Many moons ago, I worked at the happiest place on earth. No, not Disneyland. Another magical place where parents and children abounded called Babies R Us.
I had been a college graduate for all of two years and was ecstatic to finally land a job in the marketing field. As Store Promotions Coordinator (or SPC when I wanted to sound really official), my job description entailed building relationships with local ob/gyn offices, creating a monthly calendar of special events to draw expectant moms and dads into my store (back then, almost every BRU location had an SPC), finding creative channels to promote these events, and representing BRU at community events. SPCs were, in essence, the grassroots component of the grand marketing master plan.
We chatted with moms-to-be at the baby registry desk, to better understand their needs. We sought out local experts to speak on workshop topics of interest to expectant and new parents, such as breastfeeding and car safety. Strong product knowledge, event planning, and budget management were just a few valuable skills I developed in this role.
I also inadvertently picked up another skill: public speaking. Like many people, the thought of having to speak before an audience didn’t exactly excite me. In fact, a pang of fear would shoot through me, along with a slight bout of nausea.
It all started when the company decided to have particular workshops held in every BRU store on the same day. No matter if you lived in Los Angeles or New York, you knew there was a baby swaddling workshop being held on the last Thursday of this month at 7pm. The beautiful part of this initiative was that, in addition to local marketing efforts by SPCs, there was national promotion behind it since the date and time was consistent for every store.
To ensure the same information was communicated at each location, talking points were created. SPCs could host the workshops, or decide to outsource it to someone else well-versed on the topic (another knowledgeable employee was also an option). I decided to be the presenter for a few of these workshops. This was a decision that didn’t force me out of my comfort zone. It DRAGGED me out. I was very nervous, but after about four workshops the fear did start to subside and I even began to enjoy presenting to customers.
While they may have learned a lot from me, I also gained much by speaking to them. Here are three things I learned about giving presentations:
1.You are more qualified to speak than you think.One reason I was apprehensive about presenting is because I thought I didn’t have the right qualifications. After all, I wasn’t a parent. However, what I WAS was knowledgeable. And that’s all my audience really cared about. I could talk intelligently about the product by highlighting the features, explaining how it would benefit them, and providing answers to their questions. They considered me an expert. Be confident in your abilities; you have the information the audience is seeking. Don’t let perceived inadequacies deter you from speaking.
2.Seeing is believing.While talking about the product’s details informed the audience, demonstrating how the product worked sold them. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, the same holds true for a product demo. I could go on and on about how a breastpump is easy to use, or I could simply show how easy (no, I didn’t remove any clothing). People like to see the product in action. It helps them to instantly see and understand just how the product will solve their problem. Plus, demos make the customer excited about your product. And that’s always a good thing!
3.Questions make you better.The standard Q&A session was always held toward the end of my presentation. Many of the questions I had no problem answering, but once in a while there were some that gave me pause. For these, I would be honest with my audience member and admit I didn’t have the answer but I would definitely find out and get right back to them. A lot of the questions they threw at me were actually really good ones – the kind that audiences should hear discussed at future workshops. This prompted me to start proactively addressing these questions on a regular basis as part of every presentation. I quickly realized they helped me improve my presentation content, and thus made the workshops more valuable to my guests. Questions tell you where the audience’s interests and concerns lie. Take note of the good questions and let them make you a better presenter!
It’s funny how the most uncomfortable situations are the ones that bring out the best in us. They force us to stretch ourselves and do what we never thought we could do. Looking back on it now, I’m grateful that my Babies R Us experience allowed me to get my feet wet in the field I now love. Public Speaking.