Sometimes The Best DEMO Has No Slides

DEMO 2014

If you have never heard of DEMO, it’s about time we change that right now. DEMO is all about new tech solving big problems. A select group of innovative companies are invited to showcase their solutions to a large audience of press, analysts, investors, CIOs and entrepreneurs.

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About DEMO 
Produced by the IDG Enterprise events group, the worldwide DEMO conferences focus on emerging technologies and new product innovations, which are hand selected from across the spectrum of the technology marketplace. The DEMO conferences have earned their reputation for consistently identifying cutting-edge technologies and helping entrepreneurs secure venture funding and establish critical business. For more information on the DEMO conferences, visit http://www.demo.com/.

I think DEMO has some interesting characteristics:

  • Presentations are 4 minutes or less. No exceptions.
  • No slides are allowed.
  • Live software demos only.
  • Presentations are followed by an additional 4 minutes of Q&A by an esteemed panel of Judges.

What I love about DEMO is that companies are given the main keynote stage to share their exciting products. 40 companies have the limelight for 8 minutes and share some truly exciting and creative innovations.

4 Minutes or Less
Normally I have at least 30 minutes to share Incorta with most demos being 60-90 minutes in length. This was going to be a whole new challenge. The amount of effort involved in making an impression in 4 minutes is completely different than 60 minutes. I think President Wilson Woodrow summed it up best.

Wilson Woodrow Quote

If you are to speak for 4 minutes I think you need 2 months to prepare!

The Challenge
What to focus on? You cannot show everything and often you might have many facets that make your product stand out from the competition. How do you decide on which piece to focus on? This was something that was pretty difficult for us at Incorta.

The Dry Run
The day before our scheduled DEMO time slot we had a dry run with Erick Schonfeld on stage at the San Jose Convention Center. Our focus in that demo was the ease of bringing data into Incorta and how we negate all the complex star schemas, ETL and traditional data warehouse work that cripples most Business Intelligence projects. After candid feedback from Erick, we decided we should change our demo. We changed direction entirely and created a new script. We decided to focus on our mobility and flexibility for Business Users to be able to take control of their analytics. How Incorta Enable users to quickly make changes to their dashboards to  answer pressing questions that traditionally take months to solve.

Re-writing your demo at 1 AM in the morning before your DEMO presentation is not the ideal, but sometimes you have to make these kind of changes.

If we had a deck could we have made such a sweeping change? Would we have been nimble enough to change direction? I would argue we would have not felt we could throw our DEMO slides in the trash and start from scratch with less than 12 hours before we walk on stage.

In this case no slides is perfect!

Incorta at DEMO

When was the last time you changed direction at the last minute after investing weeks into your original idea? How did that turn out?

Turning Fear Into Fuel: Courage & Vulnerability

ivanlendl

When I was 11 years old I had to stand up and present in front of 700+ school children in what we in the UK call “Assembly.” The room was made up of children from 11 to 18 years old along with teachers. It was intimidating to say the least and I was terrified. To make matters worse I had to present my own content, not read from a book. I had to share my own thoughts.

Four students were given the topic: “Your Hero.” We all had to take turns sharing about what we admired in our heroes. I cannot remember what I wrote down at all for the presentation apart from I spoke about tennis legend: Ivan Lendl. Ivan never won Wimbledon but he was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame. There is not much else I can say apart from that.

The speech was terrible. I read my pre-written text word for word. My head was buried into my chest to avoid looking out at the sea of faces. It was nerve wracking. Once I was done I had to remain on stage standing next to the third student sharing about their hero. It was then I looked up and surveyed the room. I was no longer the primary focus of attention. Then it hit me. The absurdity of it all. I was up here doing something I certainly didn’t want to do and looking out I could quickly see that no one was interested in listening to our speeches. Maybe it was built up nerves that just overwhelmed me, but the thought of how crazy this all was made me burst out laughing uncontrollably. It was terrible. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Piano recital exams
Even though there was only one person in the room. It was fear that I felt. Pure, unfiltered fear. Sweaty palms. Racing heart and lots of mistakes.

Number 1 Fear
You might relate to some of these fears. Fear of performing in public can be debilitating. Public speaking is the number 1 fear for most people.

Avoiding public speaking is not a solution. It hurts those who need to hear your message. It hurts your career. The only solution is be courageous. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s facing your fear. Whenever you face your fears you rob them of the irrational power they have over you.

Fear is simply misinformation disguised as reality. Step number one is to say yes I’m scared but I will be courageous and face my fear.

If you had to have 100 meetings with 1 or 2 people you probably would be okay, albeit very tired. If you had 1 meeting with 100-200 people you probably would be panicking. Fear enters. Why? Fundamentally what is the difference? How can you change this fear to actually become something that excites you and motivates you to be even more engaging with your audience?

The Journey
That 11 year old boy become a man who actually loves more people in the audience. The larger the audience the better. That 11 year old would not have believed you. It wasn’t possible. It isn’t possible. Are you believing the same lie I did for so long?

So what happened? Being comfortable in who I am and what I can do. I let go of the fear of being perceived a certain way and just be me, the real me, along with my mistakes, stammering and screw ups. How do you let go of that mask? You practice, you push yourself a little more each time. For me it was done a lot through performing guitar in public. I couldn’t avoid my mistakes. I had to embrace them.

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So I implore you to put down that theatre mask, the podium you hide behind and make yourself vulnerable. People will love you for it. Face your audience and let them see you. I mean really see you.

For those of you on this road, you never really leave it, but it certainly has a point when you can embrace that energy and not let it paralyze you. Where are you on this journey?

12 Years Ago Changed Me 2 Months Ago

Mavericks

In January 2014 I was at the peak of my career, and having the most fun I’ve had in a job since… I don’t know when. I had finally found my niche. I was experiencing great success not only in pre-sales, but Oracle-wide as an advocate for re-imagining corporate decks. With exciting opportunities on the horizon, I dropped the news that I was leaving Oracle.

Why leave when what looked to be the perfect set was approaching? 2014 was set to be a Mavericks year for me. Instead of paddling into that wave, I broke away and paddled to a completely different beach. I had no intentions of leaving, but I left the best job of my life.

What happened?
The Apple G4 Dual happened. January 2002! A memory of a feeling that deeply affected my outlook and perspective on my work. I remembered the first time I opened my Apple G4 Dual. I was mesmerized by even the process of opening the box! I stopped at each stage as I was transfixed by the beauty, design and attention to detail. I took pictures and savored each and every moment. I felt something special, even magical at that time. The experience affected me. The little things did matter. The fonts matter. The weight of the fonts matter. The position of the fonts matter. These things began to matter to me just as much as the message. I would never be the same again.

g4-mac

Other companies said the box didn’t matter. IBM, Dell and HP shipped their products in bland brown cardboard boxes. This pleased the accountants. It made sense. After all, everyone throws the box away right? Looking back it’s easy to see that history has shown them to be wrong. By the way, I have every box of every Apple product I’ve ever bought and ironically I even keep the brown box that my white box is shipped in. The following chart without question proves hat there can be no other possible reason for Apple’s success other than their attention to detail in packaging.😉

Cool Boxes and APPL Stock Price

The Details Matter to Incorta
In January 2014, I saw a product that reminded me of those same feelings I experienced back in 2002. Incorta gave me the opportunity to design not only the user experience of the application, but design how the product is experienced. To be given the chance to create an experience from the ground up. To create a culture around some of my experiences, thoughts, and ideas. The possibility to create not just interesting slides, but to re-think how we do sales and the entire user experience from beginning to end.

I get to answer the questions such as “How do we best serve our future brand fanatics? How do we help them actually enjoy going through an enterprise software  selection process?” For too long business software vendors have fed us the lie that enterprise shouldn’t look and feel like consumer software. Function and features are all that matter. Somewhere along the line we forgot that B2B was really just H2H (Human to Human). We lost that human touch. The balance sheet was all that mattered, and the balance sheet didn’t care about the font.

I get to design the whole ownership experience which begins with your first impression of Incorta all the way down to the… well actually, it never ends.

I want to create a product you don’t want to put down. A product you want to touch, hold, and savor. And that’s just when you are reviewing the Non Disclosure Agreement.

Have you had an Apple G4 Dual moment? If so what was it and how has it changed you?

Photo Credit: Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Adam Stanton.

 

Put Your Co-workers and Boss in Their Place

controllingboss

Presentations have to be focused on the audience and not self-serving. No surprises there right? You wouldn’t expect anything else from me? Quite frankly that doesn’t go far enough! I am a firm believer that you should place your audience above  your co-workers, boss or anyone from your company. This might sound like common sense but reality can be a lot tougher than throwing out pithy sentiments.

Are you prepared to stand up for what is right for your customer, audience, or future advocate?

How about before you even begin creating your presentation? Great presentations start before the presentation is crafted. Understanding the true purpose is crucial to any meaningful presentation for your audience.

I recently faced the challenge of “the rubber hitting the road” on this very issue.  I was asked to present material that co-workers requested which I believed was self-serving and not in the best interests of my customer. I was challenged to follow my own convictions, beliefs, and opinions on what was truly valuable to the people that really count: the audience. Thankfully, I am no longer afraid to speak up even if it offends people in order to do the right thing. I personally don’t care who you are. I won’t go against my convictions and fail to stand up for the customers best interest even in the software selection sales process.

People have approached me recently to let me know how much they appreciate my openness and boldness in standing up against the craziness of boring and mind numbing corporate decks. Sure I’ve reached a point where I’d rather be unemployed than sell out. That being said, don’t think for a second that I don’t have a killer presentation in my back pocket that would serve as the first blog post if I was “let go.”😉

I view myself as a guide for buyers inside of the software selection process. I want potential customers to make well informed decisions. I  have no interest in exploiting an opportunity to sell. I want to hold up my head with pride in 2-3 years when I walk back into that same company. The most valuable commodity I have is my credibility. I don’t plan on devaluing that currency.

Next time you create a presentation, make sure it’s truly for the primary audience. Don’t try to impress your co-workers, boss or anyone else. Knock the socks off the audience with a presentation that gives them everything they want and more.

EXCITE them,
SURPRISE them,
STAND UP for them.

They will thank you! Any company worth its salt will appreciate that quality in you. If they don’t, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t be afraid, move on to a new opportunity where Leaders Eat Last. They will provide you with a safe place to take risks, delight your customers, excite your audience, and hold your future advocates above that of any political corporate game.

Now raise your glasses and toast to creating some truly breathtaking presentations in 2014. Let’s turn the tide this year and make progress towards #KillingCorporateDecks.

Happy New Year

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas….

… and may all your future presentations be bright!

Christmas 2013

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Transparent

Transparency Tools

If you don’t know how to make an image transparent or recolor that image we must correct that today. Right now. This instance. 95% of all my images get some level of transparency treatment. Even the ones you don’t think have been touched.

If you don’t master converting images to be transparent you will end up with the dire alternative: the Nascar slide!

Nascar Slide of Logos

There are a number of ways to deal with this slide. Remove it completely. HURRAH. Or master some of tools and skills described in this blog.

  1. Wikipedia – If you need a logo start here. Almost all the logos for companies can be found in a transparent PNG format. Score!
  2. GIMP – This is a GNU Image Manipulation Program which is available on a number of Operating Systems.
  3. OS X Preview – For Mac users the fastest and easiest way most of the time is to use Apple’s Preview to convert images to transparent. Even though I have Photoshop I will use this unless it’s a complex image. I don’t know of something on the PC that is as easier as the Apple Preview. Comment below if you know of something.
  4. Photoshop – The premiere image editing software for many years. Don’t buy this unless you have patience and the desire to learn more in-depth image manipulation techniques. You will be quicker with the more simpler solutions.

This is not exhaustive, but it gives you a start. See what works for you. You really need to master the use of creating transparent backgrounds. The more advanced Powerpoint users will claim this feature already exists within PowerPoint. The features does exists but it doesn’t work. There I said it. It’s also easier to move images to another presentation application later on if they are transparent.

Apple’s Keynote also provides an Alpha function which is a lot better, but again if you want to move images you will have to do this all again. I’d also guess that applying the mask to the image realtime is more resource hungry than displaying the image already transparent. The less things to go wrong, the better in my book. Cause even though I have an Apple, things go wrong.

Finally, converting images to monochromatic images help bringing design consistency to where there is none. This can be done by editing the picture in Powerpoint and setting the brightness to 100% under the adjust color option.

Here’s an example of taking the Logo slide and bringing some consistency to the deck. Reducing the busyness and the noise. That being said you could make a case that removing a logo’s color can sometimes be like removing a part of their logo. So use common sense and make the right call for your purpose.

A new logo slide

Go ahead and start playing with these tools, you’ll be able to handle some nightmare overlaying issues going forward with a skip in your step. Good luck and help start a #KillingCorporateDecks revolution!

“Send Me Your Presentation!”

Hand Out

I despise those words. #DESPISE.

It took me a whole week to write more than that opening sentence. Despise captured my feelings and frustration towards the idea: that my value can be sent over e-mail. The implication that my presentation value can be captured in a PowerPoint deck irritates me no end. If that was the case, there would be no need to have me here in person. My communication would be pure and simply one directional. Spewing forth information about how wonderful our products are, and they are wonderful, believe me, or if not me, believe our advocates (customers).

My presentation is not my deck. I am the presentation. I present. The slide deck doesn’t present!

Stop and think for a moment. When did you last ask someone to reduce 80% of their presentation to a slide deck? It’s criminal in my mind. You think I am being too strong? Well bear with me. I’ll make my case.

Think about what you are really saying when you ask someone to send their presentation ahead of time for you to review? The statement is quite ludicrous. It’s patronizing. How do I send myself over e-mail? My presentation is not my deck. I am the presentation. I present. The slide deck doesn’t present! It’s a visual aid.

Slide Decks Are Visual Aids
I strive with my presentations and slide decks (yes they are not the same thing) to avoid beating you to death with boredom. I’m not delivering a white paper as my illustration. I am seeking to engage with you and share something I believe to be immensely important to you. If I don’t convey my message clearly I have done a massive disservice to you. I have failed you. I have wasted your time and reduced myself to being left out in the cold (see my “Are You The Best Leading Role, Supporting Role, An Extra or Left Out In the Cold?” post for more on this). This is something that I cannot afford to do.

The cost for you to not hear my message will be detrimental to your business, your story and your success. If I don’t believe that, I am in the wrong job. I need to quit. I  need to find a message and company I do believe in. The story has to be bigger than just me pedaling some software.

Hybrids Are Killing Us!
So how on earth can I dissolve all of the nuances that go into my presentation and send them in a PowerPoint file? Quite simply I cannot. So I don’t. I refuse (as much as I can). I get people annoyed because they all want and expect the slide decks. Really though, how useful are the slide decks you’ve requested? Do you give it one surface glance and then never look at it again? I know I’ve done that countless times. The only exception is when you are asked to give that same presentation (this crime will be the subject of a future post).

These bullet laden documents are worthless as handouts or leave behinds. They don’t convey the full story. They certainly destroy the story or leave it open to misinterpretation. Most presentations are lousy documents that I can’t read and understand in isolation. They are also equally lousy presentation material as visual aids. Somewhere along the line we went for a hybrid model and found ourselves in the sad mess we find today. It wasn’t always this way.

Before PowerPoint it wasn’t really possible to have so much text on our visual aids. We used white boards. It was concise. Relevant. To the point. Then we let technology get in the way of telling a good story. This hybrid of a handout and visual aid doesn’t deliver on either of its intended purposes. I maintain we need both. The visual aid and the handout.

It reminds me of the Windows 8 OS. Is it a tablet OS or a Laptop OS? It’s a miserable hybrid of the two. And from how the market is responding a lack luster attempt at hitting the nail on the head for either purposes.

So What’s The Alternative? Hard work 
This is where I expect a lot of opposition. Why? What I am about to suggest takes time and effort. It’s the right thing to do to stand apart, to bring value to your audience.

Two documents. Yes, two documents. Your slide deck and a handout / leave behind. Trust me this will make a difference and ensure as much as possible your  message gets across to those who were not present (or wish to review ahead of time). Of course if you can afford a film crew and make a quality video and post-production for embedding slide content I would go for that approach. Even that is not ideal. The presentation handout if requested is always appreciated by the audience.

Do not merge the handout and the slide to be one. That’s a mistake. Resist it at all costs. They need to be two distinct deliverables. To have your talk track on screen is a mistake. To send out a visual aid slide deck with no talk track is a mistake. Embed your slides into your handout and then have full written sentences that explain the message which the slide illustrates. It’s hard work. It pays off.

Hand Out