I lost interest in conference keynotes a couple of years ago. I don’t watch the livestream or the post-event playback.
Why? These days the big vendor keynotes are:
- Executives congratulating themselves on how clever they are and boasting about numbers.
- Favourite customers paraded on stage to brag about how much they spend.
- Announcements about the odd new products that will ship next year, but order NOW!
- Demos. Because you have to have a demo.
- Big-name celebrities hired because executive egos like to be seen with famous people.
Let’s Break That Down
Watching a corporate executive brag about ‘how many customers this’, ‘how much revenue that’ isn’t interesting. That’s for financial analysts and stockholders. Stop talking about yourself.
The pattern of bringing customer executive on stage is boring. The CIO of a F100/FTSE50 isn’t interesting to anyone except the executive on the stage who wants the customer to brag amount how much money they spent. Also, customer egos just love some attention, and it’s cheaper than giving them a discount. Stop talking about your job and yourself.
Once upon a time, announcing new products was a big draw. Is there a big announcement ? Well, we are announcing something but it won’t ship until next year. Maybe. Stop talking about yourself.
Demos are all the fashion. Except that 98% of all demos do not work in a theatre. They do work during a sales call. Don’t mix these up. Just because you love selling stuff doesn’t mean customers love watching it. Stop talking about yourself.
Putting a big-name, famous person on stage is boring. I figure that executives like to make themselves feel important by meeting famous people. Stop focusing on yourself.
What Does Greg Think A Keynote Audience Wants?
- Why have a keynote at all? Let’s get to session or mini-keynotes.
- If you are a big company with dozens of business units, consider not having a keynote at all. Have smaller keynotes that fit into customer silos.
- Cool, good stories. No one cares who the customer is–just tell me the story.
- Maximum one hour. Don’t let the conference people convince you to make it longer because you spent millions on setting up cameras, light and a troupe of dancing baboons.
Don’t Do These Things
- Ditch the CEO. CEOs of big companies are boring people. Put ordinary people on stage. People who know their stuff. People that an audience can relate to. Note to Boomers: CIOs are not sitting in a keynote audience.
- No chitty-chat between stage presenters. ‘Hi Bob, that’s a cracking suit you are wearing!’, ‘Thanks, John. Checkout my overpriced shoes! Aren’t they wild?!?’. Ugh.
- No entertainment. That’s what Disney and Netflix is for.
- Don’t spend millions of dollars on cameras, lights and dancing baboons. There is not a single person in technology who can come on stage and have Justin Bieber-like charisma to match the glamour of the opening troupe of baboons.
- Don’t hire a big name celebrity and attempt to smear some of their glory on your brand. Hey, boomer generation. It’s 2019. Things have changed. If I wanted a motivational talk, I would go to a life coach or sales kickoff.
- Don’t start your conference on Monday. I don’t want to travel on my own time for a company event.
- Avoid cattle herding. Bigger keynote numbers might look good on a quarterly report but cattle herding your best customers into the audience pens is a poor experience.
- Stop talking about the vendor hall / world o’ solushuns. The audience doesn’t care about your bottom line and wagon loads of cash from sponsors.
Focus on the Audience
My suggestion to conference organisers is to think about the audience first. Put the company into service of the audience who is their customer. Do you really think that thousands of nerds want noise, lights, clapping that accomplished nothing. Those people are highly paid, highly motivated smart people and you are treating them like ordinary people at theme park.
There’s HOURS of sessions, the hallway track, lunch, beer crawl, and dinner to get through. Most of the introverts in the crowd (most of the paying attendees) want to crawl into a hole with their earbuds and die after 60 minutes.
OK Boomers, over to you. Stop doing what you have always done. Do something for your audience next time.
PPS: How to Fix This ?
I have ideas on how to fix this structurally but I have to do real work. If you want advice, get in touch and we can discuss my fees to advise you.