Introduction – What Do Great Athletes have in Common with Great Communicators?
“The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat” – Jim McKay-Legendary Sportscaster
0.08 seconds! That is the difference between eternal glory for the 100-meter Olympic champion and being a faint footnote in history. What did the winner do over those 100 meters to gain that razor-thin margin?
You’ll see the same story played out at every modern Olympics. Gold medals go to the downhill skier who gets up on the edges of her skis by an extra quarter of an inch; the swimmer who extends his finger by 3 millimeters more than his rival; the high jumper who’s able to arch their vertebrae the tiniest fraction more to clear the bar. Winning truly takes place at the margins.
Now consider a pressure-packed situation in the business world. The big job interview; the critical pitch to win a massive contract; the tough question you get asked in the middle of your meeting. Will you run a meeting or deliver a presentation that is so mind-blowingly awesome that you will unequivocally differentiate yourself? Or will your presentation or meeting be so cataclysmically disastrous that the audience completely dismisses you?
In all likelihood, you will do okay. You probably won’t fall apart. You will manage to execute. But just being OK isn’t good enough, because competition in the business world is just as intense as it is at the highest levels of professional sport. You may be a bright banker at Goldman Sachs with a Spartan work ethic. But the clients you most covet also know that bankers at JP Morgan, Royal Bank, and the other bulge bracket firms will be equally capable of executing their transactions.
The decisions made about you are often not made consciously. When I talk to decision-makers and hiring managers, very few can specifically define why they felt the way they did. It came down to an overall impression—everyone was capable but the winner was just “better.”
Sure, they will give reasons after the meeting like “that was great,” “I liked that candidate,” or, “We should go with those guys.” Or, on the flip side, “that was OK, but I guess we’ll stick with the incumbent,” or “we really liked you but went with someone who had a bit more experience.” Or “we went with your competitor because they were willing to drop their price.”
Some of the decision-makers’ responses might even be valid, but they all stem from the fact that the presenter just didn’t do enough to impress them. The things that do impress them are “little” things that work consistently to differentiate you in front of an audience. The people who pay attention to those things, and who improve them, are the ones who “nail” it and distinguish themselves.
I have discovered that people who perform at an elite level make it look easy. Some may have a natural predisposition for that skill. But even those who appear to command the room naturally have to hone their skills, be open-minded to feedback, practice the required changes necessary to be great, and do all of this on repeat
The question that I consistently raise is how is it that Lionel Messi or Serena Williams instinctively know that, despite past greatness, they have to improve to stay competitive continuously. They've already reached the pinnacle of their sports and, yet they know, to keep winning they can never say "I'm good enough already"
And this is really what At The Margins is all about.
After 25 years of training and coaching thousands of people, interviewing hundreds of senior decision-makers and hiring managers, here’s what I have learned:
I wrote this book because I know the potential everyone has to overcome the nerves, self-doubt, and lack of awareness that prevents them from being consistently effective communicators.
I have worked with hundreds of organizations across many different sectors and geographies. I’ve worked with clients ranging from new hires to CEO’s, and I’ve spent thousands of hours getting direct feedback from decision-makers regarding what qualities they look for when determining someone’s credibility and promotability
This insight, coupled with my own l experience building a successful business, has led me to one inescapable conclusion: People strive for self-improvement. The path to excellence has to be paved with tactics and strategies that are practical, relatable, and implementable. The most rewarding feedback I get from a client will always be how realistic my coaching and training is or how much I understand the client’s business and their stakeholders.
When I hear any of those comments, it reassures me that those people related to what they learned and will likely feel comfortable and authentic while trying to implement it in a meeting or presentation. Change is hard at the best of times. If you don’t feel a concept is genuine to you, you’ll likely dismiss it and get no value. I tend to stay away from earth-shattering revelations. I focus on a series of “a ha’s” and “hmmm, I never looked at it from that perspective.” That’s where At The Margin moments happen. More importantly, that’s where behavioural change occurs.
All of my experience feeds into At The Margins. I’ll explore what happens when you are presenting an idea, running a sales meeting, or briefing senior executives. I’ll explain how you can manage those things to execute them more consistently and perpetually build your credibility. And I’ll tell you how you can sustain those skills to differentiate yourself.
My pledge to you is that by reading At The Margins, you will be the one who distinguishes yourself in a meeting—the one the audience says has “nailed” it. I’ll begin by exploring how you can set yourself up to succeed in meetings; how you can unleash your untapped conversational skills to build rapport and trust and become more engaging. And how to structure your message and hone your delivery.
Once you’ve done the preparation, I’ll look at the factors that influence how you execute at the highest level. A key difference between championship athletes and their competitors is their mental edge—the ability and self-belief to stay calm and composed in the most pressure-packed situations. I’ll explain how to ensure that nerves never overwhelm you and how you can always perform to the best of your abilities.
And to finish, I’ll provide insights on how you can continuously grow and sustain your skills in both in-person and virtual meetings. But business professionals often don’t realize that practice is key. When I talk to companies about developing their employees’ pitching and communication skills, they very often say, "our people are really good already" or "we've got very experienced professionals." It doesn’t make sense! The greatest performers from Usain Bolt to Meryl Streep know that continuous improvement is necessary to keep competitive and stay on top.
By the time you’ve finished this book, you will be the one who stands out among your competitors. You’ll be the person your audience will say was “more passionate,” “more engaging,” “more curious,” or “more confident.”
Like sports stars at the top of their game, differentiation happens At The Margins. This book can give you the edge, and it begins by setting the right conditions for personal change.