Author Archives: Jack Malcolm


Dealing With Nerves: The Power of Labeling and Reframing

Jerry Seinfeld joked that the number one fear in America is public speaking, and death comes in second. So, at a funeral, you’re better off being in the casket than delivering the eulogy! I can definitely relate—a significant portion of my time spent coaching even senior-level executives deals with the issue of nerves.

The fear of speaking in front of groups is such an established fact of life for most people that it would seem nothing new can be said about how to combat it. Any book or course on presentations carries a comprehensive list of cures: prepare, breathe deeply, give yourself a pep talk, picture the audience naked, etc.

With so much advice out there, can there possibly be something new to say about the subject? I believe there is. Modern brain science points the way to a new approach by giving us a deeper understanding of what actually happens in our brains when we are under stress. This approach involves talking to yourself, but the message is actually the opposite of what we are normally told to say to ourselves. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first we need to understand a little about how our brains are structured and wired.

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Presentations - Uncategorized

Excellence Is Not an Act

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”


The bookstores and the internet are chock-full of easy ways to change your life. 7 steps to eternal happiness; how to be rich quickly; lose 30 pounds by next week. Unfortunately, this illusion seems to have infected the brains of many of the students in my sales and speaking classes. They think that a couple days of training will unlock the secrets of excellence. Once they punch the appropriate training ticket they now know how to do it.

Here’s a dirty little secret about my training, or anyone else’s training: You will not be an excellent speaker or salesperson just because you took my course. (Please don’t spread that around—it’s bad for business.)

Don’t get me wrong— training in both fundamental and advanced skills can quickly take you from average to pretty good.  And sometimes pretty good is good enough, depending on your competition. But to reach excellence, which I define very loosely as having a rare level of skill that makes your presentations eagerly anticipated and long-remembered, takes much more than a training session.

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Expression - Presentations

How To Present Technical Information Effectively

They say an expert is someone who learns more and more about less and less until finally he knows everything about nothing. I’m not sure if that’s true, but many of the senior executives I speak with come away from encounters with experts feeling they’ve been told a lot but still understand nothing.

One of the most common issues that I am asked to address in my coaching sessions is how to communicate complex and difficult information to a lay audience. My coaching clients, who include engineers, scientists, and lawyers, sometimes understand on their own that they take too long to express their ideas, and are frustrated by it. More often, they’ve been counseled by others that they must be more concise and clear. As one senior person in a high-tech company told me when he hired me to coach his staff: “I ask people what time it is, and they tell me how to build a watch.”

The real issue is not in making your listeners understand—it’s how to help them get it efficiently.

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Book reviews - Persuasive communication

Book Recommendation: Just Listen

Just Listen by Mark Goulston is one of the few books I’ve read more than once (three times so far, actually) because it has given me many useful insights that have helped me both personally and professionally. Here are three:

I wrote recently about using labeling as a mental strategy to deal with pre-speech jitters. I first learned about it from reading this book, as a way to take control of your “reptile brain” when it is about to hijack your behavior. We all know how to move from the fight/flight mode to the logical mode; we just don’t always know how to do it fast. Goulston calls it “getting through to yourself first.” About a week after reading it, I actually got to put it into practice during a nasty encounter with a very rude person at the mall during Christmas shopping. After the person left, the sales clerk thanked me for the way I handled it.

The concept of the persuasion cycle is also useful as a model for knowing how to get through to people. Speed and directness aren’t always the best way to get someone to agree with you. If you’re trying to convince someone to have Indian instead of Italian for lunch, that’s a pretty easy sell. But if you’re trying to drive fundamental change, you have to be more patient. People go through various stages in the persuasion cycle: from resisting to listening to willing to doing to glad they did. This book shares nine principles and twelve techniques that are useful at various stages of the persuasion cycle.

Another principle that resonates with me is “be more interested than interesting”, because it ties in so neatly with my own advocacy of the “outside-in” approach to persuasion. People will be persuaded for their own reasons, not yours, so the best persuaders are not those who are glib and articulate—the best persuaders earn the right to be persuasive by taking time to listen, show interest and empathize.

I enthusiastically recommend this book. Maybe that rude person will have read it by the next holiday season. The world would be a better place!

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