It all started when I was a “wet-behind-the ears” recruit at Mobil Oil in Christchurch, New Zealand. I hadn’t even finished my final year of secondary school, when I moved up from Timaru and started learning a broad range of business skills – business administration, accounting, legal, marketing, and procurement. During this time I had to face the daunting task of giving presentations to others, which I really struggled with. Naturally shy and the only teenager in that environment, this didn’t come easy. In fact, I looked so young that I got tagged with the nickname “Sweetpea”!
After two years, I was struggling with working through the day, and completing my university studies at night. To be completely honest, I was quite envious of my friends who were having quite the time at university! So I left work and went to study full time at Canterbury University for the following three years. After completing my degree, I returned to Mobil in 1993 and entered their graduate program, which gave me great exposure to the various business units within Mobil.
And then I qualified for Mobil’s specialist retail representative training, an intense 6 week course in Melbourne. During this time I gave more presentations, which kept taking me out of my comfort zone – I didn’t like doing them because I didn’t know how to. I was extremely nervous (my hands would be shaking like a leaf) before I gave the presentation. But I still managed to achieve some of the highest marks on the course, which meant I could choose the town I would be based in for my next position. I chose Nelson.
Here I was responsible for managing the relationship between Mobil and the owner/managers of service station network for the top third of the south island. And these service station owners and managers didn’t initially appreciate a young, fresh-faced, newly minted “Mobilite” coming out to tell them how to run their businesses. The days when I had to give presentations to them as a group really challenged me – I didn’t feel comfortable being the centre of attention.
A big turning point was when I joined Toastmasters to help me to overcome my fear of public speaking and grew in confidence. I started developing some important communication skills that would benefit me for life.
Fast forward a couple of years saw me moving to Wellington, first working as a Procurement Team Leader for Mobil and then Procurement Manager for Westpac looking after a range of their operational suppliers (e.g. IT, telecommunications, ATM security and servicing, cheque book production and so on).
I started dating my wife-to-be, Gina, when we were in Nelson and we fell in love with the funky little town and its golden beaches and always said that we would move back once we started having children. That time came in 1999 when our son Jordy arrived. However it would be 2 years before I was able to secure employment back in Nelson.
Eventually in 2001 I managed to secure a position with The Buying Group, where I am now a shareholder. I initially started as a Business Development Manager, and my primary role was to grow the business through the acquisition of new clients. I am not a ‘natural’ sales person and I found the whole approach of cold calling and developing a sales pitch really hard work. I also struggled to get my head around what it was we were actually selling. It is a concept, not a physical product.
The Buying Group lives up to its name – it is a buying group specifically for manufacturing and industrial businesses. We leverage the buying power of many medium-to-large businesses and combine that with a unique pricing structure that restricts the supplier from increasing margins over time. The end result is pricing that is significantly better than what each business can get on their own.
However, I didn’t have a clear understanding of this when I first started, and so my initial presentations were forgettable – long winded, waffly and with no specific outcome in mind. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, nor did I know how to say it. Trying to explain the concept of a buying group and why a prospective customer should join was extremely difficult. I saw people glaze over as I spoke and I could see that I was losing them. This bugged the heck out of me because I felt I could do better. So I went on a mission to develop a top class presentation. And I wanted to hone my presentation skills to the best of my ability.
I continued my learning through Toastmasters competing in various speaking competitions, bought tons of books on presentations and attended workshops and webinars on the subject. I ended up completely shredding my original presentation and rebuilt it from scratch. This new presentation has formed the foundation of significant new business growth for The Buying Group. It has become the most important tool in our armoury for securing new business. Once a CEO or GM has viewed our presentation, the majority contract us to undertake a review of the categories that we specialise in.
I now consistently deliver between four to eight presentations a day when I travel around New Zealand. Since 2001, I have delivered over 1,300 presentations. Every year I deliver around 90-100 presentations. It is from this experience and my continual drive to improve that has formed the basis for this website. I have learned so much and come so far from when I gave my very first presentation. I now help people create their own unforgettable presentations.
So what else interests me?
As you read earlier, Toastmasters is a key interest of mine. And our club, Madhatters Toastmasters, is a very special club. I just love the buzz that our club generates. We meet from 7am to 8:20am on Friday mornings and we always have superb coffee and tasty muffins and pastries from Tozzetti Panetteria. Scrumptious!
Our club members come from all walks of life and I have had the privilege of hearing many heartwarming, humorous, and even tragic stories as members have shared something of themselves during their speeches. It is inspiring to be part of a new member’s journey as they develop in confidence and skill. I have also served on the executive for many years including twice as club president. It was my mum who first exposed me to Toastmasters. She joined a club in Timaru when I was just a teenager – I can remember her rehearsing speeches in our living room. And that is the great thing about Toastmasters – it provides a safe environment to learn the art and science of giving speeches. That it is okay to make mistakes – in fact the more mistakes I make the faster I learn. And I then take what I have learnt and apply it to my work and other parts of my life where I have needed to make speeches or presentations. The confidence of knowing that I can deliver a speech is liberating and confidence-building.
What about when I’m not at work or Toastmasters?
My family is very important to me. I’ve been married to my gorgeous wife Gina for over 19 years. We originally met in a university laboratory while playing with rats in a Psychology 101 course and we just hit it off. We both love to dance and if there is a costume party happening, we’re there!
Gina’s family are camping-mad and I have happily embraced it also. Every Christmas, we go on a pilgrimage to Totaranui, the jewel in the crown that is the Able Tasman National Park. In this technology-saturated world, it is amazing to be able to escape to the piece of paradise that has no cell phone reception (actually if you stand on the right hand side of the boat ramp near the top, you can get a signal, but don’t tell anyone!). Our kids, Jordy and Taylor, love hanging out with their extended family and friends, riding bikes, boating, fishing, exploring the coastline, and toasting marshmallows around the campfire at night. For me, it is the time when I can recharge my batteries in preparation for the year ahead. After three weeks of eating, sleeping, socialising, fishing (and yes, the occasional beer!) I feel like a new person again. Ready to kickbutt!