How to Stay Chill When There’s Pressure to Perform


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HAMYAW podcast title card staying chill under performance pressure.

It’s that feeling like cold water being thrown onto the back of your neck.

The deep existential dread that comes from creating something, submitting it, crossing your fingers, and waiting for it to…

gulp

Do something.

Maybe the email needs to generate sales.

Or it’s a blog post sharing something straight from the heart that you really hope gets a response.

Or you’re trying to attract new clients with your latest pitch.

Either way – the whole process, end to end, feels so different from regular ol’ writing, doesn’t it?

Enter Performance Anxiety

It’s like performing a task you’ve done 1,000 times, but then suddenly someone starts watching you do it — and your fingers start stumbling, your brain starts short-circuiting, and you have to shout:

“I’M SORRY I SWEAR I DO THIS ALL THE TIME.

LOOK AWAY SO I CAN FINISH.”

This is the chilling, the gut-spilling, and the occasionally-thrilling experience known as the pressure to perform.

And it’s also the reason why (according to my theory at least), the final season of one of the most-watched shows of all time, Game of Thrones, missed the mark with a lot of audience members.

It’s Almost Like You Know Nothing…

Because when the pressure is on to make something not just work, but satisfy people, and create a positive result AND experience that feels good, things become, in short, hard AF.

And, when there’s pressure on you like the Game of Thrones creators, the expectation is so immense it’s literally impossible to please everyone or make it work perfectly.

So you do your best, and hold your breath.

And, while entrepreneurs like us may not have the whole world waiting to tell them the fate of The Night King or angrily shouting on forums about who wound up on the Iron Throne, we experience this pressure all the same.

When it comes time to move from “teaching” to “selling”, all of a sudden we feel like the world is watching.

But, but, but…Everyone’s Watching!

We feel like everyone’s waiting to judge us.

We start looking around at our competitors wondering breathlessly how they managed to do the thing, and if we’ve actually been doing it wrong this whole time.

And we worry: if we don’t reach our goals… who are we, really?

So: what’s an entrepreneur who gives a damn to do?

We talk about all this and more on the latest episode of #HAMYAW: Staying chill when there’s pressure to perform.

(And yes, we do discuss the GoT finale.)

Because really: what happens to your work when it NEEDS to perform?

How to Keep Integrity Front and Center

Like when you need it to sell, or get shares and likes, or MAKE EVERYONE LOVE YOU.

How do you maintain creative integrity when a piece needs to do something BIG?

WE KNOW. SO. MANY. FEELINGS.

WE’LL ALL TRY TO STAY CALM.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why you should NOT take shortcuts in order to please the audience (or a client)
  • Why we all clam up the moment we need to sell something
  • Why over-engineering your work destroys it
  • Why we feel like we have to be someone we’re not in order for our writing to sell
  • Why our wanting everyone to know we’re a brilliant talented genius is holding us back

Watch. Enjoy. Let us know what you think.

And stay cool, baby.

Write on,

Episode Transcript

Oh my god.  

Yeah! If you move the Cetaphil 

Okay, hold up.  

Yeah, and like,  

(laughs)  

And just put your stuff on either side.

You don’t want the butt cream in the frame? What’s wrong with you?  

(laughs)  

What show is this?  

We don’t wanna 

I don’t wanna watch a show that doesn’t feature Desitin.  

You know what? No! 

(upbeat music) 

Welcome back, marketing nerds of the world! It’s time for another episode of HAMYAW, and today, Margo and I wanted to talk about something that we’ve actually been dying to talk about in the context of everyone’s former favorite television show, Game of Thrones, and this is about the pressure to perform.

How do you maintain creative integrity when a piece needs to do something big?  

It got me thinking about how we create content, and how we create marketing deliverables, and the things that require creative process, and when you start performing well, like Game of Thrones, there is added pressure, where, at a certain point, no matter what you do, you’re gonna disappoint people,  

Yes.  

Or your thing might not perform, and so, for a TV show, that’s audience reception. That’s positivity. That’s getting liked and shared and appreciated and valued and revered in the hall of fame for all of time.

And then, for us, that’s sales. That’s conversion. That is sometimes vanity metrics and virality, but when we’re talking within a marketing context, you want your content to perform, and so, Game of Thrones, to me, was way too personal, in the sense that, like, I really related to the pressure on the writers.  

Yeah!  

And like, Oh god! You know that moment where you’ve put something out, it went viral, it did really well, and then, the pressure is there.  

Yup.  

Everyone’s like, Margo’s next thing, Hillary’s next thing. It’s gonna be the best, and you’re just like, Meh?  

And then, it’s not, and then you don’t have a piece go viral for like a year, and you’re like, Who am I? This is so good, because I would do these recaps every week for Game of Thrones, where actually the first two paragraphs were always me being like, “Look, if you wanna get nitpicky and, like, hyper-critical, this is not the place to do so.”

All I could think about were the people from the writers’ room, and the coffee boys, and the people who would work so hard, and the 55-day night shoot for the “Long Night” episode.

I’m thinking about all these people who worked so hard just reading these criticisms of people in their freaking… like desk chairs and basements being like, “Blah! I could have written this better! Blah! They should have done this character development!” 

All of a sudden, everyone knows about battle techniques and um, writing techniques, and how to close a loop, and what a plot hole is. (whispers) A plot hole is not something you didn’t like!

Anyway, so that, I think I got really protective, but the reality is, it was just not up to par because the writers took a new, as you and I were discussing before we started the episode, they took shortcuts in order to please the audience.

And this is something that happens a lot in marketing and also, like, content marketing, where you build up this reputation, creating this, like, incredible world and experience of yourself, and then, when it comes time to sell something, all of sudden, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. 

Your number one focus is making sure you hit all the right strategic notes. And that’s why… I think I actually made this mistake when I was working on, like, my blog, and started to charge to sell things using my blog, and like used my pieces to promote stuff.

My first instinct was not to write a blog post like I normally would, but to be like, “Oh no, how do I write a strategic blog post? How is everybody else doing it? What do I think people want? What’s gonna make people see me as professional? And 

Yeah…  

Like sellable! And because of that, it created a totally different experience from the experience my customers were used to.  

Yeah!  

And that was a huge disconnect. And it, of course, the first time I did it, it resulted in a total flop. Like, I made no sales, because I, again, was writing like somebody else and trying to take a shortcut to hit all the notes I thought I was supposed to hit to please people and create results, but all I did was create a total disconnect, and I think that’s sort of what happened with Game of Thrones.  

Yes, totally! And you made a good point that nothing actually changes except our mindset. Because I do the same thing when you go into “sales mode,” where things have to perform.

In one part, we’re battling all of the marketing from our colleagues or people in our space who are saying there’s a right and wrong way to do this. I have a foolproof formula, and you gotta do it right. And since you’re an expert, it needs to be perfect and you start putting that hat on, so that’s one problem. 

Then, the other problem is that you feel the pressure to perform as well. Like something that came from organic brand place starts being more of a… sales push and you have those voices of sales people before you coming and being like, “You gotta push! You gotta sell! You gotta be persistent! You gotta be in people’s face! You gotta hit all of your marks!”

Like, I remember thinking, I had written sales pages for clients, and I had taught it, and I had studied it, but when it came to writing it for myself, I got so nervous, because I was like, “Am I doing the right move here? Did I do this right? Did I use this angle?” And it really put me in like a weird headspace,  

Yeah.  

But that’s really all that changed. Think about it. If the writers’ room of Game of Thrones stayed, just let’s end the story, like how does this story end? Let’s follow these people. I mean, presumably, we hope that’s what they were doing… And like, there’s no way 

Instead of like, “Gotta wrap it up, guys! C’mon!”  

Well, there’s arguments that that’s what happened, that like the story line was actually really consistent, but being like a truncated timeline, that was the problem.  

So, this was actually interesting, and I’ve told this story probably on HAMYAW before. I tell it a million times, and I’m sure my coach at the time is very amused to hear me talk about it constantly.

But when I was putting the sales page together for the Wordshops, the first thing I did was look at all my competitors, which were Copyhackers, The Copy Cure, all these really smash-hit copywriting courses, and I read all the sales pages, and they all said the same thing:

“Write copy that converts! Grow your audience! Boost your sales! Increase revenue!” And I was like, “Great! That’s what people wanna know about, so that’s what I will sell them on this page, because that’s how people will see me as an expert and think that I am great!”

Well, so I put this sales page together. God bless. It was like 15 pages, like traditional-ass sales letter.

And I put it together. And it was very strategic. Very tight. I used my own template for it, but at the same time, that was from years of doing copywriting, so it was… It built off the traditional kind of structure.  

Yeah.  

And I sent it to my coach, expecting her to be like, “Great job! Off we go to the races!” And she sent me back a Vox.

She was like, “Great sales page. Not your sales page.” And I was like, “Oh! Oh no! Really?” Ooh, yeah, busted.  

(laughs)  

Um, and she was like, “This is not you, and this is not what people come to you for. Like, no offense.” Of course, conversions and results happen, as they should. If I’m not making sales, I’m not a good writer. If I’m not making conversions, every… All copywriting is conversion copywriting. Technically.  

(laughs)  

Because it has to inspire people to do something.  

Yeah, yeah.  

But uh… She was like, “People come to you for style and originality. They wanna know, like, how to be authentically themselves and use their voices, so I wanna see that.” And she told me, she was like, “Put your disco dress on,”  

Yes!  

“And write this thing. This is some buttoned-up stuff, and it’s not you!” And I was like, “Fuck! You’re right!”

So, I had to redo the whole thing, which was torture, but it was a really great learning experience for me, because again, if I had launched that the way it was, it would have been a nice sales page, but it would not have been me.

It was not talking about the things, not only my audience wanted from me, but that I had trained them to expect, and that is the big, again, divide with Game of Thrones, where it’s like, we’ve been trained to expect this winding, deep dialogue, unexpected things happening, policy changes, politics, and instead, we got, like, “Uh!” (thump) Like, “Uh, uh, we’re here!”  

(laughs)  

“Oh, the Long Night, one episode. Oh, here we are in King’s Landing. Oh no, everything’s kind of wrapped up and now, everything’s fine, and we’re moving on.”

I think that’s just again where, something to consider as you sit with an upcoming strategy or launch or thing that you wanna sell, ask yourself, “Is this in line with the experience I have trained my audience to expect?”  

Yes! I love this, because this is also an exercise in empathy.  

Mm-hmm.  

And like, understanding that nothing really shifts when you go from brand to sales, in terms of… giving a crap about the person on the other side. Like, you still want to know, what problem are you solving?

Because I had a similar problem as you. I actually haven’t heard that story in the way that you told it, which is crazy, and uh, but I really relate to it, because there are moments where I put together something, and I’m like, “I know this is good copy.”

But here’s the thing, great copy and great marketing is invisible!  

Yes!  

So… And you shouldn’t ever look at something and go, “That was good copy!” In the same way that you don’t go, “That was a good episode.” Instead, you go, “Oh, I’m so mad at Dany!” You know like… 

Yes!  

That’s a good episode! It’s like, you wanna start feeling something, so when someone reads your sales page, what they should take away is like, “Oh my god, I need this!” or like, “This sounds awesome!” And so then… 

Yeah!  

It’s getting to the root of, like, what are you really here to do? So, for me, I had the same problem, where I’m like, “I gotta sell conversion! I gotta sell results!” And that was also scarcity thinking, that like… 

Yeah.  

I’m always trying to legitimize marketing and copy, and so, part of it is, like, make it make money! Like that’s how you can legitimize it, but that’s not the problem my people had, and so, I think that’s a big difference. Like, there are some people who have that problem, and they can buy a different course, like… 

Exactly.  

For me, it was people, my people need to be comfortable doing things and like trusting themselves, doing things that made them uncomfortable. Like that was what they had trouble doing, so like I built the course around that, around getting you to feel like you actually know what you are doing for once without having to be a master copy writer.  

Yeah.  

And it turned out, that worked! So, like, knowing your strengths. I love what you said about, you have been delivering on this one thing, and then it shifts when you go into sales mode.  

Mmhmm.  

Or when it goes to that pressure to perform. I’m trying to think of like how we avoid that, and the only thing that ever ever works for me, because, full disclosure, it never really goes away, I’m just more aware of it now, and I can be conscious about how I act on it.  

Mmhmm.  

But I still get that. Like when I have to present something, or when I do have a piece of collateral that does need to perform. Like for me, I try and think of the one person on the other end of that ad or that campaign or that story or that article or that episode, and think about like how are they feeling when they get this?  

Yeah.  

That usually snaps me out of it because that self-consciousness that comes from the pressure to perform is all about me. It’s all about like, how do I wanna sound? How do I wanna be? I want everyone to think I’m really, really good at what I do.  

And really smart!  

And really smart, and beautiful and talented!  

And really clever!  

Oh yeah! Yes! I’m so witty!  

Well-raised! Yeah, absolutely.  

And credentials, and all the things, and like your audience doesn’t care! Like, those are actually tools that get them to trust you, that you can pull, like levers you can pull.  

Yeah.  

The truth is the audience is only ever thinking about their own problem. And like that’s all you ever have to talk about, so it’s the same strategy you’re using in brand that’s working when you have to perform.  

Yeah, and this is also in favor of the whole purpose of keeping your eyes on your own paper.  

(laughs) Yes!  

Because when you start looking around, and you’re like, “Oh no, I’m doing this wrong, because this person’s doing it this way.”  

Yes!  

Like it gets you totally tangled.  

This is what I teach on Skillshare! Like, it is… That is the mistake that people make, is that the second it starts to feel like sales, you failed. You should be talking… 

Yeah.  

To people who have the problem that you solved, and then, you need to…You’re a matchmaker!  

Yes.  

You’re matching them to the solution. And then, they’re like, “Yes, I would like the solution.” (laughs)  

Yeah!

This is why it’s actually the golden age of personal follow-ups, because every single person I know who is selling high-ticket programs is not just putting out the offer and then like moving units.

They are making the offer, having people get on calls, like doing 10 sales calls in like a day, and like moving all these people through the system, but it’s deeply personalized in a way that was de-popularized in the, I wanna say, 2011 to 2015 marketing era.  

Yeah.  

Where it was about, like, “Okay, four hour workout! You’re gonna build a business, and then what you’re gonna do is put as many layers 

Automation!  

As possible in between you and your customers so you don’t even have to be there! Those systems started breaking down, and why? Because, again, consumers are smart, and that personal touch is so valuable.

Feeling seen is so valuable to a customer and to all of us, and I think this is why I, despite the fact I occasionally made fun of the backlash of the final season of Game of Thrones, but at its core, it’s a betrayal.

When somebody feels like they had one experience from you, or they’ve been trained to expect one experience, and then, because you need to wrap something up in order to go shoot Star Wars, or because you’re making an offer and wanna make money, they feel that jarring shift and it feels like a betrayal.

It feels like a bait and switch. 

And so, by keeping your eyes on your own paper and learning how to develop marketing strategies and sales strategies in line with how you’re doing things already is the way you absolutely have to do things if you want to be successful and if you want an audience that’s gonna stick with you, whether you’re doing a launch or whether you’re just in your usual kind of content marketing cycle.  

Yeah.  

I’m starting to think, Margo, in terms of how one develops a marketing plan that doesn’t feel like the final season of Game of Thrones, what do you recommend? (laughs)  

No, it’s a really good question. So, I think a plan is different than the execution, which is what we’re talking about right now.  

Mmhmm, yeah.  

I think what makes you feel weird is execution, because the plan part is easy.  

Yeah.  

Getting into the weeds where you’re like, “Oh crap!” Like, this piece of content, this ad, this partnership has to do something, and then you almost start grasping for straws, because you feel that pressure for it to perform. And so, you know, I think the advice that you gave is actually perfect, which is, I like the frame of keeping your eyes on your own paper.  

Mmhmm.  

But number one, I always say your colleagues are not your customers.  

Mmhmm.  

So, remember that. Remember, just because that’s what these four people did doesn’t mean that’s what you need to do because they’re not going after your audience. I know you think that you do, but if you haven’t seen someone’s numbers, don’t assume their marketing’s working.  

Yes!  

Can we just make that a law?  

Oh my god! If I had a nickel for every sales email… Okay, almost every sales email, guys, that I send out that tanks has at least three responses that say, “Great sales email.”  

Yeah!  

And that’s what Margo means by marketing 

Should be invisible.  

Needs to be invisible. I don’t know if you’re here or on this side of me, but that’s what Margo means when she talks about marketing being invisible. Like, if you can see it,  

Yeah.  

Something’s wrong. Just like if you’re watching a TV show, and you’re like, “Wow, amazing structure!” Like beginning,  

Yes!  

Middle, and end. Fabulous! Like, it’s not a good episode,  

Yes!  

Because you’re not immersed!  

Yes! Yes, yes, yes. That’s exactly right, and you can think of it when you watch the Olympics. You ever watch like a ice skater, and you’re like, “That is so easy.” Like, there’s a reason they say, “You make it look so effortless.”  

Yeah.  

Because if you’ve ever seen a bad ice skater, you know how hard it is! (both laugh)  

Or like people who try to ice skate!  

Yeah, like that’s how you know! 

The other thing I would say is like our discussion on empathy. The thing that makes the pressure dissipate when you get to that point where you need to go into sales is to shift and don’t think, “I have to make a million sales,” and, “Oh my god, my kids need to eat.”

If you get into that mode, you get into panic mode and you start thinking only about yourself and how you want to be perceived and what you need from the interaction, and that’s where marketing dies.

What you need is to understand, it’s a two-way street, and you’re meeting someone where they are, and so you wanna have empathy. Like what are they feeling? What are they afraid of? And just talk to them.

So, I like a few mindset shifts of, I don’t like to think of it as scant sales, as pushing on you, but rather as advocacy.  

Yeah.  

Like if you’re sitting here, and I wanted to convince you of like why there’s a, you know, beached whale. Don’t ask me why that just came to my mind, and like we need to push the beached whale back in the water.  

What’s happening in Jersey City?  

I wouldn’t… (laughs) Sorry, I just looked at the water. I was like, “What’s a water thing?” Like, it wouldn’t occur to me to start thinking about what strategies I would need to convince you that this whale needs to be moved into the water.

I would just start telling you why we need to move it, and I would become an advocate for the cause, and so, stepping into that, where you’re not thinking I have to be something I’m not in order for this to work, you don’t.  

Mmhmm.  

That’s a myth. That’s totally a myth.  

Yeah.  

There are persuasion techniques that you should learn, but I think that a lot of them are intuitive.

The more you learn and the more you go out, it’s like whenever you have sales calls or if you’ve ever been in business for yourself, which most of you watching are, you start to learn, like what questions should I ask? How should I ask them? That worked. That didn’t.

You can learn these things without having to study for the test just intuitively by dealing with people and understanding that everything here is in the domain of human emotions.  

Yeah.  

And so, you can watch. You can be like, “Oh, that attempt failed.” Instead of thinking, like, I’m a failure. I suck at this. I need to be something different than I am. Just no. Try something different next time. And talking to people like people always works.  

Yeah.  

Nobody wants to be sold. People do like to buy. So, those are little things, that understanding about human psychology actually can help not feel the pressure of a perfect marketing plan and one that needs to perform while still getting you results, because we don’t wanna discount that that… I mean, I’m not gonna tell you to just show up,  

Yeah.  

And then be like, “Ta-dah! Be yourself!” Like that’s not, No, don’t, let’s be careful. Watch our episode on should you be yourself online.  

It’s a great episode.  

There’s still an element of professionalism, but I think when you are a top performer, like a lot of us are, when you are high-performing, when you do put a lot of pressure on yourself, and you’re a perfectionist, which, guilty, our audience, us, all of us. Um, yeah, right? It helps to sort of take the pressure off.  

Yeah, I agree. And just, a good rule of thumb, focus on doing what you’re good at for the people who need it.  

Yes!  

Especially through sales. Like how’s that gonna happen? How are you gonna make that happen?  

Yes.  

It’s a good reframe. Just, that’s what the Game of Thrones creators should have thought about.  

(laughs)  

How can we do what we do best for the people who love it? Maybe we should have had a few more episodes this final season.  

Maybe! That would have been a good idea. All right, everyone! Thank you so much for watching. I’m Margo Aaron.  

And I’m Hillary Weiss.  

This is HAMYAW. Please, if you like this episode, subscribe! Like it! Share it with all your friends. Comment below and we will see you in two weeks!  

And rewatch Game of Thrones season finale. It really wasn’t that bad!  

Oh!  

Bye guys! (both laugh) 

Hey!

Photo by Juliet Clare Warren

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