Last Monday I presented a guest lecture at UW-Milwaukee to the brilliant students in the BUS-ADM 468: Internet Marketing course. It was an amazing experience and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to present and share business applications for what I am passionate about: digital. The most rewarding part about it was sharing my experiences in the search industry and seeing the students absorb the content while taking notes. None of this would have ever happened without such an amazing set of mentors and positive influences to push me when I feel like giving up. The experience solidified my yearning to teach and affirmed my belief that when I’m “retired”, I would thoroughly enjoy making a difference in higher education and supplementing tried-and-true digital marketing strategies to marketing and advertising syllabi.
Ironically enough, while enrolled at UW-Milwaukee as an undergraduate, I often wondered how theory written in texts could be applied to business. One thing to keep in mind is that I did not major in business, marketing, or advertising. I majored in International Studies and Political Science. In fact, I have only attended about a dozen lectures in an MBA program though I’ve been enrolled since 2009. I guess I am taking the slow-and-steady path.
The First Step is the Hardest to Walk
I mentioned being enrolled in an MBA program. Upon graduation at UW-Milwaukee, I was accepted to a join graduate / MBA program at Valparaiso. To pay the bills, I began working at a local digital marketing agency and instantly fell in love with the profession. Having been mentally unstimulated in courses up to that point I decided to hedge my bets and go full-on marketing. I couldn’t be happier with that decision.
I remember my first marketing class like it was yesterday. It was a business leadership class and the first read was Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. It was one of the most influential books I had read in my professional career. Despite my inexperience and “newbie” status to business and marketing, I felt inspired and ready to kick some ass.
While I did indeed move back to “the homeland” from Valparaiso, I learned something about myself that I never had to think about. Because I majored in a non-business program during undergrad, I was not required to do presentations or group work in classes. This put me in a precarious situation as a first-year MBA student.
During week six of lecture the professor dropped a bomb: 40% of the final grade in the class would be based on group presentations on Servant Leadership. I didn’t think anything of it at first. Hell, I was pumped about it. The book wasn’t just a book – it was a way to lead. Over the course of the next few weeks I did my due diligence and not only read the entire book – I memorized it. At the time I knew that I did not memorize it because it was an assignment… it was applicable to the real world. I was absolutely stoked and nothing could stop me.
Throughout the group’s planning process, I was the guy that volunteered to compile all of our notes and put it together into “presentation mode”. Perfectionist? Yes. It was a fault up until a couple of years ago when I realized it was part asset, part fault. Back to the point. I put together a slide deck that summarized the group’s findings, and made it presentable. When we met to go through roles and responsibilities I proudly showed off the deck. It was then where I was asked one of the toughest and most resonating questions of my life: “What section are you going to present on?” As rudimentary as the question was it was difficult to answer. I honestly hadn’t thought about it.
The First Nine Slides
After experiencing a cold sweat and turning white as a ghost I chose “the first nine slides”. The first nine slides included an introduction, background, summary, and goals of the story.
Whew, that sure sounded like a lot to cover in nine slides.
In hindsight, it wasn’t. As prepared as I was with the content, I had absolutely no experience communicating to an audience, be it peers, colleagues, or strangers.
To get through this hurdle, I did what I do best: research. “Presenting in class”, “presentation tips”, and “public speaking medication” were a few of the searches I typed into Google. Note the reference to “medications”. Yes, I did some research on taking the easy way out. I quickly realized that the type of fear, insecurity, and lack of experience I felt couldn’t be magically cured by medication. It took years to “fix” the issue, and it was a rough, intense beginning.
Present in Absentia
The day of the “big” presentation, I ended up skipping class. I texted my group mates with a BS excuse on how I had gotten food poisoning.
The reality was that I decided to run.
I decided to run from a first experience that I was ill-prepared and inexperienced for. I did the same thing, multiple times, over the next couple of years. It started during undergraduate studies for my first ever public speaking opportunity and to be completely honest, I thought I had outgrown it.
I began feeling the noose tighten a few days before the group was scheduled to present our summary. It was the MBA equivalent of a book report. In hindsight, it was entry-level MBA group work to gauge a student’s ability to work on a team and communicate effectively. Wow. It was easy to write that and break it down now, but I guess anyone can be a ‘Monday morning quarterback.” With that said, I’m a strong believer in the thought that everything happens for a reason. I’ll thank my parents for that, as it was ingrained in me at a young age.
Everything Happens for a Reason
Would I ever be able to get in front of a class and contribute? It seemed like a long shot back then. Couple that with the fact that I had always had the ambition for politics, and self-realization kicks in. A change needed to happen. I needed to address this or everything that I had hoped and dreamed about in terms of career development would be left unaccomplished. It’s an unpleasant thought, but unfortunately it happens to most. Panic, anxiety, lack of confidence and / or experience takes a toll on the best of us. Luckily for me, I found solace in repetition, repetition, and repetition. I sincerely believe that I had failed, and flat-out avoided, public speaking for a reason. Because everything happens for a reason.
Coming Full Circle
With that being said I’ve come full-circle in my personal and academic life. Two years ago, I would have literally “flipped my shit” at the thought of facilitating key account client meetings, participating on a pitch team, or presenting in front of seasoned professionals at an industry conference. Today I do just that and absolutely live for it. I no longer consider it pushing myself out of the comfort zone… it’s natural.
The most effective piece of advice that I can offer is that practice makes perfect. Think about it this way: athletes, from little league through high school and even the pros, practice and train every day. That’s how they become great at what they do.