For the Guy in the Front Row

The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), the largest media and marketing organization serving the promotional products industry, invited me to speak at their shows last year on “Building Killer Campaigns.” Sometime soon, I’ll write about the preparation involved in public speaking and about my journey to my first hour-long speaking engagement. (Leading up to this point, I had only served on industry panels with a moderator and at least two other speakers). But, I don’t want to write about that long, winding road that leads to public speaking just yet. Today, I’m more compelled to write about something amazing that happened while I was speaking at ASI Show San Diego. Somewhere during the middle of my presentation, I made eye contact with a person in the audience for a bit too long and lost my stride. I stumbled for just a few seconds trying to find the right words and my presentation went in a new direction, one that surprised me and my colleagues, who were sitting in the audience, both of whom knew how the presentation was “supposed” to go. Since I was fairly rehearsed, I could tell by their bewildered faces that they knew I was walking into unknown terrain, but I could also see their relief when my new material managed to stay true to my slides.

Quickly, I caught my stride, and everything started to fall right back into place. However, not long after the misstep, one of my colleagues motions her watch and indicates that we have twenty minutes left, but I misunderstood and thought she meant that I had only been speaking for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes? Only? In my head, I rationalized that I was talking way too fast, and was annoyed with myself for not wearing a watch. Tactically, I was now dealing both with the new direction I was taking in my presentation and trying to figure out how to slow the whole thing way down. If you’ve ever spoken in front of an audience before, you know that’s an awful lot of brain exercise in one standing; it’s like the equivalent of being the conductor and the one man band, at the same time.

So, I needed to kill some time, or so I thought I did. There was really only one thing to do and that was to engage my audience more. That meant that I would need to stop talking for a spell and get my audience to do some of the talking for me. I had just discussed brainstorming ideas for a movie title which I used as a sample campaign. We covered the synopsis, the movie trailer, the project scope, the creative assets and elements, and brainstorming ideas. I was getting ready to share with them ideas that came out of our own in-house brainstorming session at TAG! But, in effort to ease the pace; I decided to ask the audience for their ideas for the same movie campaign. On the spot, I began conducting a real-life brainstorming session with them. I reminded the audience that no idea was a bad one while brainstorming, and that brainstorming is all about free-wheeling group discussion. I encouraged them to throw their ideas out there to see where they land, and that some of the best ideas spawn from someone else’s. Hands suddenly flew-up everywhere and my presentation, the culmination of two month’s work and preparation, took life.

Inadvertently, the discussion became highly interactive. The impromptu brainstorming session drove my earlier talking points home. Still, I got them to think harder. Rather than saying NO to any of their ideas, I probed, “Is that idea useful? Is it functional or feasible? Does it fit the client’s needs and wants? Does it meet the project scope? Was it around budget?” It was beautiful, the hands kept flying up and one idea after the other took flight, each one spurring a new idea from the next participant. And, then I asked, “Can it be decorated or imprinted to convey the message?” That’s when it happened; that’s when the guy in the front row asked the question, “What’s an imprint?”

For the audience, it was an immediate buzz kill, because to our industry; the imprint to the promotional product is like the paint to the painter or the hair to the stylist. This guy in the front row was a real newbie with probably no more than five minutes in the industry under his belt. I answered his question as informatively and delicately as I could and moved through to the end of my presentation. Like all presenters that day; I ran ten minutes late, but the whole experience was exhilarating. What I learned that day was that great things can happen from making mistakes. But the real lesson was the one I still had to teach. That came afterwards when a group of people approached me, and told me that they learned a lot from my session. One woman began to apologize profusely for the guy in the first row and for his total lack of knowledge about our business. She said, “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.” I looked at her and smiled and said, “I appreciate your concern. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I’m ready to share my skills and knowledge. I’m here speaking today because of the guy in the front row. He’s the one I’m trying to reach.”

Tonia on Building Killer Campaigns: Promotional products are an integral part of promoting brand awareness and increasing sales. To be successful in this market today you need to step out of the obvious and be forward thinking in the development, execution and management of marketing campaigns and be able to define or distinguish which way the brand should go. When we merge creative energy together with impactful products; a brand develops, changes and unfolds, or takes on a new identity altogether, consumer behavior is modified, and we challenge the status quo.

Article written by Tonia Allen Gould. (Cross-posted on Tonia Allen Gould's blog)