How Learning Freestyling Helped Me Rock My Marketing Talk

Yesterday, while in a tacky souvenir shop in New York City, my friend pointed out a quote on a magnet and said, “this is so you.”

It was: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” -Neale Donald Walsch

I’d like to share with you a story of my personal growth and exploration of interdisciplinary awesomeness, which was all a result of my taking an opportunity that was beyond my comfort zone.🙂

Several weeks ago, I attended the Nomadic Wax Media Camp sponsored by the Amherst College Department of Music. Nomadic Wax is a really cool hip-hop collective and they ran freestyling, breakdancing, DJing and beatmaking workshops for a small group of us undergrads. I learned how to (attempt to) rap, do a sometimes-impressive baby freeze, scratch, and make amazing beats. It was totally random, I had no experience in hip-hop and was not even in a music class. I thought it was a great moment of finding the courage to choose to embarrass myself, but didn’t quite realize that what Hired Gun, BGirl Frak, DJ Boo, and Ben had taught me would translate into my other work in the social enterprise space.

Then a few weekends ago, as part of my work for the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement (CCE) Social Innovation Leadership (SIL) Team, I spoke at the AshokaU Exchange Conference 2011 at Duke University, and on that Saturday, I led a workshop on guerrilla marketing for college student social entrepreneurship initiatives with some other students. I spoke on the principles of guerrilla marketing, cited case studies of good and bad examples, and then I worked with a small group of students, faculty, and higher ed administrators to consult them on their specific needs. As students told me what their issues were, my mind started racing and I felt the creeping sense of fear that I wouldn’t be able to give them relevant, actionable advice.

Suddenly, something remarkable happened.

One student, a senior at University of Pacific, explained he and his student organization were employing a freemium membership model and he needed to convey the benefits of the premium membership. He explained students paid a small amount, say $20, for more exclusive club opportunities: an intimate dinner with notable alumni, international summer fellowship funding opportunities worth $3000, etc. Okay, I thought to myself. He needs to convey the idea that this was a low-risk investment: you put in a little and get a lot out. So I immediately thought of the sticker statue at the Exploratorium in San Francisco (is it still there?). After every visitor leaves the museum, they get to slap their sticker on an ever-increasing blob of stickers, crowd-sourced art, if you will. I suggested that he put up something in the student center/dining hall (a space that all students go through often), and over time, have it grow larger and larger until students are curious, walk on over, and see posters with more information about his program. It could be an expanding rubber band ball, a trail of paper airplanes along the wall, anything that was made up of something small and simple.

Another student, a sophomore at Duke University, explained he needed to promote a social venture incubator program his student organization developed. I thought of the importance of his conveying the concept of their program addressing the pain points of student ventures. So I proposed making a game of darts with the “before” and “after” flyer materials of an organization in his program. The “after” flyer would be covered up, and he would invite students to play a game of darts with the “before” flyer, aiming for the five things wrong with the flyer. The game would create a lower barrier to entry and a more creative call to action than just “please stop by my table and pick up a brochure about my project”, and it would convey the idea of his program addressing pain points.

Somehow, I was able to wing it and come up with potential solutions that conveyed the values of these organization’s programs. Originally I thought it was dumb luck, but now, I can’t help but see how my thought process incorporated many of the same techniques I had learned in the freestyling workshop I attended the weekend prior. Who knows, maybe I will look into consulting…

So I encourage you to do something daring today, and to do something a little out of the ordinary more often. Remember: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

And if you’ve done something somewhat ridiculous lately, please share by commenting below or emailing me. I’d love to hear your story.

Disclaimer: I spoke at this conference with my expenses and time worked paid for by my employer, Amherst College. The views in this post are my own personal views and do not reflect the views of my employer.

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