The Apprentice Rat Cage

Great example of life imitating blogs on The Apprentice tonight.

Last post, I talked about stress. Lo and behold, stress is exactly what knocked what’s-her-name off the show. Under time pressure, and faced with having to think on her feet, she choked (to use The Donald’s term).

I don’t think she understands the term herself. It is clearly what she did. Her sticking point (she denied choking over and over again in the post-firing taxi interview) was not being able to fit her self-image into that of a “choker”. Actually, if you watched the program — and if you’re in biz, you need to, as great homework — she was called a loser first, then a choker.

Trump is such a schoolyard bully.

She’s young. You gotta get over it. Everybody chokes at some point — the game of life has been rigged against you. If you venture out your front door, you’re going to encounter a situation that overwhelms your tools.

And you’re gonna choke.

In fact, you really can’t succeed without experiencing it, and coming to grips with it.

How are you gonna act in a situation where you are on the spot, and you absolutely draw a blank on what to do? Most people just refuse to imagine the scenario — too potentially damaging to their ego.

I know this territory well. I was a cocky young guy with a big mouth for a long time… and I’m happy I encountered someone early on who showed me the way to trump that cockiness — he knocked me out.

Okay, I’m still cocky, and I’ve still got a big mouth… but I watch my back more closely. Lesson learned. There are times to reign it in. There are gonna be situations in your life when you gotta just suck it up and walk away, if you can. Not even Clint Eastwood acts like Clint Eastwood in real life.

I know exactly what that poor woman was feeling, tonight, facing a critical audience who held her future in their hands, and not knowing what to do. She was in charge of the presentation, and it was 100% FUBARed. She kept searching her notes, hoping to find a groove that wasn’t there.

I have been on the spot, on stage, in around three dozen seminar situations. Most of my early experience is one of anxiety and cluelessness, moving down to sheer terror and helplessness. I didn’t understand the “game” of how seminars worked for a long time. Didn’t understand what was expected of me, what was needed from me, what I had to offer.

Fortunately, the guy I shared the stage with in the first dozen or so seminars was Gary Halbert. Who loved the spotlight, and particularly loved the chaos of not quite knowing what was going to happen next.

It took me forever to “break the code” on this game… and when I did, I had to ask myself what the big deal had been.

Basically, when you stand up in front of people, they expect a few things from you. First, they expect you to have earned your right to be there. Next, they expect you to know your shit.

And lastly… they expect you to engage them at a satisfying level.

None of this is hard to do when you’re dealing with something you know something about.

The audience doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you’re nervous. Saying you are does not endear you to them — rather, they roll their eyes, and sigh. Because they know they’re now in for a period of excruciating awkwardness, and you’re the perpetrator.

They don’t care if your throat is dry, or if you’re having trouble speaking, or if your notes are in disarray.

You have mounted the stage. You have accepted the responsiblities of that stage, which require you to deliver.

It’s just that simple.

Once I “got” that simple rule, all the anxiety vanished. No amount of raw fear or shyness was going to win over the audience. What they demanded from me was, once I stepped up and the lights focused, to simply act like someone who belonged there.

During one of our early seminars, Halbert had some horrilble illness creep up on him. And he asked me if I thought I could handle the rest of the event. I turned so pale, he decided not to risk it.

But you know what? I had all the necessary knowledge, experience and savvy to pull off the entire seminar. What I lacked was the realization that I possessed all of this.

These days, I’m so relaxed on stage that I often toss my notes (which I only follow loosely anyway) and wing it. Four hundred people in the audience, waiting for brilliance, and I get bored with the “safe” route… so I just go off on a rant or a tangent.

Why do I do this? Because I lose focus with rote speeches. There’s just no fun in it. But also because I now know — from experience — that I can wing it and survive, just fine. Because when I’m up there, talking about marketing and advertising, you’re in MY house.

Yet, failure can still happen. Even being a twenty-year veteran of seminars and the marketing industry won’t always save you. I still occassionally put together bands and play in rowdy bars here in Northern Nevada. Sometimes, it’s just great fun. Other times, something ain’t clicking, and it’s a nightmare up there on the stage. The drummer’s on drugs and can’t hold the beat, the bass player is out of tune, the PA melts down… a LOT of things can go wrong, and you can count on at least some problems every gig.

That’s the risk you take mounting the stage. It may not go as planned, dude.

So, maybe even a long history of working the stage wouldn’t have saved that woman tonight on The Apprentice.

But from what I saw, her failure was mostly from not being comfortable winging it. Just decide on two or three points that are your USP, the main points you’re going to try to get across… and stay in that pocket. If the notes aren’t working, you gotta toss ’em fast. (I’ve walked on stage before and realized that half my notes are missing.)

Essentially, have a Plan B, which can be a simple 2-step delivery: This is the problem as we saw it, and here is how we solved it.

Drop all metaphors and fancy verbal dancing.

However, you cannot pull anything off if you let stress get you. Stress invades when you allow it to. You give your body permission to drop a nasty payload of too much adrenaline and other hormones that whack out your brain… and it’s hard to catch your breath.

One trick: Just say “screw it”. If you fail, you fail. You know you’re going to come away with a good lesson, and you’re never going to let this happen again. Even if you have to refuse to go on stage unprepared in the future. (Though, I personally only want to hang with people who understand that the show must go on.)

Get simple. Tell the truth. Don’t try to bullshit the audience, or win them over with weakness — it will never work.

Tonight, she lost sight of the simple elements of her job. She only had a few things that needed saying, really, to introduce the presentation. No one was going to shoot her if she failed. But she let her internal chemical dump overload her system, and she choked.

Again, no shame in that. Anyone who steps up to the plate will do it, or has done it already.

Life is all about brutal lessons that can give you nightmares. A successful life is all about dealing with that reality, and using the available tools of navigating these events to learn your lesson and move on with minimal damage.

I laugh at my nightmares now.

Being the “go to” guy just isn’t that hard, once you understand the simple basics. And remind yourself that even if you fail, you’re gonna get back up on the horse and do it again. And overwhelm the nightmares with success.

Do you agree?

John Carlton

P.S. I want to apologize to everyone who has been patiently waiting for info on the Freelance Course. Everything is done, and has been done for some time. I expect the website explaining everything to be up in the next few days… and we’ll get this show on the road.

I’ll announce the site here, when it’s ready. Thanks.

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Dennis Mellersh says:


    I am enjoying your Big Damn Blog very much — a lot of excellent information and advice.

    Filled in the form to receive e-mail notification of your new posts, but the link your autoresponder sent to me to confirm my opt-in just loops back to your blog.

    It does not confirm.

    Keep posting! Great stuff.


    Dennis Mellersh

  • jp says:


    When I watched that episode, it seemed to me that Trump was being mean just for the sake of being mean.

    You knew he didn’t like Angie to begin with. He said as much in a previous episode. What got me was that he was being gratuitous with his insulting comments.

    What a pr*ck.

    Everybody else has to play by the rules. Insulting others (to their face or otherwise) isn’t acceptable behavior in the corporate world.

    In fact, it’s enough to get you kicked off just about any project.

    On the one hand, there’s a set of rules for the competitors (and everybody else who works for somebody else)…and on the other hand, there’s the rules that the big cheese gets to live by.

    Makes for great TV though.

    To your point about everybody choking at one time or another. Ain’t that the truth.


    *Own Up To It, Get Over It, And Move On With It.

  • Jim says:

    You hit the nail right on the head.

    Once you see being the man isn’t such a big deal, you look forward to it.

    In fact, I’d say you have trouble going back to playing second fiddle.

    A friend of mine was rhythm guitarist in his band when suddenly the lead guitarist quit. The band looked for another but couldn’t find anyone they liked. My buddy was forced to step up and he wasn’t really psyched about it. He was comfortable.

    But he did and he never went back to rhythm guitar again. It changed his life.

    Same thing in sports. Once these guys see they can handle being a starter, in any sport, they don’t want to be second string again.

  • philip says:

    Apprentice ship rat cage is really interesting.


  • philipbonde says:

    i like your efforts and struggle regarding bloging ..rat-cage

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