Can embarrassing moments pay off?

imageHere is a story told by a likeable colleague I enjoy keeping company with.  Here he relates how he turned an embarrassing moment to good when he was a guest speaker at a local business chamber of commerce meeting.

It seems being in the right place and being wrong, can be an advantage.” Here is his story

I arrived during the coffee imagebreak at the venue ready to make my speech, I was dressed in a traditional business suit, as you might expect when addressing a business group  As I entered  I noted random discussions were underway over coffees with three distinctly differently looking groups.

I was immediately comfortable to approach the group dressed the same as me, especially when I spotted my host among them.

The second group, dressed in Middle Eastern dress, were clearly comfortable together; and the third smaller group, consisted of a middle-aged demographic dressed in biker garb, complete with their own orthodox biker pony-tail hairstyles.

Being a mixed culture the Traditional and Middle East groups did not look out-of-place but I was curious about the bikers. It also seemed an unlikely group to have an interest in my subject about using business intelligence for marketing.

I varied my course to approach them extending my hand to the first to meet my eyes. I introduced myself adding I was invited to talk about marketing analytics. With a bit of a quizzically smile I then asked “I am wondering if I am in the right session”.

A well-spoken guy grinned back and said “Yes it is, and we are looking forward hearing what you have to say”. He then glanced down and in a confidential way said, “I am not sure if know, but your fly is unzipped. Perhaps to make me feel better, he then added “If it was me I would not want to stand out like that.” then grinning at his ironic twist of phrase, as I zipped up.

As I did, I noticed, to my horror, that my suit trousers did not match my jacket. Having flies open was bad enough but ill mismatched clothing put me in a group all by myself, as the odd one out. An overwhelming fear then over come me as I considered everyone was about to be looking at me, not in a good way for my presentation.

I considered my options as I masked my embarrassment with a quick thanks and then in a curious tone I asked “Do you and your colleagues have any special interest my subject ”.  He then told me “My fellow Executives”, as he called them  “are keen to learn how to use analytics in our business. He then went on to explain they ran a chain of already very profitable Harley Davidson dealerships.

The opportunity was too good to miss. So I asked him if I could swap jackets for the session. I explained I wanted to use it as a prop to promote the idea of how targeted market imaginary in such-likes as a glamour bike business may be joined with the non-glamorous marketing analytics side that decides where to focus it.

Using analytics to decide what can stand out in a crowded market was my theme. So telling my audience I had the borrowed jacket not only masked my potential faux pas, but gave me real-life material to make that point.

As a bonus with this new-found relationship, by acknowledging the loan of the Harley Davidson jacket was not only promoting that business, but by default as a well know brand it also served by association as a third-party endorsing of my speech.

To end I needed laugh for my last point, I said. “So I relayed my observations when I arrived  in-that I had leaned a valuable lesson, “Having changed groups from the Traditional suited to feeling good in this bikers jacket, makes it clear to me now, even after years doing market analysis, that  I need to take care not to exclude any data from markets sectors because they dress differently”.

The reward was the laughter then the applause. That meant success on the day in-spite having the wrong trousers.

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