Presenting at Tech Field Day

I attended Stephen Foskett’s Tech Field Day 5 last week in San Jose, CA.  Once again, there was an impressive array of vendors (both new and existing) that told us all about their products.  As I am usually in presenter mode, it was nice to sit back and just listen and watch for a change.  I picked up a number of interesting things to blog about, including one company I wasn’t following at all.  I also got to watch companies succeed and fail in front of such an interesting crowd.  Like The NetWorking Nerd, I thought I would give some suggestions to future presenters.

Unfortunately, this is mostly about what companies did wrong.  All of the dos or dont’s below were not followed by at least one vendor, but I’ll let them go anonymous.

  1. We’re geeks, not marketing nerds.  Present to that.
    • Don’t fill your slides with a bunch of marketing mumbo/jumbo.  If you’ve got 15 slides on what the problem is, present one of them.  Ask us if we’ve got it, then skip the next 14.  Unless we say we don’t understand the problem, of course.
    • We are not the usual techie or management drones you’re used to presenting to.  Part of what we want to do is to have fun while we’re there.  Companies that help us have fun get remembered.  See where I’m going here?
  2. Follow the session when you’re not presenting
    • We have a live video stream of what’s happening in the room before you get in there, as well as a twitter hashtag you can follow.  I’m pretty sure you can even visit it in person if you want to be a fly on the wall.  The point is to be familiar with the attendees and how they behave before you step on stage.  If you make a call back to a joke that happened before your company presented, you get serious brownie points from the audience.  (It’s the complete opposite of what happens if you say the word “Gartner,” BTW.)
    • The best example of this was that in the first session someone made a joke that it would be cool if the vendor was passing out bacon.  Then someone else said “or chocolate!”  The next session the vendor showed up with a plate of bacon and a handful of chocolate!  What a way to start out a presentation by showing that you’re participating in the overall event.
  3. Follow the session while you’re presenting
    • One vendor’s first presenter rambled on for 45 minutes without telling us hardly anything about their company’s products.  Not every presenter is equally adept at measuring audience response, but anyone can follow a twitter hashtag or IRC feed.  If this company had been doing that, they would have seen a twitter message about an IRC session that was going on.  They should have then been following both.  Had they done that, they would have yanked the presenter off the stage because what was being said about him on twitter and IRC was not helping the company one bit.  (For the record, once they actually got to “what our product does,” we were very interested.  But they spent 45 minutes wasting our time.)
  4. Leave some time for people to breathe (and talk about you!)
    • One vendor gave a lot of interesting content, but left no room for questions.  They felt the need to fill every minute of our time with presentations and/or to tell us absolutely everything about their product.  We never got the chance to ask them questions or talk about them to each other with them present.  Give us some time to do that!
    • To harp about the presenter from #3 above, I will say that something he said suggested that he felt the need to fill the two hours.  He wasn’t sure how they were going to do that, so he decided to ramble for 45 minutes to fill the time.  Trust me; it would been a lot better if they quite 45 minutes early. No one would have complained! Instead he gave a completely rambling, unprepared talk that turned everyone off.  OK, enough about that guy.
  5. See if you can do some kind of cool giveaway.
    • Give attendees a discount on your product.  Give away something cool. It doesn’t have to be expensive.  Netex used an ice-chest full of beers to explain network congestion and then gave us the beers when it was over.  I don’t even drink beer and I thought that was cool.  (The people that drink beer probably thought it was cooler.)

I hope that helps.  Now let me blog about the products I found interesting.

----- Signature and Disclaimer -----

Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Evangelist at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.

  • Great Post Mr. Preston. I couldnt agree more. Spending time worry about what Gartner is doing gets water bottles thrown, instead use this time to educate us about the cool things your product(s) do.

  • Great post, Curtis! I totally forgot about the timing issues as well. I’d much rather have a presenter run 5 minutes over because he left time for questions than finish 3 minutes early and not let us ask anything. There’s no point in filling the entire presentation just for the sake of filling it.

  • I’d love a cool giveaway too but hey I didn’t get the chance to attend an all expenses paid trip to a kick ass event.

    I’d like to think think Gestalt would like some kind of positive comments on the content of the event before the moaning begins.


    [Editor’s Note: Corrected misspelling. Changed “king” to kind.]

  • @Phil

    I’m sorry that you see this as an all-expense-paid boondoggle. So someone bought me a few meals and a plane ticket. Big deal. It’s not like we went to Hawaii or went to any kind of big lavish party or even went anywhere fun. (We went to the Computer History Museum and didn’t even see it!)

    I (and 11 other bloggers) gave up two entire days of (otherwise billable) time to listen to what these sponsors had to say. The sponsors spent money to have me hear what they have to say. If the way they delivered it caused me (or others) not to get the message, then they wasted my time and their money.

    We write posts like this fresh after the event to help the sponsors understand the special ethos of the Tech Field Day folks. Those sponsors tell us they appreciate these posts. I’m sorry if you didn’t. It wasn’t written for you.

    Oh, and BTW. Here is the first of my posts covering the actual content:

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