Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 84: Q&A with Daniel McGinn

September 18, 2017 Matt Heinz

By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every other Thursday at 1:00 p.m. Pacific, moving soon to 11:30 a.m. Pacific.  It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg.  Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise.  Recent Guests: Jim KeenanJoanne Black; Aaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes.  You can listen to full recordings of past shows at and subscribe on iTunes.

This week I was honored to have author and Senior Editor of the Harvard Business Review, Daniel McGinn to talk about his new book, “PSYCHED UP: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed.”

A bit about the book from the author:

The book looks at the science and practice of how professionals can learn to use techniques used by Olympic and pro athletes to get in the right mindset before they perform. Chapters look at the use of pep talks, motivational music, trash talk and rivalry, techniques to boost confidence and reduce anxiety, and even drugs to help you get in the mindset to perform.

If your job involves pitching ideas, high-pressure negotiations, public speaking or presentations, or make-or-break sales calls, the techniques in the book should help people bring their A-game.

The book has only been out a short time, but Dan has started hearing from companies such as Oracle that are buying the book for their sales teams because they think the ROI for people who learn these techniques is obvious. He has also been hearing from entrepreneurs who agree with Brad Feld, who said “This book is a gift for entrepreneurs or anyone else who pitches ideas for a living.”

Listen in or read our conversation below:

Paul:  Welcome once again. Time for some Sales Pipeline, so grab your board, catch a wave, and let’s ride out into the surf with our surf-rider Matt Heinz.

Matt:  How we doing, Paul?

Paul:  I’m doing good today, here. It’s a little hazy. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a good day or bad day here in SoCal.

Matt:  Well, we are doing the show. I am live in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio, today.

Paul:  Oh, love it. Cleveland, Ohio. You going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Matt:  I was there on Tuesday evening. We had a party there to start the conference. I’m here for Content Marketing World, the annual content marketer, “Let our geek flag fly!” event. Me and 4500 other content marketers, consumer, B to B, the whole gamut. And, it’s been a lot of fun. The weather has cooperated, lots of good learning, lots of new ideas.

Paul:  Anybody talking about podcasting or anything here, or what we’re doing, or is that still on the frontiers of content creation and management?

Matt:  Oh, no, every year I continue to be impressed at the level of channel diversity that we see at this conference. I think a lot of content marketers that are, maybe, new to the space think of this as, “Oh, if you got a blog … ” And you do get written content. A lot of podcasts, a lot of video blogging, a lot of YouTube strategy.

I think there’s one gal who we’ve talked about on the show quite a bit, Ann Handley. She’s the chief marketing officer at, and one of the co-founders of, MarketingProfs. She wrote a book called, Everybody Writes. And, she’s said once to me, “Everything the light touches is content.” And, so, if you think about that and pay attention, you start to think. Okay, well, you have your blog, sure, but then you’ve got your videos, you’ve got your podcasts, you’ve got your audio recordings, you’ve got what your sales team says on the phone. I mean, it’s all content.

Paul:  Exactly.

Matt:  So, fascinating stuff here. Well, thanks, everyone for joining us on Sales Pipeline Radio. Appreciate everyone that’s joining us live on the sales lead management radio network. If you’re joining us on the podcast, thank you for subscribing. And, we are here every week! Thursday at 2:30 Eastern, 11:30 Pacific, focusing on the best and brightest ideas and thinkers in the world of B to B sales and marketing.

Today, I am really excited! We’ve got a great guest and a great topic to cover today. We have Daniel McGinn, who is the senior editor of Harvard Business Review, and the author of the brand new book, Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. Daniel, thank you so much for joining us today on Sales Pipeline Radio.

Dan:  Hi, Matt. I’m happy to be here.

Matt:  Awesome. Well, I really want to talk about this new book, and talk a little bit about Harvard Business Review, as well, but maybe we’ll start with the book. Where did this come from? Did the idea of this book come from some of the work you’ve been doing on the Business Review? Talk about where this came from, and why you chose this topic.

Dan:  Sure. The book actually comes from three different origin points. The first was in high school, I was a football and basketball player. I wasn’t very good at either of the sports. I spent a lot of time on the bench. But, I became fascinated by the things that the coaches and the players would do in the locker room to get themselves psyched up for the game. So, this was sort of a teenage fascination of mine.

When I became an adult, the second thing that happened is, I would occasionally meet people in their professional lives: doctors, lawyers, accountants, what have you; who had a similar psyche-up ritual before their most important moments at work. So, I saw some carry-over here.

And the third thing that happened is, when I came to Harvard Business Review and became an editor, I started to see academic research that focused on this idea, that if you do a certain set of things in the final moments before you perform an important activity, you might be able to change the trajectory and do a little bit better. So, those are the three origins of it.

Matt:  Interesting. And, when I think about mental preparation, I think about getting myself organized, getting myself ready. I mean, psyching myself up is one thing, but what are the elements of mental preparation that you’ve found are most prominent in the people that do it successfully?

Dan:  Well, first, I draw a line between what I would consider practice, and what I would consider getting psyched up.

So, let’s use music, because it’s a simple example. If you want to play the piano at Carnegie Hall, getting yourself psyched up is not going to be very useful if you haven’t spent thousands of hours actually becoming proficient at the piano. So, if you’re in sales, knowing your product, knowing exactly what you want to say during your sales presentation, knowing how to listen to customers and answer questions and command the room, those are all the substantive practice of what you want to do. When I think about psyching up, I think about smaller tweaks to your emotions and your mindset before you go in the room to incrementally increase the odds that you’re going to be successful. So, I think of techniques to turn down your anxiety level, to turn up your confidence level, and to get your energy level right where you want it to be to give the perfect pitch.

Matt:  So, let’s talk about a couple areas of that. Focus for me is a big part of mental preparation. And, a lot of people that get prepared, that put themselves in a situation to be successful and to focus and to perform, can sometimes lack focus in the moment. We have alerts and all kinds of other distractions flying at us. How important is focus as a part of executing on that preparation, and what can people do to be better at delivering that focus for themselves?

Dan:  So, no question. If you think about the opposite of focus would be distraction, and distraction is only going to hurt your performance in just about anything you do. So, anything you can do to tune out those distractions and increase your focus is going to pay off performance-wise.

One set of things you can do to try to tune out those other things is come up with a pre-performance routine or a pre-performance ritual. This is very common in athletics. If you watch Olympic sports, if you watch golf, before those athletes do their activity, they tend to engage in a sequence of thoughts and actions that are the same way every time. It helps them recall the practice that they’ve done to become world-class at what they do. It helps them tune out those distractions. It’s sort of like the firing sequence of turning something on. It’s something that professionals can learn to do, too. In the book, I describe a neurosurgeon who, before he goes into brain surgery, he has about a five-minute ritual that he does the same way every time. It helps him tune out what was going on before he walked into the OR, and it gets rid of those distractions and increases the focus.

Matt:  We’re talking again today with Daniel McGinn, who’s the author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. You can find the book on Amazon. It’s available. It’s fantastic! It’s got lots of great stories. The work you’ve done on Harvard Business Review, did that give you a lot of the input for this? I know, for instance, you do a lot of work on the best performing CEOs in the world annual ranking for HBR. Does that play into this? Was that an impetus and an input for this, as well?

Dan:  Yeah, it does. Not so much the CEO ranking, but other kinds of research that come out of not just Harvard Business School, but other institutions. I can give you a couple examples.

Probably the best known example of research that fits under the heading of mental preparation would be the work that Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School has done on power-posing. She has a TED Talk that’s been watched, like, 41 million times. It’s the most watched TED Talk in the history of the series. Her research shows that before a high-stakes event, if you do certain poses with your body, very dominant poses like with your legs apart and your hands on your hips, they call it the Wonder Woman pose, not only does it make you feel more powerful and more confident, but she’s actually done studies of biochemistry. It actually changes your hormone levels in ways that makes you more confident.

So, that’s one example, but out of our business school here, there’s been research on group rituals before performance. There’s been studies of ways to reduce your anxiety before you’re in an on-stage performance. So, even though we think of business schools as studying, like, strategy and marketing and these big topics, they do study personal performance, and a lot of the studies at places like that helps fuel this book.

Matt:  Well, you talk about rituals. I think, in the book, you literally call it meaningless rituals, which, I think what you mean by that is that they really have no bearing on what’s about to happen, but they’re clues, they’re mental triggers, really, right? Because they really get you in the mindset, make you calm down a little bit, and put you in the right zone to perform your best.

Dan:  Yeah, so, there’ve been studies, especially in sports, there’s been studies across sports that people who have a routine, who do the same thing every time before they perform, they just do better. It’s sort of a proven thing. And I’d argue that it’s time to take those out of just the sports arena and move them into our professional lives.

Think about, if you’re about to make the sales call that’s going to either make or break your quarter. You’re sitting in the waiting room, waiting to go in. You have a couple choices, at that point. You can run through your presentation in your head for the 10,000th time. You can sit there being nervous. Or, you can have a set of routines that helps you increase your confidence.

So, one of the things people will often do is recall their greatest hits. Think back to a moment when you just crushed it in your field of endeavor. Before I got on with you today, to talk on the radio, I went back and listened to the best radio interview I ever did. Because it sounds really good, and it reminds me, “Hey, on a good day, you can really crush this!” That makes me feel more confident, it increases the odds that I’m going to be able to perform well today. So, in our own lives, I think it’s important to find things that you can do in those final moments that’ll help you be more constructive.

Matt:  I love it. There are so many great stories in this book, and I really encourage folks to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. But, before we have to take a break, and, because today, as we record this Thursday, it is the first day of the new NFL season. The world champion, New England Patriots, will be kicking off their season this evening at home. You’ve got a story in the book about the New England Patriots hiring a DJ from the Red Sox to help them win. Share a little bit of that story for folks, please.

Dan:  Sure! So, I’m located outside of Boston, myself. Right now I’m about a mile from Fenway Park. The Red Sox have a DJ who picks all the music during batting practice, during pre-game, between innings. And he helps the Red Sox players with their walk-up music, the songs that they hear while they’re walking to home plate. So, he’s really an expert in helping pick songs that amplify what’s going on to get the energy level right in the ballpark.

A few years ago, the Gillette Stadium, the Patriots’ fans were not particularly happy with the music. They tended to play the same set of songs over and over and over. So, they brought the Fenway DJ over, they gave him a tryout, it went really well. So, now he goes back and forth. He’ll be at Gillette tonight choosing songs and playing them at moments when he thinks that he can amp the crowd up, and that that crowd energy is going to help the players on the field. So, it really does have a part of the home field advantage we enjoy there.

Matt:  I mean, this is really a lot about emotion, too, right? Whether you were talking about the meaningless rituals or just listening to a song that, quote-unquote, gets your juices flowing… Emotion and, in some cases, irrational response to music like that, it plays a real role here, whether you’re cheering on your team, or going into that sales call.

Dan:  Oh, yeah, no question! Even though we’re in a very modern economy now, and our jobs, in some ways, are very sophisticated, we’re still biological creatures that haven’t changed that much since we were roaming the savannas. We still have that fight-or-flight instinct programmed into us. So, when we get into a situation that we perceive there to be a threat to us, and that doesn’t need to be a threat to our mortal existence, it could be a threat to our livelihood, like not succeeding at work. We’re going to get hit with adrenaline. And that adrenaline can either hurt our performance or help our performance, and a lot of how we deal with it is determined on the emotions we have. Are we going to let the anxiety chip away at our performance, or are we going to try to use energy and confidence and try to help it amplify our performance? So, you’re right, emotion is how we deal with that threatening situation and whether we’re able to avoid the distractions and the negatives of it.

Matt:  Well, you raised the issue of the double-edged sword there, right? Think, when you get psyched up, when you get emotional, it’s easy to channel that into either good or bad outcomes. And, sometimes when you are emotional, you’re not at your best decision-making ability. So, to be able to do that in the right focused area and then harness that in the way that you need it, is really, really important.

Great stuff today, we got Daniel McGinn on Sales Pipeline Radio. He’s the author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. We gotta take a quick break, pay some bills. We’re going to come back, talk a lot more about the book. We’re going to have Daniel tell a story about Stephen Colbert’s pen. We’re going to talk about what happens when you over-prepare, and if that’s possible, and what you can do to avoid that. We’ll be right back! You’re listening to Sales Pipeline Radio.


Paul:  All right, let’s get back to Matt and his guest. And, before we do, I just want to say, I’ve learned something from listening to this show already, here. As the engineer, I think I’m going to have some little pieces of music that, if the interview is lagging, or sagging, I’m just going to jump in there like the DJ at the stadium and start playing music here to pump up the crowd, here.

Matt:  It’s going to be like the orchestra at the Oscars. You know? Whisk us off.

Paul:  Yeah, that too!

Matt:  Okay, that’ll be enough, guys, let’s move along. Yeah, no, I appreciate that. It’s amazing.

This is such a fascinating topic, right? Because, whether it’s music, when I was growing up, playing baseball, I had a song, a Metallica song, a specific song I would listen to before I went and played. And I’d play it at full blast, and it really just got me pumped up. I want to talk a little bit about bacon here, related to that, in a second. But, if you are enjoying this conversation, you will probably enjoy a lot of conversations we have here on Sales Pipeline Radio. You can join us live, every Thursday, 2:30 Eastern, 11:30 Pacific. If this is new to you, you can subscribe on our podcast at the iTunes store and Google Play. And, every episode is available on demand. Every episode we’ve ever recorded of Sales Pipeline Radio is at

Coming up next week, we’ve got Anthony Iannarino, one of the most innovative, one of the most forward-thinking sales writers, bloggers, speakers, today. We’re going to be talking about his new book, The Lost Art of Closing. Following Anthony, we’ve got Liz Pearce. Liz is the CEO of the start-up LiquidPlanner, a project management company in Seattle. She started at the company as a marketing consultant, she became the head of marketing, she became the COO and she is now running the company. We’re going to be talking about how you can treat a marketing and sales role and turn that into a leadership position. And coming up in October, we just booked Rand Fishkin, the Wizard of Moz, the founder of Moz, and one of the most innovative thinkers in the SEO space. So, lots of great guests coming up.

More today, though, with Daniel McGinn. He’s the author of the book Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. I want to talk a little bit about humor. When I was growing up, the church that I went to, the pastor, whenever he went up to give his sermon, he would start with a joke. Sometimes that joke had something to do with his message, oftentimes, it didn’t. But, when I asked him about it once, he says, “Well, you know, people like to laugh. People enjoy it. But,” he said, “It also calms me down.” He said, “I get nervous whenever I go up to give a sermon. I want it to go well. And telling a joke makes me laugh, makes me comfortable, it gets the congregation to laugh.”

And, I’ve incorporated that when I present now. I will literally offer to people a recipe for my award-winning bacon. And then, I’ve got pictures of the bacon, and I talk about bacon, and I’ve got some little shticky kind of things. But, it calms me down, it makes me comfortable, it gets audience smiling and laughing. Some of that, I think, is related to preparation, but I think about, also, whether it’s just a meaningless ritual, or whether it’s just sort of a tactic that gets me where I want to go and raises my confidence level. Talk about humor as a part of this. Do you find that humor is an element that people use as part of mental preparation?

Dan:  Yeah, it can be. There’s a risk associated with humor. Especially if it’s a joke you haven’t told a lot before, and you don’t know whether it’s going to go out well or not. The tactic you’re describing, to me, it reminds me of something I talk about in the book, which is the use of what they call autopilot. So, one of the things you need to do when you’re getting psyched up is to decide whether this is the kind of activity that you’ll be better off if you can just turn your brain off and not have to think.

So, I met this guy who’s running a venture backed company. So, he’s pitching the company a lot. He’s on a lot of important sales calls. And, he’s found a way that, for no matter what the audience is and no matter what the specific topic he’s supposed to be speaking about at an event, he uses the same three-minute opening every time. And, it’s a thing he’s done probably 600 times at this point. So, he can just turn his brain off. He knows it cold. He knows exactly where the pauses are, where the laugh lines are. It’s well-tested.

And, I think you’re right, that basically what you’re saying is, as soon as the audience gets comfortable, that you know what you’re doing, and that this is going to be a good experience for them, the temperature in the room just changes a little bit. He uses this sort of autopilot opening to get past that point where everybody’s just relaxed, they give him the benefit of the doubt. And I think humor can be one way to open with that. Autopilot is another.

Matt:  So, speaking of humor, in the book, you have a couple stories about, well, Jerry Seinfeld and Stephen Colbert, and some props that they use to get a laugh. Tell, quickly, the story about Stephen Colbert’s pen.

Dan:  Sure. Colbert and Seinfeld, I illustrate them. One of them, Seinfeld, has a very simple backstage ritual. If you watched him, it wouldn’t look at all remarkable. It involves putting his jacket on at a certain time before his show and pacing in a certain pattern.

Colbert has much more elaborate rituals. He rings a bell. He does certain hand gestures with people in his company backstage. He chews a pen, he stares at a certain spot on the wall. It illustrates the idea that you need to have something you do to calm yourself down, to get yourself into this groove. It can be either very simple, or it can be complex and elaborate the way Colbert’s is.

Matt:  I love that. And, yeah, I think that some people may have those rituals and not even know it, but knowing that you have it and been able to go to it when you need it, I think, is really important.

I raised the question before we went to break about over-preparation. So, I’m here at this conference, and I’ve gotten to speak with a lot of other speakers who were here, and it’s clear that some people totally winged it. Just went up and hadn’t prepared at all. It’s clear that other people may have gone past the point of diminishing returns, and may have spent too much time obsessing over what they were going to do, trying to get to a point where, maybe, they felt like they could do the entire presentation on autopilot. Is there a risk of over-preparation? And, how do you know where the right balance is?

Dan:  Yeah, I think that’s a good point, for sure. I think the two things that could happen if you over-prepare are that number one: if the material becomes too familiar, your energy level is probably going to drag a bit. If I were saying the same things to you that I’ve said a hundred times right now, I think I wouldn’t be as up, I wouldn’t come across as authentic. I might be a little bit too robotic with it. So, I think the way that over-preparation will show is diminished energy, so try to correct that. The other thing is that, being confident is a key and it helps your performance in most areas of life. If you’ve over-prepared, there’s the chance you could be a little bit over-confident, and come off as a little bit cocky, or arrogant. So, that’s an attitudinal thing that I think I would watch about over-preparation for that.

Matt:  We’ve got just a couple more minutes here with Daniel McGinn on Sales Pipeline Radio, the author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. Highly encourage you guys to check this out. You can find it on Amazon. It’s in a variety of different formats, including Kindle.

When I think about Psyched Up, as an introvert, I have mixed reactions to that. I think, sometimes, introverts, as they think about the idea of getting psyched up, it is repelling to them. Are there different strategies that introverts or people that may be more shy should be following, or is this really an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and do something that is going to help increase the consistency of their performance in those important situations?

Dan:  Well, I’m an introvert, as well, and I’d actually argue that if you’re introverted like we are, it’s even more important to be able to get psyched up. Because a lot of the kinds of public performances that our jobs depend on, whether it’s meeting a new person in an interview setting or calling on an unfamiliar client or pitching to a room, those things are harder for introverts to do. So, getting them into a process that helps them feel a little bit more confident, a little bit less shy, a little bit more outgoing, I think the ROI for getting psyched up is higher for an introvert than it would be for an extrovert. So, I think it’s even more important, in that case.

Matt:  Yeah, I would agree with you. All right. We have just a couple more minutes, a couple quick questions for you. So, you have been a lifelong journalist, you studied journalism, you’ve been at Newsweek, you’ve been, seven years now, at Harvard Business Review. What’s something that you’ve taken away from Harvard Business Review … That I think a lot of people on this podcast read on a regular basis, get a lot of great insights on, whether or not they have an MBA, whether or not they went to Harvard, just really, really valuable. What has that experience taught you by being there?

Dan:  I guess, the two things that come immediately to mind is that, if you’re facing a managerial problem or a business problem, even if it seems like it’s totally unique and one-of-a-kind, there’s probably some research out there, some case study, some example of a company or a manager that’s been through something similar in the past. There’s the old quote that, “We want to learn from history so that we don’t repeat it.” In business, I think, maybe, people don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on in the academy. And I think managers, if they learn to look at publications and at research that come out of business schools, they’re only going to be helped by that.

The second thing is, I get to deal with a lot of high-level CEOs as part of my job. They have the same kind of career stories we have. There were unlikely twists and turns, there was some dumb luck involved. They’re very smart, credentialed, established, successful people, but they’re just like you and me in the sense that their lives often had this sort of lucky break at the right moment. So, those are two observations from my daily work.

Matt:  Awesome, I appreciate that. Well, I really want to thank our guest, Daniel McGinn, the author of Psyched Up. Definitely check it out on Amazon, get yourself a copy. Lots of great insights here. If you liked this conversation, if you want to share this discussion with other people at your company or some of your peers out into the sales marketing world, in a couple days you will find it completely on-demand on the website at We’ll have a transcript with highlights of this conversation on the blog at Make sure you join us next week and every week coming up. We’ve got some great guests coming up in the sales and marketing world. For my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. I appreciate you joining us, thanks for joining us! Sales Pipeline Radio.

Paul:  You’ve been riding along on the Sales Pipeline. Brought to you from Matt Heinz Marketing. Right here in the Funnel, radio channel for at-worth listeners, like you.


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