How Not to Give THAT Vendor Presentation
Trade show and conference attendees don’t like vendor presentations, and neither do conference organizers. Why? Because most vendors send a sales or marketing person up to do the company pitch, even when they committed to not doing the company pitch. The problem is, the vendor probably bought the slot, so they get to talk, and they probably didn’t receive much feedback from the conference organizers outside of guidelines. Vendors often don’t invest in specific conference presentations because they already have so many versions of the sales deck, one probably will do. How do you avoid being the vendor who delivers THAT presentation?
Vendors with good reviews invest in a presentation for a specific audience. They focus on adding value for the attendee, not adding revenue for the company…at least not directly. Trust that if the presentation helps build trust in the company, then attendees will initiate an action. Overzealous presentations that look like sales pitches and end with a sales-oriented call-to-action won’t play well with the conference crowd.
We’ve been through hundreds of sessions and hundreds of conferences. There are ways to avoid giving THAT presentation that people talk about, but not in the right way. Here are eleven pieces of advice we offer to help vendors turn their precious investments in a conference speaking slot into an engagement and enlightenment tool that builds trusts and establishes credibility. Trust and credibility set up the sale. Offer to further discuss the ideas at the booth.
11 Ways to Avoid Giving THAT Vendor Presentation
- Don’t give the company pitch. Not first. Not ever. Some vendors see their presentation as an opportunity to tell conference attendees who they are. They offer their mission, vision and values, customer statistics and product suites. Attendees at a conference on AI or consumer electronics either already know who you are, or they don’t care. Keep the introduction to a single slide with a sentence or two to set the context. Start with an interesting springboard. Relate to the context of the conference your audience paid to attend. Then spend the time sharing intriguing, meaningful stories. Save the company pitch for the follow-up meeting.
- Don’t define things people already know. I just sat through a conference on AI where almost every vendor told me what AI was. Part of this was the conference organizers not starting with a presentation for context and then telling everyone else to not present definitions. But the vendors should have seen the pattern and triggered number 3 below. Besides, if the definitions don’t add value or create a new context (vs. the context set by the conference and other presenters) then they just take up time better spent actually telling your story.
- Don’t feel compelled to use all your slides. Just because the VP of marketing included a slide on the definitions of AI, you should not very compelled to use them just because they are in the deck you were handed. The presenter is on the ground charged with making the company look as good as possible in the given circumstances. If that means punting some slides, then punt on the slides.
- Know what you are talking about. I was at a conference recently where a vendor representative was reading from a printout. One slide with bullets and a multipage document If you can’t find someone who knows about a topic, think twice about presenting. Thought leadership can be taught and it can be scaled, but you need to invest in people learning the story, not just putting the slides out in a repository.
- Differentiate your solution. In movies, exposition is when an actor explains what is going on in the movie. Vendors giving presentations need to differentiate themselves without being expository. Don’t get up and explain how you are different, just be different. That means understanding the competitive landscape and delivering a presentation that no one else is giving, and telling stories that illustrate how and why you are different.
- Think thought leadership, not product marketing. One of the biggest mistakes made by vendors is thinking that attendees want to hear a product pitch. They don’t. They can visit a website or a vendor’s booth for a product demo. The presentation is an opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership. Share results of a survey. Talk about the technologies being explored that aren’t in the product yet. A framework for thinking about the solution space is a well-tested form of thought leadership that always helps elevate a presentation.
- Tell a customer story. Tell your product or technology story through examples. Stories about customer success and a description of how they found success is more intriguing for conference attendees,
- Don’t sell products or services. The attendees know what company you are from and most likely, what you sell. Don’t sell products. Do sell the company by example. Answer questions like: How have you helped others achieved their goals? What ideas do you have that lead the market? This also means don’t do a demo just to show the demo. If the demo doesn’t further the story, it would get people’s attention.
- Don’t go it alone. Smaller vendors often only employ a few people who would be called industry thought leaders. Thought leaders may not be available for all conferences. Instead of sending the regional sales manager, hire an analyst or another industry pundit to provide context for your market and your product. You still display your logo and offer a call-to-action— but you also get industry credibility by association, especially if your guest speaker avoids endorsements. Conference/trade show attendees will appreciate an organization that is secure enough in its own brand identity to put a non-employee out in front for a talk.
- Teach people something. Make sure people walk about from your presentation with an idea that they didn’t have before—or one you helped clarify or expand on. Go through the presentation and think about the slides people will capture with their phones. If you don’t have any slides you think people want to take home on their phones, then figure out how to get some.
- Be visual. If your presentation is mostly words, step back and think about how to make it more visual. What is the story you want to tell? How can you tell that story without all the words on the slides? You can still say most of the words, but create a visual that sets them up and drives them home as you speak. If you can’t do this yourself, the best contract hires you can make is a visual storyteller to give your presentation a graphical narrative.