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Sunday, January 17, 2010

My secret: how I learn new marketing techniques

I attended a Toastmasters* Leadership Institute event yesterday in Dearborn, Michigan. The purpose of this event is to bring together all the Toastmaster members in our District (which covers metro Detroit, Windsor, and Toledo) and train the club officers as well as to keep us all updated on upcoming district events. There are also a free breakout session on various leadership and communication topics.

It's a great event for several reasons:
1. It's free and they give you breakfast. Hey - we all gotta be cost-conscious these days!
2. Gives me a chance to chat with other Toastmasters from clubs across the metro area, many of which I keep in touch with through social media (facebook, twitter, linkedin), but only see a few times a year.
3. Even though it requires me to give up half of a Saturday and forgo sleeping in , I look forward to going. I know I'll leave with more information that will help me and my club and I will be inspired. I've found once you start seeking inspiration, you tend to become addicted. :)

I could go on but you get the picture.

So onto the real topic - my secret for learning new marketing techniques: I find the people who are doing things really well, and I learn and then mimic their techniques. I figure out what works for me and what doesn't. Sometimes I ask them to suggest what techniques they would suggest for me. Sometimes I just read about their techniques, or notice what they are doing, or notice what they aren't doing (and see that golden opportunity) and voila I find something. And sometimes through trial and error I find a technique that works even better for me.

What does Toastmasters have to do with any of this, you ask?

Public speaking.

Egad. Even the mention of it is enough to cause a few of you to stop reading this blog right NOW. And a handful of others to recall their high school or college class when you gave a speech and thank god you don't have to do one again anytime soon. There are probably others of you who speak in front of groups regularly as part of your job and it no longer phases you.

Well, not me. I'm an introvert at heart and I'll ALWAYS have to work at my public speaking skills. But by paying close attention to those in my industry who are widely successful, I figured out that I'll need to be a confident, engaging, charismatic speaker in order to be successful in my future. Sure, I could be mediocre. But as my son will tell you, mediocre is "okay" and I want to be better than "okay."

So I joined Toastmasters. I was so nervous going to my first meeting. Would they single me out and ask me to speak? Would the group be so advanced that they would laugh at my speaking ability? And more importantly, would I have enough courage to commit to their program?

Well, nearly 2 1/2 years later I can share that I completed one manual (10 speeches) and earned my "Competent Communicator" award; I completed in an area contest and won best area speaker (funny story actually); I served as club president for a year; and I sponsored a new club and helped that club to charter within a month. But I think the biggest accomplishment for me was that I found my voice. I figured out my speaking style. I worked out many of the insecurities I had about myself speaking in front of groups. I'm proud (and still a bit surprised) to say that even though I still get a bit nervous before I speak in front of a large group - and we're talking groups of 50-100 or more - that I ENJOY speaking.

I also realized that I will always have to continue to practice public speaking and hone my skills. Remember, I'm an introvert at heart. That means that the nervousness I have will never completely go away so I have to chip at it all the time to keep my nerves at bay. That's why you'll always see me raising my hand when there's an opportunity to do so.

Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to meet many, many, many talented public speakers in Toastmasters. And this brings me back to my secret marketing technique: learning from others. Surround yourself with those who are experts, and you will learn. I look at what they are doing really well - their timing, their gestures, their audience engagement, their jokes even, and I also look for areas where they could do better and think about what I would do differently. I'm continuously soaking up as much as I can from my fellow Toastmasters, and when there's a lull in a presentation, I'm jotting down notes for future speeches, and sometimes for techniques that I can bring back to my club.

Okay, so now you know my secret. Let's just keep this between me and you, okay? Oh, and the world wide web. :)

* If you're not familiar with Toastmasters, a lot of people know it as the "public speaking group." Toastmasters has been around for years and it's an international, professional development group. Its focus is to help people to improve their communication and leadership skills through self-paced programs. Plus, it's pretty inexpensive. I pay $35 twice a year. Read more at