It was embarrassing.
Like the first time walking into the boxing gym, except I thought I was good at this.
How could I not be good at it?
I’d worked at Goldman Sachs for some eight years at this point.
Hundreds, thousands of meetings I had attended.
Books, decks, presentations, whatever you call it, I’d pulled together hundreds maybe thousands of these too.
We thought we knew exactly what we were doing.
But now this legendary business magnate was schooling us like juniors.
A most wonderful and also most scary concept in life is you don’t know what you don’t know.
For years maybe even your entire life you can be doing something a certain way thinking that you know what you’re doing.
And then one day, maybe when it’s too late to even correct, you learn that what you were doing was terribly wrong, or at least you could have been doing it much better.
It’s never your fault, you can only know what you know.
And unfortunately, like a terrible drunk dancer at a wedding thinking that they’re lighting up the floor, you may never know.
In a worst case there’s nobody to even point it out because they also don’t know what you don’t know.
“Hit me,” he said.
“What, now?” I looked at him deer in the headlights.
His bald head some 2 inches above mine with a flattened nose and some scars around the eyes I didn’t get what he meant.
“You want me to just punch you in the mouth?” I asked.
“If you can,” he said.
We didn’t even have gloves on because I was about to learn I wasn’t even qualified for that.
This was my first training boxing with this former pro who once challenged for the WBO heavyweight title.
I’d been training Muay Thai, Thai kickboxing, for some 6 years so I thought I knew what I was doing.
One of the greatest men I know says it perfectly.
“To be excellent at something,” he says, “You must first enjoy sucking.”
That’s life right here.
Naval special warfare operators call it embracing the suck.
No baby becomes the best walker on the block before they suck at crawling and then suck trying to stand, falling over and over and over again.
This process of improving is known as the competence ladder that you see at the top of this page.
At first, and this is the part where you can really get dunked in cold water, you must first learn that you suck at something.
Trying to hit that pro boxer, for instance.
For years I’d been throwing so-so punches, so-so hitting pads, thinking that I was what, fight ready to defend myself from a serious threat?
Waking up to the first step on the ladder learning that you’re unconsciously incompetent isn’t always fun but it’s always your most crucial step to getting better.
The business magnate just laughed.
We were trying to present him this set of materials that we had so diligently put together like good little investment bankers and he was just chuckling.
Like that boxer easily stepping aside while my punches looking like slow motion never got close, he was watching us “present” like it was comedy TV.
He was very kind; didn’t outright hahahahahahaha.
More so he was looking at us perplexed like this is what you learned to do at Goldman Sachs?
The truth is that we had never learned to do it at all, we just thought we had.
We didn’t even know that there was anything to learn.
Do a big book, “present it,” that’s mastery, right?
Aw gawd, it brings back these awkward feeling memories now.
And, look, I know that it’s still this way for many people, so I never want to mock it.
We can only know what we know.
And one would think that if you “grew up” at one of the most exceptional organizations on the planet like Goldman Sachs that you would learn the most exceptional ways to walk in and win a meeting, right?
If you’re lucky you might work with someone who is truly exceptional and they will guide you in their exceptional ways.
But in my experience even those exceptional people most often talk about it like some type of art or Jedi mind trick, dispelling wisdom like a sage.
That can be incredibly valuable, and it might take you all the way.
But it’s still ENTIRELY different to having an end-to-end method for winning every meeting like a pro.
Presenting or compelling?
If I ask, “Do you want the blue pill or the red pill?” I’ve already influenced you.
It sounds like you’re just being offered a choice and you have “free will” to choose.
But the fact that I listed the blue pill first and the red pill second already makes you more inclined to choose it.
This is basic psychology and neuroscience, but also the sort of trick that those magical mentalists do when it looks like they are reading people’s brains.
Now, if I add a dirty tone to the word “blue” and a fresh sounding tone to “red” I’ll be stacking the probabilities even higher you’ll choose it.
Let alone if I give you another “unconscious cue,” such as looking a certain way.
To the untrained eye and ear you’re just speaking.
But to someone who deeply understands influence you are compelling their brain.
And that’s just minutia, merely some tactical word play.
If you’re a pro you want an end-to-end method for compelling every brain.
This is how Trump won 2016, and he’s already winning 2024 the same way.
Obviously I get that many people won’t accept he is incredibly skilled at anything let alone this he has done masterfully for 55+ years, which is why he thrashed them, and why I wrote the book on his deeply influential winning campaign.
Influential communicators took over our world, and you can do the same.
The first clients that we did this with in a capital raising context were absolute killers.
I mean, these guys had crushed their career from beginning to end and now they had ejected from their old private equity firm to start their own.
In every way they are top of the top on Wall Street having built incredible careers and of course made tons of money.
By every standard they are winners and exceptional at what they do.
But, and this was the cold dunking moment for them, they had never done this.
And worse, having watched their billionaire bosses “present” in capital raising meetings for decades they thought they knew what to do.
Then they got punched in the mouth.
Showing up pro?
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” Mike Tyson famously said.
When things are going right and you’re getting those yeses and people are nodding at what you’re saying you can just keep reading boring bullet points in a boring deck the same old boring way.
But when you’re getting nos.
Or people are looking at you like that boxer looking at me like that business magnate looking at us like hahahahaha, and then they just pass or worse they never even call you back, then, well, that can be a clear signal that you have room to grow.
That’s when we got the call to see if there was anything we could do before they had blown through their “leads” and it was too late.
Now, to be fair, tons of capital has been raised and trillions of “great meetings” have occurred where nobody had a method for what they were doing.
In business the bar is low.
Even at top Wall Street firms you can get by with the business card and even wildly succeed without having any method whatsoever for how you walk in and win every meeting.
But that’s different to doing hard things winning a much harder game.
Walk in, tell two stories.
The first story relates to your location, so you’re making an observation like, “Wow, it’s so nice in Boston this time of year, I haven’t been here since 2019.”
This is an ice-breaker, rapport builder, so on, but really it’s just the device you’re using to “chain” to the next story.
The second story is for raising their buying temperature, I shared with them.
You’re gonna say stuff like, “We’ve been lucky, we’re having so many amazing conversations, investors are really excited for what we’re doing, and we’re fired up to share this with you.”
To the untrained ear, it just sounds like you’re speaking.
When, systematically, methodically, deliberately, like a chess grandmaster, these are your opening moves setting up your winning game.
With winning engineered into every move, it’s no surprise that they absolutely crushed the capital raise.
Another meeting that helped develop these methods was with a successful Hollywood writer.
I was walking him through our method for Winning Every Meeting as we were strategizing pitching a TV show that back then we were contemplating.
Again he educated me, on the nuances of playing a top Hollywood game.
He helped me understand that there is a certain way of pitching shows in Hollywood that is most compelling to producers.
It’s less about presenting them your whiz-bang idea and more about compelling them to co-create with you.
A reason I point this out is because I’m not suggesting that our systematic winning methods for Winning Every Meeting or Rainmaking Bankers or Raise Your Fund Bigger, Faster, Easier is the entire game.
They are winning methods for best engineering YOUR winning game.
Punching isn’t shooting someone.
They are different tools with different impact.
So too presenting is different to compelling.
Yes, by all means presenting can well convey information to someone but this is different to compelling how they behave.
You might already be a master of this and know everything you can.
Or perhaps like I was back then walking into the boxing gym or sitting with the business magnate, you might not even know what you don’t know.
And this is an opportunity to take a step up the ladder and massively up your game.