9-time 'Jeopardy!' champ Buzzy Cohen who won $441,000: 3 tips for succeeding in 'moments that matter'

"I saw what a difference proper preparation had in important things that I was preparing for."

Buzzy Cohen, a 9-time Jeopardy! winner, shares his experience as a guest host of the 2021 #TournamentOfChampions from the Jeopardy! stage.
Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

The chances of becoming a contestant on "Jeopardy!" are slim. Not only did Buzzy Cohen, a 36-year-old music executive from Los Angeles, California, beat those odds, but he has also won the game show nine times. Cohen attributes his success to the eccentric methods he's developed to prepare for life's "moments that matter."

"One really unique thing I did when I was getting ready for 'Jeopardy!' is I would go to the gym, I would hand my trainer my flash cards, and I would hang from a chin-up bar and have him quiz me," Cohen says.

Over the course of his time competing on "Jeopardy!" Cohen took home over $441,000. He also had the chance to host the game show for a week this May, as the show looks to replace the late Alex Trebek, who passed away in November 2020.

"I saw what a difference proper preparation had in important things that I was preparing for," says Cohen. He authored an Audible original titled: "Get Ready: How to Prepare for Moments that Matter" in which he draws on his own experience and he interviews top performers including federal prosecutors, glassblowers, and musicians.

These techniques are "very applicable to more common situations such as giving a speech — whether it's public speaking at work or giving a speech at a wedding — going on a first date, going on a job interview, or presenting work to your boss," or even learning a new skill, says Cohen.

Here are three lessons Cohen says you can apply to your own life to succeed when it matters most.

1. Have a time-specific goal

One key to success is outlining a specific goal, says Cohen. Staying motivated is "hard for people when they want to take something up." If you're trying to learn a new skill such as coding, or speaking a second language, for example, outlining your steps to a goal and setting a deadline can help keep you accountable, he explains.

After winning "Jeopardy!" Cohen became fixated on competing and winning. He went on to use his preparation techniques to become the champion of deadlifting in the 2018 Amateur Athletic Union United States Powerlifting and Weightlifting Championship.

Cohen had never competed in a weightlifting competition before, so he asked an expert for some guidance on a reasonable timeline. "I asked a trainer at my gym, 'How long do I need to train to win a deadlift meet?' and he said, 'At least nine months,'" he recalls. Cohen incorporated that info into his goal outline. "Working with people who know how to accomplish your goals and know how realistic they are is really helpful because it's very easy to get demoralized."

After weightlifting, Cohen decided to take up tap dancing. In order to mark his progress, he picked a specific routine he wanted to learn and a time frame in which to learn it. "[It] kept me motivated to go back week after week, and I was able to see myself improved towards that goal," he says.

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Video by Courtney Stith

2. Plan for interruptions and missteps

Planning for interruptions is key to success, says Cohen: "Having failure built into your process can be so helpful so that it doesn't totally derail you."

"What I try to do is to get used to failing, but get as much of it done in private as possible." For example, "Practice starting your best man speech six lines in. Practice having your PowerPoint interrupted, because someone is going to have to leave [during the presentation]. Practice getting back into it from slide five," Cohen suggests.

Having failure built into your process can be so so helpful so that it doesn't totally derail you.
Buzzy Cohen
9-time "Jeopardy!" winner

Worried about nerves? Film yourself. "A lot of people will give their speech or give their spiel or whatever it is to a friend or loved one. Setting up a camera automatically sets up self consciousness you don't normally have," he says.

You may still be nervous when the time comes to perform, but that's not the point. "It's not that the self-consciousness goes away, it's that you just get used to it. It's about acclimating yourself to it," Cohen explains.

3. Stage a dress rehearsal

One way Cohen acclimated himself when he went back on "Jeopardy!" for the 2017 "Tournament of Champions" was by practicing in his game-time attire. "I said, 'I'm going to wear a suit and tie every day.' Why? Because I'm going to wear a suit and tie when I appear on the show and I'd like to be as comfortable as possible," Cohen recalls.

If you have a big moment to prepare for, "a really small thing you can do is practice while wearing your clothes," Cohen says. Otherwise, you've "added a hurdle instead of taking one away."

Most importantly, have faith in yourself, Cohen says. "I think it's really easy to have the mentality of like 'I don't really want to,' or 'I'm scared to make a big move because what if it backfires,' and really you have to say, 'If I don't believe in myself, if I'm not confident enough in myself to get this done, what am I doing here?' So you have to trust your preparation."

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