Coach Interview Series: Nathan Gold

by Brandon

Nathan Gold

Chief Coach at The Demo Coach

Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing Nathan Gold. Nathan is a world-renowned speaker and professional speaking coach based in Fremont, CA.

NCA: Can you describe your coaching practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

Nathan: My name is Nathan Gold and as the Chief Coach at the Demo Coach for the last 12 years, my practice has revolved around two main audiences. The first is startups and scaleup companies that are trying to raise money from investors or trying to present at a very important opportunity, such as at a conference or a keynote with a clock in front of them. I’m all about the clock. If you have 18 minutes or less, that’s where I specialize. If you have a longer time, I certainly can help you but that’s not where I typically spend my time.

The other audience that I work with are corporates — primarily corporates that have sizable pre-sales and sales teams. They have all the content that they need in their heads and now they need a kick in a butt about how to be more impactful when they present and learn how to connect emotionally with an audience. I go in and I talk nothing about content but I give them all sorts of exercises and workshopping on how to present in a more impactful way.

Those are my two audiences: startups and scaleups either raising money or having really important presentations or corporations.

There’s one other group that I don’t talk a ton about but I really do love doing it and I don’t even charge for it: TED and TEDx presenters.

NCA: Interesting, tell me more about that.

Nathan: Over the years, I’ve run into so many people that end up finding themselves on the TED or TEDx stage that I’ve been getting organic phone calls from these people saying, “Hey, you know you helped me when I was presenting in front of that thousand-person audience at TechCrunch Disrupt” or whatever the conference may have been and “Listen, I now have to present in front of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Al Gore and I only have 3 minutes. Can you help?”

When I get those kind of calls from people that I’ve worked with in the past, I usually respond with one question first and that is, “Are you willing to perform the talk out loud three hours for every one minute you’re going on stage? If the answer is yes, I will coach you. If not, go get somebody else.” Because it’s too important.

I don’t charge for that service because there were very few coaches I’ve ever met that actually get paid to help TED speakers and I know a number of people that do it for the love of it. I just decided I’m going to follow suit and just do it for the love of it. Give back. Help. And it’s come around several ways already.

Here’s a true story about a client who called me and said, “I have three minutes at TED.” And I said, “You mean at TED, where Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Al Gore are sitting in the front row?” And he says, “Yeah. Yeah dude.” We literally worked for a good 10 hours of video — back and forth, back and forth. Then he gets up there on the stage and he starts speaking. For some reason — I never found out why — that particular stage he was on actually had a lectern on it. Most of the stages don’t the only reason I can think is because when you have a 3-minute pitch, it’s hard to lapel mic-up people and then have them get off and take their lapels and put it on the next one. It could’ve been one of those. Just go up there, do your 3 minutes, and get off.

He gets up there, he’s behind a lectern just like we had rehearsed, and about a minute into it, the microphone cuts out. And you would think, “Oh no.” But we have rehearsed for it. I rehearsed my client for the oddest, most unusual circumstances so that if and when anything like that happens, they can deal with it. He was ready. He just stepped out, big smile, and he went on and on and on. 30 seconds later, he glances over his shoulder and he sees the thumbs up from the techies that are doing whatever they’re doing until my client walked back and finishes his talk like nothing had happened.

Moral of the story: he’s backstage and he calls me to tell me about this thing going wrong and how nervous he was and he hangs up and calls me back about another half an hour and said, “You won’t believe it but Bill Gates actually walked up to me in the hallway.” True story. Verifiable. And he said, “You know, professionals never blame the tech, do they? And by the way, here’s my business card. I’d like to know more about what you’re working on.”

I didn’t really believe, personally, that any certification on the planet would add more credibility to what I was doing except for the 30 years that I already had doing it.

NCA: What initially got you interested in this career path that you’re on and what kind of degree or certifications did you need to complete, if any?

Nathan: I have been in tech my whole career — primarily in pre-sales and marketing roles for some software and some hardware companies. I started my career in 1979 after getting a degree in Computer Science. That’s my only degree. I have no formal coach certification that gives me the credibility to do what I do. I just had gotten laid off for the third time in my career from SanDisk. It was a high-paying job, a high-influencing job and I looked at myself at 50 years old and said, “God, I don’t ever want to feel like I can be laid off by anyone ever again.”

I have two choices as I looked at the mirror. One was to retire and I could’ve semi-retired. Back then, actually, I had kind of enough where I could’ve lived okay. But I was 50 and I was healthy and I was having too much fun in life and I thought, “I don’t want to retire.” So what do I love to do? I love to present.

I love the whole process of edutaining an audience with a product or a service that they don’t know they need until I’m showing it to them. That kind of persuasion. I can take any product and service on the planet — you give me a few hours with it and I can persuade anyone to buy it, to look at it, to want to know more about it. I developed the ability to engage with just about every kind of audience on the planet including people that don’t even speak my language.

NCA: You’ve always been in the corporate world and you decided relatively later in life that your favorite activity to do was presenting and now you’re a coach helping others do the same.

Nathan: That’s exactly it. That’s what it was. I just flipped the switch and said, “Okay, I’m going to go help other people do what I do best.”

In 2008 when I started this, my specialty was demos: coaching people for those 5-minute demos at conferences like Demo and TechCrunch where you have such a limited number of minutes up on stage to demo your product and get the audience to take action. After a year of doing that, I felt like I needed to do something to bump my credibility. I didn’t really believe, personally, that any certification on the planet would add more credibility to what I was doing except for the 30 years that I already had doing it.

I wrote a book called Giving Memorable Product Demos. But as soon as I wrote that book and published it, that’s what gave me the credibility to charge twice what I was charging before the book was published.

NCA: In working with your clients, what would you say is the most rewarding part of that interaction and on the flip side, what is the most challenging or difficult aspect of the work that you do?

Nathan: The most difficult aspect is getting people to practice, but it’s even more than that. It’s getting people to rehearse out loud. That’s the most difficult thing I am challenged with on a regular basis. They say they’re going to rehearse, they tell me they rehearsed, and then they rehearse to me online or in my face and it really doesn’t sound any different than four days ago, so what have you been doing? I don’t call them out like that because I am a coach that takes things from the approach of love and not fear. I always let people save face. It’s their time on stage and my name is not going on stage. Obviously, I’m there for them and I want them to succeed.

I’ve only fired two clients in 12 years: people who after the third time said they were going to do it and they didn’t. They didn’t do it and they wasted my time. I gave them back their money. Other than that, my number one challenge is to get people to rehearse out loud.

It’s not so that they sound like robots or so that they all memorize whatever they’re going to say. I can tell you that unless you hit a tennis ball a hundred times, trying to hit it into the right corner of the backcourt, you won’t know how to do it if you just go out there three or four times. People must get over the fear, the anxiety, the unwillingness to actually stand up with their video cameras and a tripod and present to the camera and then send me the results. I have a thousand excuses I can list of why people can’t do that.

I suppose the best part is the story I related to you a moment ago about people calling me afterwards saying, “Oh my God. This is the most prepared I have ever been in my entire life for any presentation. Thank you for that. Okay. I’m going out on stage tomorrow morning.” And then they go out on stage tomorrow morning and then tomorrow afternoon, I either get a call or a video note that says, “Nathan, it was the most incredible out-of-body experience I’ve ever had. If it wasn’t for you and making me rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, holding my feet to the fire. Thank you for holding my feet to the fire and man, it was life changing.” And it is life changing. When it is life changing for them, it’s life changing for me as well.

When I see people’s light bulbs go on, I feel so good for them. They struggle, especially in the startup role, for years to tell people what they do in one sentence. And I come along and say, “What do you do in one sentence? Don’t go on for 5 minutes. I want to know what you do in one sentence. If you can’t say that, then you’ve got a problem. And if you can tell me what you do in one sentence so I could tell somebody else what you do, that’s excellent.” Eventually people start realizing that they can’t do it.

I’m working with a company right now and they’ve been around for 18 years. I’ve coached 80 of their sales and pre-salespeople. I asked all of them, “Before we get into the content, I want everybody to write down one sentence. What does your company do?” I got 80 different answers. 80 different answers! They were shocked. They couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe that after so many years, no two people are saying the same thing.

The one question that I get the most frequent Aha! moments from [is] really simple and everybody already knows the question. You just have to ask it more than once. “Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why did you start this business? Why does the world need this product?”

Yesterday, I was working with 28 students from Australia. They’re all over the place — they’re undergrads or recent PhDs and they’re all going through this two-week immersion program ending up here in Silicon Valley to pitch to a bunch of investors today. My greatest experience was yesterday, I coached 28 teams, 15 minutes each. They pitched to me for 3 minutes then we coached for 12.

I would say only two of those students did not have an Aha! moment, which means that each of them was able to take a jump in how they can talk about their business. My sweet spot is two or three times with somebody and I can get them thinking about stuff they haven’t thought about. I can get them looking at what they’re doing in whole new ways. Get them questioning what they thought or their assumptions and now they’re thinking differently. That, to me, is the other main Aha! love that I try to reach with everybody that I work with. I don’t always get there, but it gets easier and easier.

In my first couple of years of doing this, it was really hard. I was struggling a lot and I learned that as a coach, I just have to ask a lot of good questions and do a lot of listening and then eventually, I can put some ideas on the table. Here we are 12 years later and now the Aha! moments are happening a lot more because I’ve seen thousands of people.

I’m happy to share with you and the audience the one question that I get the most frequent Aha! moments from. It’s really simple and everybody already knows the question. You just have to ask it more than once. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why did you start this business? Why does the world need this product? Why does anybody care about this software you’ve created? Why? Ask why enough to get the real answers. Just ask why.

NCA: Did you have a mentor that led you or helped you become the coach that you are now? Somebody that kind of took you under their wing and showed you things that made you a better coach?

Nathan: I have several silent mentors and coaches. People I modeled that didn’t know I was modeling them. But specifically, I do have one person in my life that I would consider a coach, a mentor, and now a friend that I met in my first year of this business. It was one of those emails I got from some multi-level marketing guru back in 2008. His name was Joe Vitale. I think he’s still around today. Joe wrote to all of his people, “Hey, there’s this creative branding savant on the East Coast that will take your call for free for half an hour.” I thought, “What the hell. I’ll take him up.” So I scheduled the appointment.

I got on the phone with this gentleman named Mark Levy from New Jersey. He runs a company called Levy Innovation. Mark and I just hit it off. You know how you meet a brother from another mother? All of a sudden, a half-hour call has gone five hours long. At the end of that call I was like, “Mark, I know I can’t afford to hire you right now, but I certainly can afford to hire you to consult with me and tell me a few things.” And so that’s what I did.

He said something to me that completely changed my thinking as a consultant and as a coach and I’m happy to pass that on to everybody here as well. He said, “Nathan, what’s your content?” So I went through my content of the workshops that I was selling on how to present and how to captivate an audience and how to answer questions and that sort of stuff. He said, “Well, you have a talk on how to pitch to investors with 13 slides in under 10 minutes. What are you charging for that workshop?” I said, “I’m charging $5,000 for that workshop for a day. He said, “Okay. Great. Next time you do it, I want you to video it and put it out on YouTube for everyone to watch for free.”

NCA: How did you react to that?

Nathan: I said, “NFW. I’m not doing that. I’m not going to go give it away.” He said, “Why not?” I said, “Because if I give it away, then what are they going to hire me for?” He said, “Oh, I see. You don’t understand what you’re really doing, do you?” And I said, “Perhaps not.”

So I’m thinking to myself, wait, this just doesn’t make any sense and I know something’s about to happen here or I’m about to learn something. He said, “Nathan, it’s not about the content. It’s about the coaching.” And I thought — he’s right.

Anybody can come up with content. I wasn’t coming up with content that was so unique and different. I wasn’t coming up with Nathan Gold methodology because who the hell was I? I was just some guy. I just wanted to help people. All I did was quote the experts like Simon Sinek and all those other great people out there and then I would help coach. Mark, literally in that moment in time, made me realize it’s not about the content. It’s about the coaching. Give away the content as a lead on to get your coaching assignments.

NCA: He essentially made you refocus on what exactly is your product.

Nathan: That’s exactly right. I always thought my product was the talk, but my product is me.

Here’s the moral of the story. Back then it was a 99% focus on startups. I literally didn’t even wait until the next time I had a public presentation. I went into my garage with a flip camera. I lit up my lights and I put a backdrop and I put on my suit and tie and I presented to the camera for about 45 minutes. I took that whole stream, gave it to an editor and all my visuals and he put together a 30-minute video.

I posted it on YouTube and I can tell you today that there are over 250,000 views of that video. That’s not a lot when you compare it to Simon Sinek but for me, I get 4 to 8 leads every single month from that video and the kind of leads I get are reflected in the comments. “Nathan, wow! I learned so much from this. Can I know more?” “Nathan, do you have any more I can watch?” I probably have made a half a million dollars in the last 10 years from that video. I wish I could update it I’m contradicting that video today a little bit. [laughing]

NCA: What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody in the very early stage of their coaching career?

Nathan: In the beginning of these types of consulting roles, we all feel like imposters. It’s the imposter syndrome. The way I got over my imposter syndrome was to guarantee that I can help you and this is what I would charge. In the first year, the way I got my best clients was to say, “My fee is $250 dollars an hour for 3 or 5 hours, roughly.” That’s how I set it up.

And then in the same breath I would say, “However, I’m just getting started. This is my first year in business and I’m looking for some really referenceable clients. If you’re willing to be a reference of mine — good, bad or indifferent — then I will reduce my fee by either 50%, 75%, or in the early days I would say I will do it at no charge. But I would never start by saying, “Well, I’d do it for no charge so I can use you as a reference.” They need to know the value of what you’re providing before you give it away for free.

We all need to decide what our value is per hour, per day, per project. Bottom line is you’re not usually doing this for free. My advice would be to decide what you believe your hourly fee is or should be if you perform as you expect to perform.

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