For the Guy in the Front Row

The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), the largest media and marketing organization serving the promotional products industry, invited me to speak at their shows last year on “Building Killer Campaigns.” Sometime soon; I’ll write about the preparation involved in public speaking and about my journey to my first hour-long speaking engagement. (Leading up to this point, I had only served on industry panels with a moderator and at least two other speakers). But, I don’t want to write about that long, winding road that leads to public speaking just yet. Today, I’m more compelled to write about something amazing that happened while I was speaking at ASI Show San Diego.

Somewhere during the middle of my presentation; I made eye contact with a person in the audience for a bit too long and lost my stride. I stumbled for just a few seconds trying to find the right words and my presentation went in a new direction, one that surprised me and my colleagues who were sitting in the audience, both of whom knew how the presentation was “supposed” to go. Since I was fairly rehearsed, I could tell by their bewildered faces that they knew I was walking into unknown terrain, but I could also see their relief when my new material managed to stay true to my slides.

Quickly, I caught my stride once again, and everything started to fall right back into place. However, not long after the misstep, one of my colleagues motions her watch and indicates that we have twenty minutes left, but I misunderstood and thought she meant that I had only been speaking for twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes? Only? In my head, I rationalized that I was talking way too fast. Tactically, I was now dealing both with the new direction I was taking in my presentation and trying to figure out how to slow the whole thing way down. If you’ve ever spoken in front of an audience before, you know that’s an awful lot of brain exercise in one standing; it’s like the equivalent of being the conductor and the one man band, at the same time.

So, I needed to kill some time, or so I thought I did. There was really only one thing to do and that was to engage my audience more. That meant that I would need to stop talking for a spell and get my audience to do some of the talking. I had just been talking to them about brainstorming ideas for a movie title which I used as a sample campaign. We had covered the synopsis, the movie trailer, the project scope, the creative assets and elements, and brainstorming ideas. I was just getting ready to share with

them ideas that came out of our own in-house brainstorming session at TAG! But, in effort to ease the pace; I decided to ask the audience for their ideas for the movie campaign. So, I began conducting a real-life brainstorming session with them. I reminded the audience that no idea was a bad one while brainstorming, and that brainstorming is all about free-wheeling group discussion. I encouraged them to throw ideas out there to see where they land and that some of the best ideas spawn from someone else’s. Hands suddenly flew-up everywhere and my presentation, the culmination of two month’s work and preparation, took life.

Inadvertently, the discussion became highly interactive. The impromptu brainstorming session drove my earlier talking points home. Still, I got them to think harder. Rather than saying NO to any of their ideas, I probed, “Is that idea useful? Is it functional or feasible? Does it fit the client’s needs and wants? Does it meet the project scope? Was it around budget? It was beautiful, the hands kept flying up and one idea after the other took flight, each one spurring a new idea from the next participant. And, then I asked, ”

Can it be decorated or imprinted to convey the message?” That’s when it happened; that’s when the guy in the front row asked the question, “What’s an imprint?” For the audience, it was an immediate buzz kill, because to our industry; the imprint to the promotional product is like the paint to the painter or the hair to the stylist. This guy in the front row was a real newbie with probably no more than five minutes in the industry under his belt. I answered his question as informatively and delicately as I could and moved through to the end of my presentation. Like all presenters that day; I ran ten minutes late, but the whole experience was exhilarating. What I learned that day was that great things can happen from making mistakes. But the real lesson was the one I still had to teach. That came afterwards when a group of people approached me, and told me that they learned a lot from my session. One woman began to apologize profusely for the guy in the first row and for his total lack of knowledge about our business. She said, “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.” I looked at her and smiled and said, “I appreciate your concern. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I’m ready to share my skills and knowledge. I’m here speaking today because of the guy in the front row. He’s the one I’m trying to reach.”

TAG! is a consumer promotions and marketing agency specializing in the effective use of promotional products in the marketing mix. We assist buyers who are looking for products to generate traffic, leads or sales while delivering measurable ROI.

Author: Tonia Allen Gould

Tonia Allen Gould is the CEO of Tagsource, a 25-year-old Consumer Promotions and Marketing Agency, she's founder of the Finding Corte Magore Project, and children's book author of Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. Here, on this blog, she writes about whatever compels her at the moment. In her book, she explores the concepts of perseverance, hard work, bullying, and finding a place to call home for young readers. The impetus of the Finding Corte Magore project stems from Tonia's background - growing-up below the poverty line, in rural Indiana. A product of Indiana's foster care system, she is the first to say that books, a solid education and teachers, taught her there was a life for herself, tangible and within her reach, she just had to reach out and grab it. After publishing her first book, she decided she wanted to find an island and make it real, by naming it after the fictional place in her book, “Corte Magore,” and utilize it for social and environmental good. Today, the 29-acre island of Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua- through a joint partnership with Ambassador Francisco Campbell, the Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S.-will be utilized by the Finding Corte Magore Project to work to keep Nicaraguan children in school. The Finding Corte Magore Project works virtually to connect a global community of students and institutions with the plight of educationally and economically repressed Nicaragua. The project involves showcasing and managing one of the country's own beautiful islands in its educational and environmental initiatives. The goal of The Finding Corte Magore Project is to create social awareness coupled with building a sustainable, positive and long-term educational impact on the country's children who have an on-average fifth grade dropout rate. In addition, Tonia is a promotional products industry veteran. She is the founder and CEO of 25-year old Tagsource, LLC (AKA TAG! The Creative Source). She currently serves on the BOD for the Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), is an "Industry Voice", a recipient of a PPAI Golden Pyramid, and has been named on ASI’s Hot List. She is the recipient of Supplier of the Year award through the Women’s Business Enterprise Council West, as nominated by Fortune 500 companies.

4 thoughts on “For the Guy in the Front Row”

  1. Thanks for posting this. I too have been thinking about ‘The guy in the front row’ and how fortunate I was to have been started out in this industry under a promotional products superstar. I know that I was one of those people that made a comment to you after your presentation about this gentleman and how you answered his question briefly,with tact, and then kept rolling through.

    There were quite a few industry newbies at the San Diego show. I was able to meet a few of them personally and found out that not only are they new… some don’t have logos, or business cards, or even have a clue what a sales order is or how to write one. They are indeed so new that the word ‘imprint’ is foreign. The first word to come to mind was “wow”…. followed by… “hmm.. maybe they’ve got something going for them… bravery, courage…. tenacity!” To step into the arena and ask bold questions. There is something to say about that for sure.

    The few “newbies” that I met have a genuine heart for people and passion for the industry. I’ve been in contact with these guys in the past week and am setting them up with my notes from the time I spent ‘growing up’ in the industry. It will definitely be interesting to see this new generation of promo peeps take off.

    Thank you for being you girl…It was awesome to get inside your head and see how and why you do what you do. Cheers to you! And, here’s to ‘The guy in the front row!’



  2. Thanks for the comment, Charity. That’s right! You were definitely someone who commented about the guy in the front row, too! He was the topic of many conversations for me that week. Truly, he served as a reminder for how much we all have to learn and stand to gain from each other. Great meeting you in San Diego! We’re going to be great friends!


  3. I enjoyed the blog, Tonia–especially as the “guy in the front row” with TAG! as a new employee. I feel that the best way to advance in any new industry is to fire specific questions at those with the most knowledge and personal expertise in the matter. I applaud the guy for having the courage to do so (although the timing might have been slightly inopportune). An individual who holds on to a basic question in order to prevent ridicule will be far surpassed by the individual who put his or her ego aside momentarily for the sake of obtaining a base from which to build upon.


    1. Cory, thanks for the reply. It’s hard to think of you, Cory, as the guy in the front row. You are insightful and a quick study, and a sponge for learning. We’re all so glad to have you at TAG!


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