Last week I wrote about the HP Industry Summit, focusing on what HP did very well and what it could improve. The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that it was like most other industry events.
Even though presentation technology has dramatically changed, and even though we have examples of transformational events such as TED and sales excellence from folks such as Steve Jobs, events that are designed change minds and sell products haven't changed much in the 30 years I've been doing this job.
Yes, we use digital images instead of overhead projectors, foils and film, but the process hasn't evolved with the technology. The most advanced thing we typically see? Videoconferencing from a remote site - which Apple did with Bill Gates in the late 1990s.
Now, I know that doing stuff the same way over and over again is safe, and I'm well aware that taking risks and doing things differently can backfire, especially if done badly. Given what we've learned over the last decade, and given the difference it could make, I think it's worth a shot.
For TED and Steve Jobs, Talks Are More Than Words
Two books by Carmine Gallo do an excellent job of showcasing what we've learned about successful presentations. Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs focuses on pitching products and staging, while Talk Like TED explains how to pitch an idea so people pay attention and are moved by it.
Jobs and TED talks such as Sheryl Sandberg's are remembered years later. And for different reasons: Jobs sold a ton of products, while TED talks change minds. During these events, when folks email and text, it's all about what they see, not how bored they are. (That is, if they're not sitting quietly, mouths open in awe.)
Sadly, you can't go to see a Steve Jobs talk anymore, and if you find one on video, it's a pale shadow of what it was like to actually attend one. As an example, here's the iPhone announcement from 2007:
I recall leaving a different Jobs presentation thinking it was the best thing I'd ever attended, only to have someone point out that he actually hadn't said anything newsworthy. But his presentation style and attention to detail turned the mundane into magic.
TED speakers, meanwhile, use passion, effective writing and visual aids (rich slides, animations, videos and physical products) to entertain the audience and make believers. You can see TED talks online, but here, too, the best experience is in the audience. The talks aren't designed to tell you about something, as most event speakers do; rather, they are meant to move you, to change your mind, to make you think different.
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