Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Talking to Strangers

As I was mentally going over my agenda for the Sponsorship Roundtable I’m leading at RollerCon next week, I kept coming back to one item, even though I’d already acknowledged it. The one thing I really hope to get out of this discussion is finding out how to prepare sponsorship committee members (aka, sellers) to not be afraid to communicate with potential sponsors. Sponsorship is something many people want to try, but in the end their fear of talking to strangers overcomes them, and they push sponsorship aside in favor for a more popular committee, like Bout Production (gah!).

I’ve been casually discussing this issue with some friends in the derby community, and more than once I’ve heard, “Well, some people can and some people can’t, you just have to find the right person – someone who already knows how to do it and isn’t afraid to.” Truth is, people who fit that bill are few and far between, not to mention that I refuse to believe that you either have “it” or you don’t. I think anyone who wants to learn how to sell sponsorship can be taught to sell sponsorship.

From as far back as my earliest memory I remember being shy, painfully shy. When I was very young, I thought that as long as my eyes were closed and I couldn’t see you that you also couldn’t see me. That bubble was burst one day by the Mary Kay lady. I was sitting on my mom’s lap at the kitchen table while she was discussing colors or something else a 4-year-old is not interested in with the saleswoman. I remember looking down at my reflection in the glass table top. I could see myself, but when I closed my eyes I couldn’t. I didn’t think anyone else could either until the woman started talking to me, “I see you,” she said while my eyes were closed. But how? Poop.

As a slightly older child, my parents would take me along to my dad’s work conferences and such. My dad was in the convention and visitors bureau business, and one year he got a game on the PGA tour to come to our town. He took me along one Saturday to the golf course when the players were practicing. He introduced me to Jack Nicholas – the golf great, but to me he was just some guy I was afraid to say “hi” to. Jack bought me a Butterfinger bar, and I was so thrilled I actually managed to say “thank you.”

As an adolescent, I could finally exchange pleasantries to people I’d just met in person, but for years I was terrified of the telephone. I wouldn’t place a call to my parents’ offices, because I knew someone other than them would answer the phone, and this used to drive my mother mad. I didn’t even like talking to relatives at Christmastime over the phone, and just forget me calling to order a pizza or inquire about some store’s hours.

When I was 18, I had to get over my fear of the phone, because my job depended on it. It was painful, but I overcame my shyness. And, in time, I went from afraid to talk to strangers to “you can’t shut this girl up” when she’s around strangers. I talk to everyone and anyone now – people in line at the grocery store, the person at the gas pump next to me, potential sponsors.

If you had told my parents, even when I was in high school, that I would be soliciting sponsorship from strangers all over the country, they wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have believed you. But somehow, some way, I overcame my fear for strangers and my fear of rejection. So what if they aren’t interested in sponsorship? I can show them why they should be – there’s always an angle, always a way to accommodate people in a mutually beneficial way. And if not, it’s their loss.

So, although my transformation to become outgoing and fearless took pretty much my entire life, I do believe it can happen in a shorter time span. I just need to know what I need to do to assist new sellers in gaining confidence, and I’m really hoping there will be a good discussion following that agenda item next week. Derby teaches you many things. I’m hoping it can teach me how to empower others, because that would be a valuable lesson for someone to learn if the need it and want it.

1 comment:

Anna said...

I can't imagine you being shy and not speaking your mind. Unless you're getting the cold shoulder at a meditation center.