It takes preparation, hard work, and perseverance to turn a Prius into a Mustang
My first public speaking appearance ended in catastrophe. It was 2007, and I was leading a student organization at UW-Milwaukee while in school. Because I led the group, I was expected to introduce the speaker. Having had absolutely no experience speaking in front of a group, I clammed up, started sweating profusely, stuttered, and completely bombed the intro. The horrific experience left a mark on my confidence and in turn forced me to avoid any type of public speaking. This was especially difficult, as I led a couple of student organizations, and also was an active member of the UW-Milwaukee student government.
After the flop, there were many “sick days” from class when I was scheduled to present in small groups. I also tried to limit participation in large group settings, and refused to speak up in class and participate in discussion for fear of failing. In a way, the experience stunted my emotional, educational, and personal growth.
Let’s fast forward to October of 2009. Having graduated from UW-Milwaukee the previous year, I was a little over a year into my professional career in marketing and advertising. I had just started my second gig at Johnson Direct, and was asked to come in and share some of my online marketing knowledge with what would be my first solo client, Milwaukee Tool. The client contact I worked with was understanding of my “junior” level status, and wasn’t critical in my delivery – in fact, she was supportive and complementary. It was at this time that I slowly started rebuilding confidence in myself and my ability to communicate effectively.
After a few meetings, I worked closely with my manager at the time to improve my communication skills. She believed that the best way to learn was by getting “deep in it”. With the head honcho’s blessing, she threw me into more and more client meetings and discoveries. This early period of confidence building allowed me to learn the basics and prepare me for the future.
The Learning Curve
In October of 2010 I joined Fullhouse Interactive (recently acquired by Laughlin Constable) as a search engine marketing strategist. In this role, I acted as the lone search engine marketer for clients from medium-sized business to Fortune 100’s. The way the organization was structured was typical agency-fashion: the creative and functional teams had a go-between with the client in the form of an account team. With this type of structure, it gave little room for improving client-facing skills, but luckily I worked on some big accounts with a rock star account girl that brought me into client meetings and presentations.
Having been in the search industry for two-plus years at this point, I had a decent grasp on what I was doing and how I was doing it. To be honest, I considered myself more senior-level in terms of search engine marketing. No amount of skill, however, could ever prepare me for a big presentation to 10 manager-level and above participants at a locally based Fortune 100 company. Having prepared the deck myself, I went into the meeting guns blazing and confident in my ability to present. A senior account director gave me some pointers beforehand and I felt I was adequately prepared.
After going through the first few slides, the client asked questions about how the data was organized and picked out some of what I thought were just mundane errors. The client had a reputation for being detail-oriented, but a slight presence of over confidence on my end led me to rush through building the deck. When all was said and done, a one hour presentation last almost two. This was entirely due to questions from the client and their skepticism over the quality of my work. This experience helped me to anticipate an audience’s reaction before it even happens. This is something that’s huge when presenting to key clients, large groups, and the general public. Assume everyone knows nothing and they are clinging to everything you say as if it’s new to them.
You bet your ass that from that point forward, I checked, double-checked, and triple-checked my deliverables prior to sending to make sure that all of my I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed.
Knowledge, Content, and Delivery (x3)
In May of 2011 I joined Zeon Solutions, where I currently work and love every minute of it. I work with literally the best search engine marketers that the Midwest has to offer and service a top tier list of clients. While extremely talented coworkers and truly amazing clients are enough to make one happy at their job, there is one thing that makes it better: the ability to learn from one of the most talented communicators I’ve met – Ross Monaghan – and train others on my team.
Having the opportunity to learn from the best has its perks, but it also has drawbacks. I’m not talking about drawbacks like “Oh, I’m learning from the best and they know it because they’re arrogant”, but more along the lines of thinking that I was good until I learned that I knew absolutely nothing. With a hit to your pride as the only drawback, the perks are endless. At first, I sat in on dozens of “Search Engine Marketing 101” slide decks, client meetings, webinars, public presentations, and pitches. I studied not only what he was saying but how he said it. One time, I even transcribed a pitch word-for-word in a Notepad file and said I was taking “notes”.
When I first began learning from Ross, I thought that the art of building your client base was entirely the ability to sell. But it isn’t. Not by a long-shot. It’s the ability to understand the business of the organization you’re trying to pitch. There were numerous times in the journey where we decided that we couldn’t help and turned down business. It wasn’t because we didn’t need the revenue, but it was because we didn’t believe we could help the client move the needle. Why take on an account if you can’t help?
Soon after I graduated from the “sitting in” phase, I found myself willing and able to co-present. The feedback I received from it was at first critical, but with positive feedback sprinkled in. After what seems like hundreds of meetings and pitches, I’ve taken the feedback I had received and ran with it. I’ve since become adept at running meetings, presenting to clients and new business pitches to the point where earlier this month, I was invited to speak at SMX East in New York City, one of the largest conferences in the industry. This would be a huge step for me personally, and take a lot of preparation, hard work, and perseverance.
Turning the “Prius into a Mustang”
The day I got the email with the invitation to speak, I remember we were actually having a team outing. We went bowling to celebrate some big wins and the growth of our team, and then followed it with dinner. We were on our first game and, as I usually do, I checked my email to see if there were any fires going wild while we were out having a good time. When I opened the email, I froze and had a mixed feeling of emotions – “oh my, I’ve been invited to speak with the big boys”.
The first thing I felt was excitement (and in turn, validation) that I’ve been working up to at this point has been on the up and up. Five seconds later, I thought “holy shit, how are you going to pull this off?” I immediately told Ross. Not because I wanted to brag about it, but because I knew that after I told him I was asked, he would
push encourage me to do it. After I told him, I looked at the team and realized there was no backing out. I couldn’t. It was too big of an opportunity to bring more visibility to us as young professionals, as a team, and as an organization.
A few months prior, Zeon brought in a professional development and coaching consultant, Sharon Ellis, to help our sales team and program managers communicate more effectively with our clients. I spoke with some of the leadership at Zeon and they agreed to bring her back for some one on one coaching with me. Sharon came in two weeks before the big day on October 4th. Immediately upon greeting her, I said with a straight face, “Sharon, you have two weeks to turn this Prius into a Mustang. Starting… now.”
The insight and coaching I got from Sharon allowed me to better communicate the message I was trying to get across. After all, I was asked to present because I knew the subject matter. Her help with delivery was instrumental to the success of the presentation, and I’d recommend her to anyone interested in learning more about the art of public speaking.
The Big Show
On October 4th, I took the stage at the Javits Center alongside two others and a moderator. The topic was “Maximizing Enterprise SEM”, and my presentation was titled “Breaking Down The Silos: Bringing Alignment to Cross Functional Marketing Teams. It was based on a couple of posts I wrote for Search News Central, and most recently, Search Engine Journal.
The first of the presenters, David Roth, has been in search engine marketing for over ten years, most recently as a Sr. Director at Yahoo! and currently at Move, Inc. as the VP of Performance and Social Marketing. The other presenter, Craig MacDonald, is the Senior Director of Advertising at Microsoft, and has been in the industry since 2000. Whew, a tough act to follow!
To properly set expectations, I approached both of them at the table and said “hey guys, just wanted to let you know that this is my first presentation. Be prepared to cut the mic!” They eased some of the nerves and wished me the best of luck. First up was David. He spoke a lot about staffing up a team and upper-level management issues. After his 18 minutes were up, the moderator introduced me and it was go time.
Much to my surprise, there were no nerves. I wasn’t sweating. I wasn’t shaking. And I definitely did not stutter. Without notecards, I went up and used my slides as visuals… a means to tell the story. Unlike a client meeting or pitch, where you have points that you need to touch on for it to be considered a success, I went up there with a sense of calm knowing that I knew this stuff. I used real world stories, examples, case studies, and suggestions to help make my point. I ended up going a little over 20 minutes. Two minutes over the allotted budget – oops!
In the end, the presentation was a huge success. I helped educate the audience on the pain point an agency feels when trying to integrate multi-channel marketing programs while conquering personal demons and accomplishing one of my career goals at the age of 27. The best part about it all was seeing people in the 150+ member audience take notes and snap pictures of my slides for reference. I couldn’t have been happier with the opportunity, or the outcome.
The Flop was one of the most sobering moments in my life. I had plans to go to law school and get into politics at an early age. How could I do that if I wasn’t an effective communicator? At that moment, it seemed that all of my hopes and dreams were shattered and I was lost in doubt over my future. Little did I know that each professional opportunity I moved on to, there was an amazing group of mentors and leaders there to not only support me – but guide me in the direction to where I am now.
Preparation, Hard work and perseverance were the keys to success in accomplishing what once seemed like one of my hardest goals to achieve. Now I can honestly look forward and say, when’s the next conference?
Download the presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/ZeonSolutions/breaking-downsilossmxeast2012notes