Not another vendor presentation…

man presenting at conferenceThe main conference and event season is in full swing. And this means plenty of opportunities for networking, learning about new trends and technologies as well as listening to CIOs, consultants and suppliers sharing their case studies, new thinking, and advice on how to tackle the latest challenges facing IT.

But along with these valuable and sometimes inspiring experiences these events also bring the potential of another type of experience, one that can be mind numbingly dull, providing little or no value and which could be viewed as a form of mental torture: the vendor presentation.

Thankfully not all vendor presentations fall into this category. Indeed I have been to many that are both insightful and entertaining. But at just about every event I have been to over the last couple of years at least one vendor has got it totally wrong; these companies have delivered a presentation that is so lacking in interesting or relevant content that they lose their audience. And, as a result, rather than serving as a good advertisement for the organisation and what it does, such sessions actually damage the company’s reputation and brand. One such presentation I attended at an event last September is still talked about now, eight months later, whenever survivors of that particular session meet.

And it is not just the people in the room that walk away from these sessions with a negative sentiment towards the vendor. Just as event attendees are quick to tweet learning points, great quotes and other information of value to their followers, they are also quick to share their dissatisfaction or lack of interest in a vendor presentation. And their comments can be quite cutting as well as very amusing at the expense of the company in question. I have witnessed (and I have to admit, taken part in) conversations on Twitter during such sessions. Interestingly though, on no occasion have the social media teams from either the events or the vendors themselves responded to the comments and criticisms being made by the audience on social sites.

Typically, vendors that get their presentations wrong do one of four things:

  1. Give a full-on sales pitch for the company and/or it products and services;
  2. Provide a history lesson about their company or a particular technology, product or service;
  3. Talk about a technology or trend in such basic or simplistic terms as if to imply the audience knows nothing about the subject;
  4. Give extremely detailed technical descriptions, specifications and/or explanations of a technology.

The worst culprits can tick more than one off this list. I have personally sat through a number of vendor sessions that have managed to do three of these in a single presentation. And quite often it is one of the headline sponsors – each of which is typically given a 20-30 minute slot in return for funding the event – that get it wrong. Perhaps they take the view that, as they have invested a significant sum in the event, they can do what they want during their session. Although I suspect some of them just do not realise their mistake and genuinely assume their audience is interested in the content of their slides because they themselves find them so interesting.

These vendors do not appear to understand their audience and what they expect to gain from attending an event. If a CIO wants a detailed description of your product then they can visit your stand, read your literature, look at your website or arrange a meeting with you. If they want a detailed history about technology or your company they can look it up on the Internet or buy a book. And if they need a cloud for dummies type presentation then they shouldn’t be at the event in the first place!

The question to these vendors is: how can you expect to sell to CIOs if you do not understand what interests them or how to leave them with a positive impression of your company? Your audience is far more sophisticated than you appear to give them credit for; when they attend your session they do not want to sold to, lectured or, worse still, patronised. They want to be given something of value such as case studies they can learn from and tips they can apply when they get back to the office. They want information and insights they cannot get elsewhere. Their time is valuable and they don’t want to waste it listening to irrelevant content, standard corporate presentations or sales material.

My advice to vendors writing presentations for an event is to avoid making one or more of the four mistakes outlined above by setting out to educate, enlighten and entertain the audience. Will they learn something new and relevant to their role? Will they go away with information that will help them do their job better? Will your slides change their thinking or provide them with an advantage over someone that hasn’t seen your presentation? Will they enjoy the session? Will they laugh? Will they take something away that makes a real difference to them?

If you cannot answer yes to any of these questions, if you presentation does not educate, enlighten and entertain your audience, then rip it up and start again. Of course you need to introduce your business and what it does but keep it brief; you want them to remember your brand for a positive reason, not because you have bored them for 30 minutes. People remember the best and the worst presentations. If your presentation is one of the best then you will have created a positive association with your company and its products and services, and you will get the brand recognition and sales that you need to justify your time. If you commit one or more of the typical vendor mistakes you are likely to fall into the worst category, which will not only mean you have wasted your time but may also cause long-term damage to your brand.



  1. My own cliché check list at the moment:

    Exponential growth curve (with no scale)

    “Mobile really important” illustrated by photo of last two Papal Enclave announcements

    We’re doing a lot of work for charity

    Cloud, cloud, cloud

    OPEX not CAPEX…


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