Coaching Presentation

Public Speaking Tip: Re-frame “Fear” as “Excitement”

I’m going to lay a head trip on you. Check this out.

If you’re feeling nervous or scared before your next presentation, think about this:

“…why not re-frame that term ‘I’m nervous and scared of public speaking’ into ‘I am excited about presenting to my audience’?”

It’s a small change, but it’s effective. Try it out and feel motivated before your next big speech or presentation.

Coaching content ideas

Happy New Year of Journaling in Scrivener

I keep a daily journal in Scrivener. I’ve been writing in a personal journal every morning for decades now. Yet I only started using Scrivener for my journal since October 2015. At that time, I looked for an online template to use, but I couldn’t find one.

Undaunted, I kept writing in Scrivener every morning. I refined my process until I found a technique that works for me. I’ll share my process and my Scrivener journaling template. If you have something that works for you, let me know.

Here’s what my (empty) journal looks like, from the Draft Binder view:

Scrivener Journal Binder

I write in Calibri 14 point. I prefer a large, easy-to-read font. I also set my journal to have an ecru background, because I find that’s easier on the eyes than white. Use what works for you.

Each paragraph is indented. I put a 14pt space between each paragraph. That way, I develop the good habit of only hitting the enter key once for each paragraph. (Cultivating the ‘enter once’ habit will help you if you decide to compile.)

Further, I set up my entire year into 12 monthly folders. Each folder contains one document for each day of the month. I’ll show you the January folder. This is what January 1 will look like when I approach my Scrivener journal:

Scrivener Journal

Every morning is a blank page, all set for me to write. As you can see at the bottom of this screen shot, I also set my daily target of 750 words. With every word I type, I get an update on my daily goal. The white thermometer at the lower right turns to green when I hit my target.

The first word I type is usually the time. The last word? It’s also the time. I get competitive with myself: I like to see how fast I can type my 750 words.

By keeping this simple habit, I know it takes me about 15 minutes a day to write at least 273,500 words every year. (In my Scrivener template, I set 273,500 as my yearly project goal, as well.) I feel that setting personal writing goals helps me in my professional life.

Keeping a journal gets me into the habit of writing every day, whether I feel like it or not. It’s a warm up exercise that keeps the words and ideas flowing throughout the day.

If you’re a fan of writing a daily journal, here is the Scrivener template I developed. Inspired by the work of Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, I call it “Morning Pages“.

Happy New Year of Journaling in Scrivener.

2017 UPDATE: In 2017, I wrote a Scrivener Essential Training course for LinkedIn Learning. In it, I use the newest Macintosh version  — Scrivener 3.0. Get yourself up & running with the latest version of Scrivener in the new year.

Coaching fun

Engage in the Power of Negative Thinking

I’m a cheerful person. But I don’t like positive thinking. It makes me cringe.

Instead, I try to spend some time every day engaging in negative thinking. For me, it’s a joyful meditation.

“What’s the worse that could happen?” is a question I ask myself every day. And then, I imagine it. I take some time to meditate on my own set of personal worst-case scenarios.

Taking some time to dwell on the negative every day helps me in four powerful ways.

1. I cultivate toughness. Strength of character is like a muscle. I don’t want my character to get flabby. By facing my fears regularly, I become mentally and emotionally stronger.

2. I prepare myself. Terrible things happen. There’s no sense denying this. When I imagine the worst, I take a first, brave step to confronting reality.

3. I solve problems. Instantly, my brain starts working on coping strategies and tactics. How will I deal with my worst case scenario? I start assessing risk and devising plans.

4. I feel better. Let’s say I felt upset before my meditation. But now? Now, I’m thinking about my future. And I realize I’m doing OK in my present moment. I grin.

At least, that’s the way negative thinking works for me. But I’ve been doing this for a while.

I know it’s a popular sentiment to encourage denial. Think only positive thoughts! Repress any idea that might be negative! But that approach doesn’t work for me. It leaves me feeling unprepared for any real world challenges I might face.

I don’t see the value of deluding myself on a regular basis. Wishful thinking about the nature of reality doesn’t help me when I’m faced with a real-world crisis.

To me, positive thinking seems like a balm for a weak mind that has suffered some kind of trauma. It’s like a numbing agent you take to block out pain.

I might need some positive thinking for a while when I’m sick or down. But I can’t take it as a regular practice. Not if I want to stay healthy.

Positive thinking is like booze or drugs. An occasional hit is OK. But I don’t want positive thinking to become a regular habit.

If the idea of positive thinking alarms you as much as it does me, why not try the opposite? Engage in a little negative thinking. What’s the worst that could happen?

Photo credit: OverdueBook

ps – Every sentence in this post is under 140 characters. Totally tweetable.

Coaching content ideas

Five factors that make you more memorable


I came across a stranger with a dog a few months ago. As we walked toward each other on my empty street, I grinned.

“Cute dog,” I said as we grew closer.

“Thanks,” she said. “It’s not mine, though. I’m dogsitting for a friend. Hey, do you know any good places to walk around here? I’m kind of bored just taking the dog up and down the street.”

I pointed out a hard-to-spot trailhead. She thanked me and said she’d try it. Before she left, she told me her name.

“I’m Pat,” she said. “Pat Race. You know how there’s only one race, the human race? Well, that’s true, except for me. There’s the human race, and then there’s me. Pat Race.”

I never saw Pat again. But I can’t forget her name.

You often hear people exclaim, “I’m bad at remembering names!”

They’re not, though. And you’re not, either. Consider this:

You are not bad at remembering names. People are bad being memorable.

Now let’s consider Pat Race. I met her for 2 minutes, tops. And I never saw her again.

So why can’t I forget her name? Let’s break down 5 of the factors that made Pat exceptional at making me remember her name.

1. The solitude and simplicity. I didn’t meet Pat in a room filled with other people. She didn’t have to compete for my attention. Pat had a near monopoly on any new information entering my brain.

2. The stranger and the surprise. I didn’t expect a stranger to say anything beyond “thanks” to my “cute dog” comment. But she initiated an unexpected conversation that stopped me in my tracks.

3. Emotional bonding. Pat didn’t know for sure if I could answer a few quick questions, but she guessed from my smile and purposeful stride that I might be friendly and helpful. She picked up on unspoken cues and took a small risk.

4. The mnemonic device. Pat used the “human race” mnemonic device to make me associate new information with an old saying. By doing that, she made an abstract concept — her name — more concrete to me.

5. The quick repetition. Pat told me her full name twice. She also used parts of her name — pat and race — 4 times. And she did all that in less than 10 seconds! Clearly, she had used this smooth, well-rehearsed patter before.

No ad campaign. No name tag. No business card. No real reason for me to remember Pat’s name. And yet, I can’t forget it.

Am I just that stupendous at remembering names? No. Of course not.

But Pat? She’s downright exceptional at being memorable.

You are not bad at remembering names. People are bad being memorable.

If you want to be more memorable, why not riff on a few of Pat’s techniques? And if you forget someone’s name; don’t feel too bad. It’s not your fault.

It’s clear. That person is no Pat Race.


Laura Bergells writes and teaches. You can book me for live workshops, or take my classes online in the content library.

Coaching crisis

How good are you at answering simple questions? Take this easy quiz.

As an intelligent business person, you might think you are excellent at answering simple, direct questions. But are you?

Take this easy, 5-question quiz to find out:

1. A venture capitalist asks how much your new service costs. You:
A: Explain how you and your team arrived at the various price points.
B. Respond, “$79 for our platinum service, $59 for gold, $49 for silver.”

2. Your spouse asks you when you’ll be home. You say:
A: “I have a meeting at 4 o’clock. Sometimes these things run a little late. Pat can be long-winded. And then traffic can be bad by then. So.”
B: “I’m guessing around 6, give or take 15 minutes.”

3. Your colleague asks if you can attend a meeting at 1pm: You respond:
A: “I’m having lunch with my boss today.”
B: “I can’t make it at 1. I can get there at 1:30.”

4. A customer asks if you carry Brand X. You don’t. What do you say?
A: “We used to, but we recently switched suppliers.”
B: “I’m sorry, no; we carry Brand Y. It’s even better.”

5. A local reporter asks you where you will be holding your annual event. You:
A: Explain that for the last 3 years you had it at Conference Center A, but because the event has become so successful, you needed a space with bigger capacity, so after searching for 4 months, your negotiated an excellent deal with Conference Center B.
B: Say, “Conference Center B.”

If you answered any question A’s (even one!) – yeah, you’re bad at answering direct questions. You might think you know how to answer a simple question, but you are not only annoying and exhausting people, you’re also wasting their time.

If you also find yourself thinking, “No, but wait. These questions aren’t fair. I wouldn’t answer A or B, really; I’d need more information to provide a thorough answer.” — then oh, please for the love of Mike stop already. You have a really, super-serious problem. You can’t answer a simple direct question directly. Don’t make this about the asker: it’s your problem.

Yes, people will often ask open-ended questions when they have time and want to explore your insights. However, they might ask direct questions when they are pressed for time or need direct answers. In those situations, your tendency to mull over every possible outcome and preemptively answer every question they didn’t think to ask becomes an enormous drag.

But why are you doing this? Why can’t you succinctly and truthfully answer direct questions as they are posed? It’s likely that you have one or all of these 3 conditions:

1) You’re hiding something; quite possibly even lying. People who have something to hide often fail at being direct. If you don’t think your prices are reasonable, you’ll try to rationalize before telling someone the cost. If you worry that your spouse is going to be mad at you for being late, you’ll hide behind a pile of excuses that sound reasonable. You can probably make that one o’clock meeting: you just don’t want to, so you play coy. Every time you fail to directly answer a simple question, you’re actually leaking what you’re trying to hide. Your audience becomes suspicious. They sense that you are hiding something or being less than truthful. After all, you’re not answering their question: you’re answering a question that points at the root of what it is that you are trying to hide. You might think you’ve cleverly deceived them, but they know you’re hiding something. You’ll serve yourself and your audience better by simply being direct.

2) You’re deeply insecure. As such, you feel that any direct question puts you on the spot. Before you answer, you feel you must establish your credibility. You’ll perform calculations, dive into deep background, explain your positioning, or start bragging about your accomplishments, activities, or relationships. You feel that the asker really needs to know how clever, important, or successful you are: otherwise, how can they trust you when you say the meeting is in Conference Room B? And the idea of simply saying “I don’t know” fills you with a certain terror: how can you admit that you don’t know something without dying of shame on the spot? However, when you brag, calculate, or over-explain: what you are really doing is telegraphing insecurity to your audience. Be aware of this tendency you have. Practice answering direct questions directly. If askers need more information, let them follow up with other questions. See how secure that makes you look? If they ask you how much your product costs and you say, “$59” — let them follow up with other questions if they want. Resist your urge to chatter needlessly about background information they neither asked for nor want.

c) You’re a man, and a woman is asking the question. If you’re a man, go ahead and re-read the above 5 questions. First, imagine that a man is asking you the question. Then, imagine a woman is asking the question. If you suspect that you’d answer differently depending upon the gender of the asker, it’s up to you to deal with your bias. As a man, society has conditioned you to believe that women need more information, or that they didn’t really ask the right question, so you’d better answer the question they didn’t ask. Or you might even be puffing yourself up, trying to make yourself seem more knowledgeable or more important than you are. Or you might be terrified of saying “I don’t know” to a woman, for fear that she will see you as less than omnipotent. Relax! She already knows that you’re a pompous windbag, so there’s no need for you to prove it. Sadly, the typical advice is for women to sit and listen politely to your unnecessary bullshit. But once again, this is your problem, not hers. Instead of asking her to change, acknowledge that we live and work in a horribly gender biased environment, and work on fixing your own bias problem. Be aware that dithering and fussing haplessly around women is an issue for many men. If you catch yourself failing to directly answer a simple question when a woman asks it, just stop yourself, then directly answer her question. Over time, you’ll find yourself flailing less when dealing with women. You’ll also seem more confident, and like less like an obnoxious twit.

Try it. If you’re a babbler or over-explainer — force yourself to directly answer direct questions. If the asker wants more information from you, let them follow up and ask it.

Don’t make this hard. It’s really super simple. You can do this!


Say it out loud

Here’s my number one tip for writing scripts and speeches. It’s simple, powerful, and only four words long.

Say it out loud.

1. Say
2. It
3. Out
4. Loud

Four words. It’s such an easy tip. So simple. And so overlooked.

I get to write and edit scripts and speeches and dialogues for a living. And when I write for the spoken word, it mostly sounds decent — in my head.

Yeah, it almost always sounds fine within the quiet confines of my brain.

But then — I read what I’ve written out loud. And that’s when I find it.

What do I find? It’s always something. And I never quite know what it will be. For example, I might find that my mouth likes to say ‘everybody’ — but my brain likes to write ‘everyone’. And my tongue will stumble over the word ‘everybody’ and try to say ‘everyone’.

I might find something as stupid as a grammar issue. Or I might decide that I’m rambling nonsensically and need to strike a few paragraphs.

I never know until I read it out loud.

If you think you don’t need to try this exercise because everything sounds OK in your head, I challenge you. Give it a shot. It’s an eye-and-ear opening exercise, and I’m sure you’ll get something fabulous out of it — even if it’s only the satisfaction of knowing that you’re brilliant and you wrote a perfect draft that slides effortlessly off your tongue.

Coaching crisis Education video

Team Building & Crisis Communication Fundamentals

I hope you never experience a crisis. But when you do, be prepared.

Introducing Crisis Communication Fundamentals, my latest online course. It’s available now in the content library.

Crisis Communication FundamentalsI felt inspired to write this course because I’ve watched people struggle to figure out how to communicate when something unexpected and unpleasant strikes their organization. My aim is to reduce the panic that people can feel when something goes wrong.

When you take a little time to prepare, you’re on your way to learning how to communicate calmly, quickly, and confidently. My hope is that this course will help you drill on the fundamentals in a way that engages and inspires your crisis communication response teams.

You can take this course alone, or use it as a team building or class exercise. Watch the videos, download the exercise files, and complete each step-by-step activityIf you’re a PR or communication professor interested in the flipped classroom approach, try reviewing this course to see if it will work as part of your lesson plan. 

And even if don’t think you’re involved in crisis communication, think again. I recently published You Might Be in Crisis Communication — And Not Know It.  At some point, everyone experiences a crisis.

It helps to think through how you’ll respond; not just as an individual, but as an organization. Take some time to prepare. I hope you can prevent a bad situation from becoming worse — and that you’ll feel prepared to respond with confidence.

Coaching crisis

Spin doctors gotta spin…

Public relations pros don’t like the word spin. Call one a “spin doctor” and that’s a low blow. A rude insult.

So how can we put a better spin on our profession? As a child, my mom gave me this piece of life advice: “Don’t call people names they don’t want to be called.”

However, she meant me to take this advice only in the context of oppressed people. It’s never OK to target an oppressed person with a rude name. However, calling privileged people names might be unflattering– but it also might be part of a strategy to elicit attention and needed social change.

It can actually be helpful to call a privileged group of people unflattering names. A powerful person or group may pout of at least make a show of feeling offended — but their elite status means that a rude name can’t really hurt them.

Calling PR pros “spin doctors” can’t hurt us. It can, however, remind us that we need to take responsibility for an industry-wide tendency to manipulate words and media in a way that can be an abuse of power.

Let’s engage in a thought experiment (based on a real-life example!) that examines the kind of tactic that earns PR practitioners that nasty ‘spin’ label. Let’s say a student receives a stern lecture from her PR professor for using the word ‘spin’. The prof scolds the young woman in front of class, rebuking her for daring to use that inflammatory word.

The bold young student counters:

“But isn’t ‘crafting an articulate post-crisis positioning statement’ just spin for the word ‘spin’?” she might ask.

The annoyed professor responds: “No. No it’s not. Don’t be impudent. The word spin is offensive. Just don’t let me catch you using it, ever.”

The student is effectively censored. The professor has the power. The student doesn’t. She cannot realistically continue a meaningful or instructive dialog, for fear of grade backlash. The student simply learns she can no longer use the word ‘spin’ in front of this professor. But the real lesson she learns from this exchange is not lost on her …or the other students in class.

In class, the students have learned not to say ‘spin’ to this particular professor. Behind his back, they call him “Dr. Spinning.” He’s the PR pro who is unaware that he’s spinning ‘spin’, and unaware of what one group of key stakeholders think of him.

If you were the PR prof, how might you have more responsibly answered the young student’s question?

Coaching crisis fun

Why bother with a cover-up?

People in Washington say it’s not the initial offense that gets you in trouble. It’s the cover-up. They say you should admit what you did, get the story out, and move on. What this overlooks is the fact that most of the time the cover-up works just fine, and nobody finds out anything. I would imagine that’s the rule rather than the exception. My advice: take a chance. Lie.

-George Carlin

Is George Carlin right…again? If an internal investigation reveals that your organization has done something awful or embarrassing, should you really lie? Or try to cover it up?

I loved George Carlin. So cynical! So smart! And so funny!

My clients know that I don’t recommend a cover-up. Admit your mistakes. Show remorse. Take responsibility. Repair the damage.

However, I take Carlin’s point. Most of the time, lying and covering up worked pretty darn well for the rich and/or powerful in 2014.

I’ll take Carlin’s cynicism one step further:  is it even worth the time and energy it takes to cover something up? You might as well be brazen about your misdeeds and atrocities. People might be outraged for a few days, but they’ll quickly move on to something else.

After a while, the public may even like your organization a little more for giving them a reason to feel smug, self-righteous, and morally superior! Your misdeeds gave them a fun little outrage high. Eventually, they’ll make excuses for you or even defend your actions.

So why even bother to cover-up any of your organizational wrongdoings, ever?


Please: stop “hiring to cultural fit”

I bristle at the trendy, thoughtless phrase “hire to cultural fit”. And I’m not alone.

Often, you’ll hear this phrase parroted at tech, business, and startup conferences. Generally, it means, “when hiring, consider personality first — consider tech and business skills second”.

Here’s the loosey-goosey rationale for ‘hiring to cultural fit’:

“Hey, it’s easier to beef up a cool guy’s tech skills than it is to teach a nerdy weirdo how to fit in! And in a company culture where everyone gets along and agrees? Why, your efficiency and productivity will soar!”

There’s so much wrong with the tired ‘hire to cultural fit’ line. (Tech skills are easy to teach! Social skills are hard to teach! You need people who all agree to succeed! Creative tension is bad! Etc.) But for now, I’ll only break it down into two ways that saying the phrase makes you seem egregiously insensitive.

  1. “Hiring to Cultural Fit” is perceived as code for “Discriminate Against Women and Minorities”. Here’s the unspoken code, cracked’: “It doesn’t matter if the woman is a better coder: a female presence in the workplace is going to end up being a problem. No matter how hard she tries, we can’t teach her how to be ‘one of the guys’. And the black homosexual guy? Sure, he’s technically better for the technical job — but only technically. He ‘talks black’ and ‘acts gay’ — and that’s going to make the majority feel uncomfortable.”
  2. “Hiring to Cultural Fit” often relies on unwritten and unspoken gut feelings (i.e., unacknowledged stereotypes and prejudices) about who fits in the culture and who doesn’t. Companies that frequently chant the ‘hire to cultural fit’ mantra often cannot define and document what their company culture actually is. How can saying ‘hire to cultural fit’ NOT open a company up to a discrimination lawsuits? Especially when you tell a highly qualified candidate that she ‘isn’t a good fit’ — but can’t document or describe what ‘a good fit’ is?

If you’re a company leader or founder, please consider another approach. Instead of defining your company culture outright, start with a corporate constitution. A constitution is a living, changing document that makes company operating principles and core values explicit. Please note the distinction: a constitution doesn’t define culture. Rather, the people who agree to work within the framework of the constitution actively create the company culture.

Think of your constitution as an openly available document that only begins to shape your company culture. Ultimately, company founders don’t get to define or create the culture: the employees, customers, and other important stakeholders do. The constitution only serves to guide the culture.

To paraphrase a local tech company leader, “Culture is what happens when the boss leaves the building.”

Further, a constitution is open to being amended as time and technology advance. Guiding principles and values that worked well 200 years ago may not work so well today. A constitution is an imperfect document that needs defending, strengthening, and updating.

Writing a constitution even sounds like a noble endeavor. By contrast, company leaders will probably feel like slimy supremacists or crazed dictators if they go on an executive retreat and try to define and defend a superior master culture. (And if they don’t feel slimy…why not?)

If you are indeed a company founder, please think about writing a constitution that helps your employees grow your culture into something bigger and better than your executive team can possibly hope to define.

And please — stop saying “hire to cultural fit”. You might be surprised to know that it offends more people than it charms.