Last week I was in a conference of retailers discussing how IT can contribute to growth within their business and to the industry at large. The event had its usual bevy of IT vendors who had availed of speaking slots as well as many deciding to exhibit their products / solutions to target potential customers with their offerings. Attendance being large with representation across retailers, it was a great opportunity for the sponsors to engage.
Sloppy (and usual) vendor-pitches
Every marketing executive, when provided with the opportunity to deliver an address to a captive audience, attempts to put in everything that the company does, regardless whether it makes sense to the target audience. The result is that anyone listening is more confused than s/he was prior to sitting through the presentation. Charts and multiple boxes with bullet points are the norm. Animations and pictures add to the already crowded slides.
Deviation from the norm
But this was one conference that was crafted together by a panel of CIOs and vendor-representatives in conjunction with an industry body. The panel engaged with the sponsors through the planning process defining expectations and providing the suggested format of their participation in the event. Vendors presenting the traditional way using slides were expected to send their presentation to the committee of CIOs to validate the context aligned to the theme and to ensure that it made sense to the participants.
Thus, the agenda, the content headlines and the topics—de-jargonized by the CIOs with some catchy titles—were fairly relevant to the audience comprising a mix of business and IT representatives across the layers of management.
With a few exceptions, the changes to the pitch comprised slashing the number of slides to fewer than 20 and making them readable even by people sitting in the last row of the seminar hall. The clear message to everyone (read – presenters) was: What is the one big message you want to leave with the audience in your allotted 30 minutes? Can you engage and provoke thought rather than outline the menu of options your company has to offer? Given the task of reviewing three presentations each and ensuring that the changes are in line with expectations, the CIOs were a harried lot by the time they got into the conference. Few presenters still escaped censorship by either citing unavailability of global speaker-slides or by simply not responding.
Hits and misses
The end result? For those few who chose the case study route to communicate the benefits of their product(s) or service(s), the compliant presentations created a ‘wow’ (for everyone almost), and this was visible from the crowd outside their stalls.
But on the other hand, the vendors who ‘did their own thing’ found the audience twiddling with their smartphones, chatting to their neighbors, dozing off, or simply walking out midway. If I were to be a speaker, it would have been totally demoralizing for me.
In the day-end debrief one such vendor insisted that there is no other way to inform the audience of what his company has to offer. If the customer is not aware of the entire spectrum of offerings, how and why will s/he think about his company? According to him, when he puts across 10 points, a few will be remembered. He refused to believe that his speech was delivered but not received.
Some people don’t learn. (Sigh!)