9 rules for crushing a hot seat coaching session

Concept development, Copywriting and Sales, Creativity, Entrepreneurship

I remember the day I realized it was going to work.

It was 2016 and I’d been invited last-minute — as in, 4 PM the day before because someone else had dropped out — to speak at a client’s event.

As I walked into the venue that morning I was so nervous I’d already sweated through the closest thing I had to “business casual” in my closet, and my notes were stress-battered by my fidgeting fingers.

… But this isn’t the story of how I rocked that talk out of nowhere.

(I stumbled through my presentation with trembling hands and a too-fast tongue and it was, at best, meh.)

This is the story of what happened after, because at the end of the talk came Q&A.

“Any questions?” I asked breathlessly from the front of the room, adrenaline still screeching and my anxiety fueled by both the interested and totally blank stares dotting the room in equal measure.

One shy hand slowly raised, stirring the still, silent air.

She had a very specific question about the copy on her website.

Uh. Hm. I’d have to take a look…

“Can we put the page up on the screen?” my client, the event runner, asked.

Yes we could.

My mouth went dry.

Oh god oh god this wasn’t in the plan. Website critiques… on the spot?

“You’ll have 5 minutes,” my client instructed the question-asker.

5 minutes!?!??!!? Oh god oh god oh god what was I going to do.

I looked over at the wastebasket on my right, making sure I had a safe receptacle should my worried guts decide to loose themselves.

I swallowed and gave the asker what I hoped was a confident smile as we brought her home page up on the screen in front of the room of 100 or so.

And there it was. And OH. Hang on! I could instantly see what was wrong.

The headline and tagline were unclear for the purpose of the site. The site’s creator never introduced herself or her expertise. There were many, many beautiful words, but not a lot of meaning as to what the customer’s next step was, or even what this business owner was offering.

It was like (I would imagine) what a mechanic sees when they pop the hood of a car. While it appears to be a mess of wires and engine parts to the rest of us, they can spot the issue in seconds — or, at worst, figure it out after a few toggles and grunts.

I spat out my feedback rapid-fire, with my client agreeing and adding a few notes of her own.

The question-asker was taking notes furiously, and as I snuck a glance around the room I realized there were far fewer glazed eyeballs than just moments ago.

People were sitting up closer, and they even looked — dare I say it — impressed.

My heart started pounding again – with excitement this time.

Was this… easy for me?!?!?

Did I know more than I thought I did?

Alright – I wasn’t gonna question it.

“Who’s next!?” I crowed, and 10 more hands shot up instantly.

I’d spend the rest of that weekend working with attendees via what I’d soon learn was “hot seat” coaching style, and I’d spend the coming years leading dozens of similar sessions online and in person.

To date, I’ve run almost 40+ hot seat sessions on everything from copy, to creative concept development, to giving people the thumbs up/down on brand direction.

In the last year, I’ve started running hot seats for my own community too via The Lightning Rounds — 90 minute sessions, 10 people per sessiono, 9-10 minutes per question max.

(And if you want to see how these rounds actually work in real time, this is your invitation to be in the spectator seats to watch the next round for FREE this Thursday, July 18th.)

And miraculously, despite the tight time frame and massive range of business owners in the room, my hot seat sessions have changed launch and sales outcomes in ways you wouldn’t believe.

They’ve transformed the way people see themselves as creators and brands.

And I’m proud to report entire business ideas have even been born out of these sessions.

That’s because hot seats have a fascinating advantage as a coaching style in that:

  1. They allow attendees to get direct feedback on what they’re working on, which is often infinitely more actionable than a theory-focused class or webinar. It teaches them the principles through immediate application in their own work. And when that happens? Something clicks.
  2. Whether they’re in the hot seat or not, every single attendee can take something away from almost any question and answer. (I’ve had people tell me it feels like being “contact coached the whole time” even when it’s not their turn, as they hear about challenges they’re experiencing in their owns businesses, too.)
  3. The tight time frame leaves 0 room for waffling. The question-asker has to be totally clear on what they need help with, and the answering party needs to be completely focused on figuring out their next step. There’s a kind of magic that happens in that constraint. When there’s no time to be wasted, there’s no wasted time.
  4. They’re easy to put together, and an unfair amount of fun. Seriously.

Hot seats also have another HUGE benefit on the business side of things: they build rock solid trust between you and your attendees.

It’s one thing to say you’re an expert.

It’s one thing to blog beautifully, launch beautifully, and self-promote beautifully when you’re in control of the timeline and have support from a crack team.

But in a hot seat session? It’s just you and the question, and there’s no escape.

Your mettle and knowledge base is tested in an extraordinary way that’s impossible to fake — and impossible to forget once you’ve done it, and your people have seen it.

I’m proud to report a huge number of my hot seat session attendees have turned into coaching clients, copywriting clients, course students, and so much more for the simple reason they know I’ve got the goods because they’ve seen it with their own eyes and ears. And there’s no better value proposition than that.

And now it’s time for the really, really good news: running a kickass hot seat ain’t rocket science.

With a little bit of prep, you can run your own hot seat for your community too — which is why I’m here to teach you a few tricks of the trade today.

Whether you’re a copywriter, designer, developer, strategist, marketer, coach, consultant, or some delightful combination of all of the above, hot seats can be a phenomenal fit for your business to help you build trust and grow your audience (and evangelical customer base).

The best part? There’s no need to spend hours laboring over a webinar script, or putting together Powerpoint slides, and your peeps can walk away with mind-blowing value — especially if they’re the “learn by doing” crowd (which, let’s face it, 99% of the online business world is).

They can also be an opportunity for income, too — paid webinar style.

While I only charge participants $50/head for my Lightning Rounds because I want to touch as many of my peeps as possible, I’ve heard of colleagues charging as much as $500/head.

Getting intrigued? Feel like you might want to test out hot seat sessions in YOUR business? I gotchu boo,

Here’s are 9 simple rules for rocking your next (or first) hot seat:

As a quick aside: the #1 tech tool I use for my hot seats is Zoom.

Easy set up, easy for people to join the chat, easy to screenshare, and easy to record.

A hot seat is intense and you need all the tech to work seamlessly — and Zoom hasn’t failed me yet (knock on wood).

And now — let’s dive into the rules!

Rule #1: Prepare to surprise yourself. You know more than you think you do.

This is the most important thing to keep in mind to keep the nerves at bay.

While I recommend doing hot seat sessions only if you’ve got a few years under your belt for confidence purposes, it will shock you how much you know just by being immersed in certain subject matter.

Be open to being pretty damn brilliant. Because chances are, you will be.

Rule #2: Set clear parameters from the get-go

For me, this means 10 minutes per person, one CLEAR question, and 3-5 pages of copy at the absolute max if that’s what they want help with (with the note that the longer the copy is , the more broad the feedback will be).

When someone’s clear on their question, they’re engaged. And when they’re engaged, their heads are clear and wide open for whatever insights you’ll be dropping. This serves both parties beautifully.

I also make sure to remind all attendees of the rules at the start of the session, so everyone feels clear and ready to go.

Rule #3: Do your homework (if you can)

While you can certainly lead a great hot seat off the cuff, whenever possible I recommend an onboarding form so you can review questions before the big day.

For me, this takes the shape of The Lightning Round Submission Form, which you can check out a copy of right here.

It gives me details on who’s coming, who their audience is, what they’re working on, and what they need most.

I review each submitted form before the call and make a few notes, so we can all hit the ground running once the show starts.

Rule #4: Invite everyone to introduce themselves in a specific format.

In my case, I ask all hot seat participants to say their name, what they’re working on (their question), who it’s for (their audience), and why it matters (their USP) before we get started.

This doesn’t just give you and everyone listening a bird’s eye view of their business – it also takes the pressure off the first hello, and gives you a window into how they’re feeling, and how they see themselves.

Some attendees will be totally confident and ready to roll. Others will be more shy and nervous — because they’re not just putting themselves out there in front of a group, they also may be meeting YOU for the first time.

If they’re ill at ease, help them feel more secure by warmly welcoming them, asking them where they’re from, or sharing something you genuinely liked about their work. All this gently reminds them they’re in the hands of someone who wants to help — not just poke holes in whatever they’re working on.

Rule #5: The right questions invite the right solutions. If you’re not sure what the answer is off the bat, keep asking.

The “5 why’s” technique is great for getting to the root of even the most nebulous or vague problem.

For the uninitiated: it’s exactly what it sounds like. Make like a toddler and ask “why” at least 5 times in response to their questions or statement.

For example, if someone has a question about growing their social following on Instagram, but is struggling to get content out because their current strategy is falling flat, dig under the layers.

“Why are you looking for support around IG content?”

“Because I’ve set myself a goal of 10k followers on Instagram.”

“Sweet! Why’s that?”

“Because I just wanna put myself out there and build my brand more. I want to be seen as an expert.”

“Fantastic. Why is that necessary in your business right now?”

“I want to do bigger things! I’ve been behind the scenes for a long time. Now I want to be in front of the scenes”

“That’s so cool! Why is IG the best fit for that?”

“Because I’m a hobby food blogger and a lot of what I do is visual.”

“Oooh yum. So why would IG help you specifically?”

“Because eventually I want to write a book on ridiculous food fads!”

And there it is. (And there, also, lies a super fun content strategy that’s going to help them show up more often, too.)

Rule #6: You’re not there to solve every problem, just one very specific problem. Stick to that.

Hot seats can go haywire when you get distracted from the original problem, or the question-asker wants to squeeze in a few more questions in the moment.

Stick like glue to your plan. If you’re getting off topic, gently let them know. “That may be and question for another session! But for now, let’s focus on…”

Rule #7: If there’s not a clear immediate solution (i.e. “Does this headline work” vs. discussing a broader challenge or goal), focus on their next steps.

It’s easy to feel frustrated when you can’t give someone a clear prescriptive solve you’re fully confident will work.

But remember, an action step is just as good as a clear solution when you’re stuck. And it can also feel more authentic to say “Here’s what I suggest…” and give them guidelines around where to go next.

To refer to the previous example of the Instagram content strategy — I wouldn’t be able to offer a prescriptive solve in that instance, because IG strategy isn’t necessarily my zone of genius. (Unless you count cat pics.)

However, I can offer guidelines:

“To build up your following, you need to create a ton of content – so first I want you to figure out how to get and stay in that habit. Since you want to write the food fads book, I suggest focusing your IG content mostly on that! Food fads you love, food fads you hate, hilarious quotes on food, etc. It’ll help you have fun with the whole process, which means you’ll show up more often, more easily and your following will grow faster.”

Rule #8: Be absolutely present.

Perfectionists and people-pleasers, this is an especially big one for us.

A hot seat starts going south when you start sweating the fact you need to give the person an answer and time is running out.

But when that fear starts creeping in, just take a deep breath. Ask an additional question or two. Stay focused. Incredible things happen when you just listen, and when the person who’s talking knows you’re fully tuned in.

Every time I’ve been worried I wouldn’t have an answer or step for someone, I just tried to swallow my “NO, I MUST FIX THIS.” ego, and focus on actually helping the human in front of me.

What do they need to hear? What can I sense they don’t know, or aren’t clear on yet? What’s likely blocking them? Where have I seen this before?

Once you’re just focused on helping, you give the actual help they need space to materialize.

Rule #9: Be kind. Give grace. And always start with a sincere compliment, especially if feedback is critical.

What’s so important to remember is that it’s not just YOU on the spot in the hot seat. The person asking the question is on the spot too – and that can be just as anxiety-inducing.

That’s why it’s essential to treat every participant with kindness and respect, and find reasons to sincerely compliment what they’re doing, even if their approach seems completely cuckoo to you.

While you’re the expert, you should treat your hot seat attendees as the equal colleagues they are — because no one wins when you’re making someone feel stupid, small, or less than.

And when you take the time to be pragmatic, you give all of your listeners room to see what’s working and what’s not in a clear, productive, positive light.

Trust me when I say: while hot seats aren’t for the faint of heart — they can change everything.

For you.

For your brand and standing as an expert.

And, of course, for the people you serve.

It’s your opportunity not jut to flex your problem solving skills, but to hone them, find what you’re good at, and spend more time helping people in a way that feels dynamic, genuine, and hot like sauce.

And really: is there any better feeling than that?

Considering running your own hot seat, but wonder how all these rules look in action?

Then I’m pumped to invite you to come watch my next Lightning Round hot seat session go down this Thursday, July 18th.

Seats are sold out, but you can still snatch a spot in the stands to watch!

It’s part high-velocity coaching sesh, part gameshow-esque energy, and completely free for spectators – because I’m opening up seats in the peanut gallery for the first time EVER.

It’s also your chance to see how I work with 10 awesome entrepreneurs to help them solve their problems, take their next steps, and bring their big, brilliant ideas to life.

While you won’t be able to ask a question, there’s so much you can learn along the way. Click here to save your seat (and if you can’t make it, yep there’ll be a recording too.)

I’d love to catch you in the crowd.

But in the meantime — if you start running your own hot seats, I’d love to hear how it goes!

While there is a learning curve, I genuinely suspect you’ll surprise yourself by how much you know, and how much you can do in a short amount of time.

Just remember: trust yourself.


And stay fiery.

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