The OSS movie trailer

Did you also attend fascinating presentations? What would be your advice to get your audience passionate?
Roland Leners
of NetworkMining in response to an earlier blog about boring OSS presentations.

This is a brilliant question, one that I wished I had’ve asked myself when writing the earlier blog. It gets to the root of the topic – how to deliver OSS presentations that have more impact.

We can’t bundle all presentations into a single group as there are different types of OSS presentations. These include keynote / vision sessions, product introductions, sales demonstrations, product demonstrations, etc. They have different audiences and different objectives.

However, I can give some hints that cross into all types of OSS presentations.

Almost every single OSS presentation I’ve observed has been delivered by someone who is passionate about their products, subject matter and the OSS industry as a whole. So clearly that’s not the problem. They are passionate about a million attributes of their solution and want to discuss them all. They’re selling the million features rather than the 3-5 benefits. The human brain can’t retain the million features, but it can retain the 3-5 key takeaways. Hint #1 – Distill the Benefits – Know the customer/audience and distill the message to the benefits that they can’t forget.

The million features that the presenter is so excited about also tend to get splattered across their slides in dozens of bullet-points per page. The audience becomes engaged in the slides rather than the presenter. If the slides are cluttered, the message is too. Hint #2 – The Law of Empty Space – use images and videos, with a select few words to support your presentation, rather than distracting with bullet-points.

To show every feature that a customer might use is simply not feasible. It would take many hours / days. Research has proven that few of us have attention spans that extend beyond 10 minutes so even if there were enough time available, the audience couldn’t take in all the nuances. Hint #3 – The Movie Trailer – create a sub-set of the story that excites the audience into wanting to know more. This may be through generating a handful of end-to-end scenarios (eg alarm to resolution) that are most pertinent to the customer’s situation and walk the audience through the benefit (eg the resolution of the problem), whilst demonstrating some of the features along the way (ie the resolution process).

When the audience is left wanting more, the presenter must be ready to satiate them with more. Let’s face it, how many customers ever sign up to a new OSS project after one presentation anyway? I get a much better understanding of a product by using it rather than having it demonstrated or taught by rote methods (which are often used in OSS training). So as follow-up I’d recommend having a sand-pit environment that the audience can download (eg as a VM) or log into as well as providing support to help them walk through scenarios that they can associate with.

The hands-on environment will also ensure more credibility than a slideware / vapourware prototype.

Apart from having a fascination with OSS in general, I can’t recall a single OSS presentation that compares well against the best presentations from other forums. So rather than using past OSS presentations as a reference point, perhaps take a closer look at Steve Jobs’ iPhone presentation in 2007 for insights.

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4 Responses

  1. As a past OSS marketeer, one of the problems is that your message and medium get’s pulled away from the ideal you describe above by several factors: An attitude that more is better by your exec team and an attitude that I need slides I can *read* among the sales team.

    The more things you show, the more likely the customer will see something they’ll buy? Right? It’s so hard to argue against naive views like that.
    And there’s almost no way to get a sales team to adopt a slide deck that they need to *learn* or even rehearse! Good luck.

    Now, this reality of creating slides for others to use doesn’t mean your goal of good presentations is achievable. It just means you have one more hurdle to jump. It means you have to create a slide deck that tick enough boxes in a way that the sales guys are comfortable with delivering. To be honest, the best solution might be don’t let sales guys present. Srlsy. They don’t demo. So don’t let them present. Have a tech marketing team instead. 🙂

  2. Hi James,

    You’re right. There are going to be many people in an organisation who push back against my contrarian approach, for the exact reason you indicate. It takes more effort to get it right. To learn, to rehearse, to prepare for glitches.
    As Henry Ford said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” So if “the organisation” insists on following the standard approach then the industry will deliver more uninspiring OSS demonstrations.

    I love your tongue-in-cheek statement, “The more things you show, the more likely the customer will see something they’ll buy? Right?”
    I tend to believe the opposite. The more detail you show, the more likely the customer will be confused or find fault and get hung up on that rather than concentrating on the overall vision in the presentation. Is that what you’re implying too James?

    Across all aspects of OSS, we have a tendency to make the complex even more complex. Hopefully a sales team finds it easier to deliver a simpler, distilled message rather than trying to demonstrate the product in minutiae (as you suggest 😉 )

    As a past OSS marketeer, I’d love to hear any additional thoughts / learnings / tips that your audiences have responded to strongly James. What approaches have you taken that have reliably translated to sales or set your organisation apart from the competition?

  3. I believe that ignorance about the customer context, needs, etc. is the number 1 problem that you face as a sales person (or a marketeer supporting sales). This ignorance is not necessarily due to bad upfront preparation but often due to unclear formulations by the customer itself. In those situations, the best presentation is no presentation. It is a tough and destabilizing thing to do as a sales person but it provides IMO the best return, for both sides. It works best with senior/executive audiences and less with technical audiences (who want to “see your product” and not talk about their needs and problems).

    One you are beyond that first hurdle and know well the expectations, pain points, etc of your audience, it becomes easier to make a relevant product presentation. However I find anecdotes and successes with other customers that faced similar issue more important than product or service. I find selling OSS closer to selling consulting services than to selling “products”.

  4. Hi Roland,

    You’re exactly right. The number 1 problem IS the presenters not understanding the customer, or addressing their needs and then distilling into the messages that address their specific problems. As referenced in an earlier post ( I only occasionally see a presentation that is highly focussed on the customer, not the vendor’s capabilities. From your comment, it’s clear that you’re one of the rare few Roland.

    Your no-presentation / requirement-capture approach is indeed a courageous one, but definitely supported by some of the best in the sales industry. Michael Bosworth’s 9 step selling process (in his book, “Solution Selling”) was the first time I’d seen reference to your type of approach. I’ve yet to see anyone present this way on the vendor selection processes I’ve been involved with though.

    Interestingly, I’ve also seen winning bids stumble during implementation due to the same mismatch in customer and vendor understandings you speak of Roland, so the initial effort is definitely worthwhile!

    PS. Yes, product is invariably the tip of the ice-berg (ie 10%) of an OSS, with services comprising the other 90%. Some vendors manage to retain their focus on product, but due to relative scarcity of OSS customers, I believe services should be the main revenue stream for OSS vendors/integrators. Hence, your reference to OSS being more of a solution sell is right on the money IMHO too. Testimonials and anecdotes, as well as live reference sites, are definitely one of the strongest influencers in a vendor selection, especially after short-listing has occurred. It was remiss of me to not mention that in the section about credibility-building.

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