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The enterprise keynote survival guide - for attendees and vendors

Jon Reed & Brian Sommer Profile picture for user jonandbrian March 14, 2017
Once the snow clears, silly season hits. Just in the nick of time, Jon and Brian have your enterprise keynote survival guide ready. Tips for attendees come first, but vendors must survive their own keynotes also, so we've got tips for vendors as well.

The silly season is almost upon us. Soon, driverless cars will be dropping off keynote speakers on stage, while drones deliver the just-in-time pizza Alexa ordered. Yep, enterprise software keynote season is upon us!

Soon, you too will have the wonderful chance to get your fix of the game-changing innovations your vendor is bravely pursuing, with the courageous leadership you can only find when enterprise software licenses are at stake.

But before you find yourself stuck in the front row, coated with the proverbial watermelon juice, we’ve got a few keynote survival tips for you. And vendors, not to worry – we’ve got your survival tips as well. Otherwise, your tech innovation keynote might be relegated to “email catchup time.”

Keynote survival - for attendees

  • Bring your BS detector. Much of what you hear in the tech innovation keynote isn’t productized. Nor is it close. Get ready to ask those pesky roadmap questions in breakout sessions. Helpful hint: if it has anything to do with Internet of Things, it’s probably 95% aspirational and 5% reality.
  • Catch the meme/overused word/phrase. Too many vendor marketers got the same memo: “Whatever you do, be sure and mention “___”.” Once you figure out what that is (e.g., automagical, omnichannel, all-in-the-cloud, thank-you-for-your-leadership), tweet the living daylights out of it, as if it's the most brilliant and unique concept ever conjured. A bit of snark is just fine - vendors love this!
  • Enjoy the blockchain demo. It’s coming. It’s going to change everything. You’ll see. Only it’s aa looooonnnnngggg time away from being a reality. Don’t expect to see vendors re-work their ERP solutions to support a full blockchain reality. That's for 2025 - maybe. No, it’ll be a single transaction demo for you this year - or a subledger sidecar.
  • Get ready for the singularity. AI is coming to your keynote stage. It will never cost more than your current license. It will never take your job. It will only make your life better. On second thought, don’t turn on your BS detector until the AI demo is over.
  • Analyze the analytics. Analytics are to software what cloud/mobile/social was ten years ago. Unfortunately, analytics are the amateur hour of vendor technology. Remember: the analytic demo that uses existing transaction data (not Big Data) is just a report, not a real analytic app.
  • Bring your safety goggles. Drones have propellers. Propellers break. Look out below.
  • Tweet early and often. If you’re new to Twitter, download it on your mobile app and get your conference hashtag. It’s the best way to complain about the conference food or ask a pointed question. Most vendors treat a negative keynote tweet like a hand grenade – take advantage of your bullhorn while you have it (as long as your employer is on board with your stylings!). And don't forget: the most popular tweets might end up on the keynote JumboTron. Make friends and win followers while sending your vendors' social sentiment tools into a tail-chasing frenzy!
  • Don’t count on the live stream. Watching the keynote in your jammies is great – until the stream (invariably) breaks. If there’s one constancy at keynotes and hotels, it’s bad wifi that’s made even worse by the clowns downloading entire movies during the keynotes. If the keynote is crucial to your job, wipe the late night  “networking” from your eyes, scrub up and get there.
  • Don’t think you’ll get quality time with top vendor management. Top vendor management will spend time: prepping for their demos, meeting with the most alpha of their customers, schmoozing with potential new customers and dealing with pesky analysts. Even if you get some time scheduled, huge casino/hotel/conference spaces are logistical nightmares and you’re meeting might not come off after all. Better to plan something after the conference.
  • Want to have words with your account rep? Book a tee time – You’re not likely to find your account/sales/customer experience rep at the show. They’ll be at several local golf courses instead. Tip: wait for a late in the day tee time and get the rep nice and tipsy! That’s an ideal time to bring up “indirect access."
  • Download the mobile app ahead of time. Yeah, it’s a pain to deal with the app. But some of these apps have useful notifications and will expedite your registration so you get to that keynote on time.
  • Grab all the ‘Flair’ you can. Every vendor has buttons, badge streamers, back packs, tote bags, etc (Brian's button collection is shown off above - Jon has dibs on "My door is always open to you.") To make the best impression possible, wear the flair that makes no sense (e.g., carry a Workday backpack to the SAP's Sapphire Now conference). Every vendor rep will shower you with even more bling, in the hopes of getting you into wardrobe compliance.

Keynote survival - for vendors

  • Expect a connectivity problem during a live demo. If your demo can’t run on Southwest’s wifi trickle, it probably won’t run during the keynote. Prepare the appropriate stand-up routing, and offline backup. Handling on-stage glitches with grace makes a good impression.
  • Slap sensors on everything. Nothing is more amazing and incredible to attendees than IoT! Put sensors on bots, badges and beer bottles. Show them there is no information too trivial for your software to track! Caveat: if you put sensors on ID badges, it can get awkward when half your attendees are shown at the casino, in the bathrooms or the pool.
  • Get your customers on stage. We’re a lot more interested in what your customers are doing than what’s in your innovation lab. Oh, and avoid the sanitized, over-moderated and way-over-rehearsed “customer panel" (yawn). Consider letting the customers ask YOU questions – unscripted moments add up to better keynote sessions.
  • Answer the question! We know you went to media training and were taught to skirt the tough questions and stay on message. But don't answer every question with your top three messages. Remember, your audience is already fatigued from hearing your apps were designed for the cloud and high performance computing. When you answer an innocuous question about the weather forecast with your big data message, it's Facebook-checking time.
  • Your local media personality is NOT a good keynote host. No colorful shock jocks are needed to get your audience “jacked and pumped.” Let one of your own executives moderate the keynote in an authentic style. The humor will come from the unscripted moments, not from a second rate joke file.
  • Ditto for famous jocks. We've yet to see one of those over-muscled Al Bundys know anything useful about the enterprise. If they think the cloud is where Apple puts their selfies, they might not be a good fit.
  • Ditto for Hollywood actresses.
  • Stop inviting government officials from tainted administrations to keynote. If an outside keynote is needed, elevate a community difference maker, not a celebrity. And no, we don’t need lessons from a motivational speaker who rode a unicycle up Kilimanjaro blindfolded while juggling chainsaws.
  • Get your female executives and experts on stage – either that, or take a roasting on social media.

    Too many dudes
  • End on time – Running long on your keynote wreaks havoc on your customers’ schedule. If you can’t cover the salient points in 90 minutes, is your solution too complex? Are you over-massaging the message? Vendors that end keynotes on time give the impression their projects just might end on time also.

Final words for attendees

Some think these events are about the customers. Some think it’s about innovation. Some think it’s about learning about technology or the product.  Whatever you might think these shows are about, remember that they’re actually sales and marketing events.

Vendors are either trying to win you over as a new customer or keep you as a customer. When you know it’s a sales event, you can plan accordingly - and set appropriate keynote expectations. What you don't get from the keynotes, you can often get from educational sessions and meetings with experts - so plan ahead. And remember: the event is a failure if you don't bring flair back for your friends and family.

Don’t be afraid to approach your friendly neighborhood bloggers and analysts. We/they can be well worth a chit chat – just tell the analysts to keep their quadrants and trapezoids to themselves.

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