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A while back, I gave two presentations at a writers’ retreat in Arizona with my lovely and talented wife (and business partner), Ingrid Elfver.

After the first presentation we got oohs and aahs. Glowing remarks. Gushing.

“Wonderful and informative” they said.


The second presentation was different. Some people got a lot out of it, but others got upset (and that’s putting it mildly). A couple participants actually walked out in the middle of our presentation.

Why would I fess up to that?

First, because I learned a lot about myself in the process. Second, because I know that telling you about it will empower you as well.

* * *

Here’s What Happened

The retreat took place in the picturesque red rock mountains of Sedona, a city known for its history and archaeology; arts and culture; shopping; outdoor sports; and spiritual/metaphysical community.


The event was a “Wellness & Writing” retreat attended mostly by authors who read books by publishers like Hay House (self help, inspirational, and transformational books).

For the most part the attendees were:

* Unpublished authors
* Early in their writing/career development
* Spiritual/metaphysical
* Intuitive/sensitive
* Focused on healing and wellness in their own lives
(in some cases the inspiration for their books)

So, what went wrong???

* * *

Breaking It Down

The first presentation Ingrid and I gave was standard schtick.

It was early in the morning and I could hear birds singing outside as I started my talk. I began by painting a pretty picture of how great it would be for everyone to get a top literary agent and book deal. I built everyone up, encouraged them to believe that is was possible.

I also addressed common fears and resistance that many authors have. I provided basics about how the publishing industry works. Lastly, I shared case studies illustrating how to give a book greater bestseller or high commercial potential.

When I was done, Ingrid encouraged everyone as well. She also inspired them to think bigger… about their business and brand. Authors are entrepreneurs after all, and books are just one potential stream of income. Others might include speaking, merchandise, coaching, etc.

Ingrid went on to help everyone see how they could bring more of themselves into their work. In other words, be more authentic and trust the fact that they can do more of what they’re really best at, and enjoy doing the most.

Pretty easy sell.

Everyone (myself included) likes to be nurtured
and hear about what’s possible.

That’s the fun stuff…


* * *

Then We Shifted Gears

After our first presentation Ingrid and I had lunch at a gorgeous restaurant next to a creek, and we enjoyed some downtime in our hotel room. Then we headed back to the retreat to host our very own “Author Shark Tank.”

Ingrid and I selected three different people to come up to the front of the room, one at a time, and sit in our “Author Hot Seat.” We stood on opposite sides of each person to provide intensive 2-on-1 laser coaching.

That’s when things got “messy.”

Yes, we continued to be encouraging and show people what was possible for them (things they wanted to hear). But this wasn’t just us speaking anymore.

It was us coaching.

Coaching is interactive.

Coaching is about action and transformation.

Coaching is about getting real and doing the work.

* * *

So, We Pushed Buttons

* We revealed weaknesses and limiting beliefs
* We talked about reality, making money, and success
* We told people they were wrong when they were wrong
* We challenged them to think bigger and take bolder action, concrete action steps that would take them out of their comfort zones and require more work than they had originally planned on doing (pushing everyone beyond the happy bliss of just birthing books)


* * *

To Be Honest, It Was a Bit Much

If we’d been speaking to a group of CEOs or seasoned entrepreneurs it would have been fine. But we weren’t. Remember, this group was made up of mostly unpublished authors very early in their writing/career development; spiritual/metaphysical; intuitive/sensitive; and focused on healing and wellness in their own lives (in most cases the driving force behind their books).

By the way, any time you start to “lose” an audience as a speaker, it’s your fault. We came on way too strong (talking business) with (mostly) a bunch of newbies that were (for the most part) just trying to find the confidence they needed to start writing their first books. We were so focused on how we could help the people there grow… that we tried to push them too far too fast.

We also should have spent more time (before starting the session) setting the stage: explaining the value of what we were about to do; framing everything we were about to present as opportunity; giving people permission to feel overwhelmed and/or opt out; and remind people that focusing on smart business strategy doesn’t mean you’re inauthentic or only in it for the money.

We realized this (to some extent) while it was happening,
and made some feeble adjustments.

But it wasn’t enough…

As I mentioned earlier, two people walked out.

Then, later on (long after the event), Ingrid and I heard
through the grapevine it got worse after we left.


Now that I’ve had a few weeks to process everything, I’ve boiled it all down to this… the moral of the story. There are two of them, actually:

* * *

Lesson #1: Fear vs. Opportunity

At first when I learned that people (including the event coordinator)
were disappointed, I got afraid.

Oh, no, did people gather in groups and say bad stuff about us that night when we left after the hot seat? Is the event coordinator going to invite us to future events? Will the attendees still want to work with us and sign up for our coaching programs? Will people from the event let what happened get in the way of their growth and development?

Then I remembered…

I’m not the kind of guy who likes to live in fear.

So, I chose the alternative.


I sat down and wrote the event coordinator a thoughtful email. I expressed my gratitude and some of my regrets. I explained why Ingrid and I did some of the things we did. And I made suggestions for what might be done differently in the future (hopeful that we might be able to mend fences and do more with the event coordinator in the future).

She replied with an extremely gracious email, but it was also heartbreaking. That’s when she told me how upset some of the attendees had gotten.

I jumped right back into fear.

Oh, God, it’s exactly what I thought. No, it’s worse than I thought. I suck. We suck. What a wasted trip. Man, we had such a great start to the event and then blew it with the “Author Hot Seat.”

Then my “higher self” returned.


I emailed the event coordinator again, thanking her for being so kind and even-handed in her email. It was obvious she put a lot of thought into it and didn’t want to hurt our feelings. She even said that she was worried that her email might have been too direct.

I told her it wasn’t too direct.

It was honest.

Then I thanked her for being brave enough to speak her truth (so few people have the balls to do that). Even though a lot of what the event coordinator said was difficult to hear, Ingrid and I needed to hear it. The event coordinator and I talked on the phone a couple weeks later (this is where it really gets interesting). According to her, our presence at the event wasn’t a total disaster after all.


She said, “Although some people at the event got protective of our tight group, and the discussions about money pulled a lot of folks out of their comfort zones – some positive effects are beginning to be seen. Many times (especially when it comes to money) people often need to be pulled a little out of their current mindset to see the bigger picture!!”

Here’s the point…

Everyone at the retreat (myself, Ingrid, the event coordinator, and all the attendees) were forced to make a choice during (and after) the event:

  1. Use everything that took place as an opportunity to learn and grow
  2. Go into fear (get defensive, find fault, and focus on others instead of yourself)

Staying positive and looking for opportunities advances you.

Going into fear holds you back.

The choice we all make
in these situations is critical…


If you want to be a true “master” (spiritually, in writing, or in anything else in life), it starts here. The event coordinator is a master. Ingrid is a master. I’m a master. And so is everyone else that attended the retreat… who chose opportunity and grace.

Life (and people) are imperfect.

Including me.

Get over it.

That’s not what matters.

What matters is what you do with the imperfection. That reveals your true character. It also defines the limits of the success you’ll be able to achieve (in your writing, in your relationships, and in every other part of your life).

Don’t get afraid, look for the opportunity.

Ingrid is much better at this than I am.

I get afraid, she doesn’t.


When I first told Ingrid about the email I got from the event coordinator, explaining how some people at the event got triggered, she laughed. “That’s good,” she said. “We got people’s attention and made them think. Eventually they’ll come around and see that we had good intentions and only wanted to help them grow.”

I took everything a lot harder.

That’s because I’m still in the process of getting comfortable… making other people uncomfortable (whereas Ingrid is already a master at this). For me, the couple weeks after Sedona were more of an emotional roller-coaster. Humbling. A learning experience that made me question what I do (and why).

I hope you’re learning from the experience, too.

* * *

Lesson #2: Love vs. Tough Love

Wanting people to feel good and/or like you is tempting as a speaker or coach, but that should never be the primary drive of a speaker or coach. If that happens, it should be called nurturing and/or people-pleasing.

Not coaching.

Yes, I want as many people as possible to love me when I speak and coach. But it’s more important to me that people reach their goals. Even if that means they’re going to get upset (as long as they’re nice about it).

I get it.

It’s uncomfortable…

That’s because I’m consciously making you uncomfortable, challenging you, and stretching you.

It isn’t supposed to be all sunshine and lollipops.


* * *

As a speaker and coach I have to:

* Reveal myths and misconceptions
* Share insider information about the publishing industry and/or business world that might be difficult for you to hear or accept
* Expose your weaknesses and shortcomings (so you can improve)
* Get you to be more realistic about how much work you’ll have to do and help you be more patient
* Tell you if you’re delusional
* Hold you accountable (if that’s something you need)

As your coach I’m going to fight for you. I’m going to fight with you if needed. And I’m going to show you how you’re fighting yourself.

One of my favorite marketing gurus says, “If you’re not pissing a few people off in business… you’re playing it safe, not really taking a stand for anything, and not helping people grow as much as you could.”

I agree.

It’s called “tough love” and that’s what I do.

If you want a yes-man, that’s not me.

Because I want you to succeed.

I’m not just in this for standing ovations (although they’re wonderful). Matter of fact, if you found this article enlightening and/or empowering… I’d love to hear from you below. And (if you’re one of the authors who attended the retreat in Sedona), I hope you got a lot out of it. You can do absolutely anything you put your mind to.

Ingrid and I believe in you,

– Mark

Mark Malatesta
Your “Undercover” Agent

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