There’s a time and a place for a sales presentation, and conferences aren’t it.
People pay good money to go to conferences. In return, they want to learn amazing new things, discover future trends, and learn how others in the same industry have solved problems.
They don’t want a blatant sales hustle from the lectern. Conference sponsors find this hard to resist, having paid good money to support the delegates’ voracious appetite for liquor each evening. Even if you’re so kind as to pick up the whole tab, however, the audience will still resent a Brandpower-style eulogy on the wonders of your product.
In this situation, the best approach is to do a useful talk on some important industry trend, without the direct product plugs. You can still present the topic with a skew toward your company’s viewpoint, and people are OK with that. The brand benefits come from people thinking: that presenter from Acme Industries was really interesting and gave me some useful information. When it’s time to buy, I’ll trust them.
The TED conference is a shining example of how successful the non-hustle approach can be. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment & Design, with the motto ‘Ideas Worth Sharing’. It holds an annual conference in Long Beach, and tickets to it are among the most sought-after in the events world. It attracts a stellar lineup of speakers, all of whom you can catch on video for free.
And no matter who’s presenting, whether it’s Bill Gates, Anthony Robbins or Bill Clinton, they have to obey the rules. The ‘TED Commandments’ are a great guide for anyone who wants to really engage an audience, rather than the polite tolerance that most speakers receive.
1. Thou shalt no simply trot out thy usual schtick.
2. Thous shalt dream a great dream, or show forth a wondrous new thing, or share something thou hast never shared before.
3. Thou shalt reveal thy curiosity and thy passion.
4. Thou shalt tell a story.
5. Thou shalt freely comment on the utterances of other speakers for the sake of blessed connection and exquisite controversy.
6. Thou shalt not flaunt thine ego. Be thou vulnerable. Speak of thy failure as well as thy success.
7. Thou shalt not sell from the stage: neither thy company, thy goods, thy writings, nor thy desperate need for funding, lest thy be cast aside into outer darkness.
8. Thou shalt remember all the while: laughter is good.
9. Thou shalt not read thy speech.
10. Thou shalt not steal the time of them that follow thee.
Any presenter wanting to improve their style could spend literally weeks watching videos of TED presentations. You’ll learn more from it than a thousand cheesy how-to-present books.