Know Your Audience

A Mandy Moment – That time I wore red in Regina…

Recently, I traveled to Regina, Saskatchewan, for a sales presentation. I was traveling with my company’s VP for a pretty important presentation and we had prepared well – or so I thought. Being the fashionista-wannabe that I am, a big part of the planning for me was what to wear. I know, I know.. it seems like a girly thing to care about, but let’s face it; appearances matter. I was all set with my black pencil skirt, red cowl neck short sleeved sweater, statement necklace and, of course, my classic black patent leather pumps. After all, red and black are power colours, and I wanted to be taken seriously.

11801134-largeMy partner and I ate breakfast and headed to the meeting room to set up. As we’re getting the projector going, setting out our notes and opening the programs we need for the day, our host and a few committee members arrived and we began chit chat and small talk as we waited for the rest of the group. And that’s when it happened. I was told “you know, you’re wearing the wrong colour today.” But how could that be? I’ll tell you how… Regina, also known as Rider Nation, has this CFL team you may have heard of. They wear green. As it turns out, so does EVERYONE IN REGINA ON GAME DAY. So, I look around and realize that if the audience wasn’t wearing a Roughrider’s jersey, you can bet they were wearing something green.. All of them.

To make matters worse, this was not just any game day; it was the final game of the season before the Grey Cup. Regina was playing Calgary – the Stampeders, who wear red… I could have been mortified. I could have blown it out of proportion and lost my confidence. I could have bombed the presentation. I could have worn green. After all, as a ginger, green really is my colour!

So what did I do? I played on it, several times actually, throughout the day. First I plead charming ignorance saying “Oh goodness! I’m from Halifax and our Mooseheads are all about red!” My blunder was laughed off and forgiven. As the presentation went on, we played up the fact that our products and services are easily customized – so they can make sure there’s enough green on their website. By the end of the day, I could have been wearing an Stampeders jersey and I don’t think it would have made a difference!

Oh, Mandy!

So what did I learn from this?

Preparing for a sales presentation (or any kind of presentation, really) is a lot of work. There’s studying up on product knowledge, putting together slide shows, videos, demos, scripting (if you’re into that sort of thing!), timing, etc. I spent time making sure all of the data I was using was good. I researched the audience’s needs, current services and organizational structure. I confirmed travel arrangements and accommodations. I met with my presentation partner several times to make sure our presentation had good flow, kept on track and fit with the proposal we were responding to.

I didn’t learn anything else about where I was going or who I was presenting to. I was only concerned with the content and logistics. I didn’t notice that where I was going and the time of year were such important details (let’s not talk about my nice black pumps getting covered in snow and salt…).

I went to Rider Nation, known for their unwavering commitment to their local team, on game day wearing this red shirt.

And what can you learn from this?

  • Find out if there are any cultural taboos to avoid (or trends to gain some bonus points!). I’m not suggesting that I should have walked in wearing a Riders jersey or covered in green face paint, but being able to share in the cities ritual could have had them embracing me from the start.
  • Learn about events going on in the area. Think recent past or near future; have they hosted a big concert? Are they about to host a major sporting even like the Grey Cup 7 days from now? That kind of knowledge could have saved me some embarrassment.
  • Confirm with your travel companions if there is a dress code. Part of this may be the aforementioned fashionista-wanna in me, but I think it’s important to look professional, appropriate to the setting and coordinated. Showing up in a suit while your partner arrives in jeans will take away from the how prepared you actually are. You could appear disorganized, disheveled and unprofessional.

And if you find yourself in the situation I was in…

  • Don’t panic! As long as your blunder isn’t insulting or vulgar, you should be able to recover; just make sure you haven’t left your wits at home. Dig deep to find the confidence you need to nip this thing in the bud. If you are uncomfortable, try not to show it – that just gets awkward, right?
  • Draw on experience to change the topic. I was fortunate to have noticed that one woman wore a sweatshirt (under her Riders jacket) for a soccer tournament I had officiated in back in Nova Scotia. Her son played in the tournament. We reminisced about the awful Cape Breton weather we experienced and then noticed that most of the winning teams wore red.. What a fabulous coincidence. Your experience could be a life saver!
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at your mistake – make them laugh with you, not at you! No one likes a stick in the mud, right? If your audience gets a chuckle out of it, laugh along. If you’re quick, take a crack at yourself to move things along a bit faster.

I should have asked more questions so I could be prepared for the presentation on all sides. I was lucky to get through the rough start; there’s no telling how things may have gone had the audience been insulted. Imagine, losing a sale or really botching a presentation all because of a simple fashion choice!