup:  Seth got started in 1986 selling books to book publishers.  According to Seth, in 1986 “book publishers needed more books than they had”.  Seth and a team of people created books that Seth tried to sell to the book publishers – who rejected him “again and again and again and again” until he crafted his message “in a way they could hear me”.

Here’s Seth (bold text is for my emphasis):

Pricing Is A Community Event

It takes a village to raise a child, as they say. But the same might be said about pricing – although I admit that the phrase “it takes a village to establish a price” is a bit less lyrical than the child-raising version. Nevertheless, pricing is a community event, which flies in the face of how many companies approach their pricing strategy.


In general, there are two broad approaches to pricing: cost based or value based. Cost based is the process of counting up your costs, adding some margin, and, voilà!, there’s your price. Value based, on the other hand, looks at the value the buyer gets from your service and from there designates some percentage of the value the buyer is gaining.

It’s common in pricing discussions to champion the value-based approach. It seems fair and usually yields a better return to sellers.

But pricing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in markets that have these annoying entities called “competitors”. I think this is an area where all of the academic treatises on price theory have their tables and graphs punctured. A common joke is that business would be a lot simpler if it wasn’t for those darn customers. Similarly, pricing would be a lot easier if it wasn’t for those darn competitors.

Are You Telling or Selling?

It’s pretty rare for a salesperson to be sold to, but often when I’m on the receiving end of a pitch I “re-learn” something that I may have forgotten. If you are a human – and this blog is exclusively created for humans only! – then there are likely a lot of things you “know” but have sort of forgotten. Maybe you’ve gotten lazy. Who knows why we’re like this? Why do NFL players demonstrate sloppy tackling during a Sunday game? They’re professional football players, for crying out loud!  It must be part of the human condition. But let’s get back to the pitch.

I was on the phone with a SaaS company recently that was pitching a big upgrade for our company. The associated cost was high enough that I wanted to spend time finding out what we’d “get” in the upgrade. The call was frustrating for all of us, and the main reason was that they were focusing on the “what”, and I was interested in the “why”.

The more they gave me a list of features the upgrade would include, the more I struggled to understand why there was an underlying ROI or business benefit for me.  And the more I probed, the more exasperated they seemed to become, like I was a slow learner – which may very well be true, but if as the buyer I don’t “get it”, then they don’t get a sale.

There’s an old sales adage that “features tell, and benefits sell”. All companies operate basically the same way: you design something for a market, you build it, you sell it, you service people who bought it, you get insights from your target market, and your loop those learnings into your design. Aside from corporate functions like HR or finance, pretty much every job supports one of those activities.