Thursday, November 13, 2008

Presentation Prep and Packaging

Clearspring’s Justin Thorp drips with passion. He loves his company and its widget platform. He loves their customers. And it’s apparent that he will do nearly anything to help Clearspring achieve success in the market.

That’s why Justin would be shocked to learn that his presentation at Erickson Barnett’s event on building online communities portrayed him and Clearspring in an unfavorable light.

Let’s look at the positive first. Justin peppered his presentation with anecdotes about how he personally engaged with Clearspring’s customers to help them overcome problems they had encountered when using the company’s products. He also hit on a number of relevant points about the value and impact of personal relationships, such as this memorable quote: “People have relationships with people, not products, services or companies.”

Yet, it was obvious Justin walked in to this panel discussion unprepared. The other speakers had carefully crafted presentations. Justin scribbled a couple of bullet points on a crumbled piece of paper he scrunched in his hand. Not surprising he rambled through his 20 minute discussion repeating the same points over and over.

Then, there was Justin’s appearance. Clearspring sells to the developer community and Justin has got the tech geek look down pat. I get works for him and it’s consistent with his role at the company. (Image courtesy of Erickson Barnett.)

However, the attendees at this particular event were corporate marketers and public relations professionals. Plus, the event was held at the ritzy Tower Club in Tysons Corner. A favorable impression results from what you say and (equally important) how the messages are delivered. Packaging counts!

Clearspring missed the mark on this one. The company had a great opportunity to get a group of prospective new customers excited about their technology. Instead, we came away wondering, “What’s the deal with Justin?”


Maggie said...

I can actually see his point, and think he intended to come across as off-the-cuff and casual. His presentation and appearance were, in effect, part of the message he was trying to convey. Namely, that online communities are less about formality and impersonal product promotion and more about relationships and one-on-one communication.

The dynamic in online communities is not about slick, canned presentations being fed to customers; it's about conversations rather than canned speeches. So for him to have a crumpled piece of paper rather than a PowerPoint presentation was entirely appropriate, given the point he was trying to make.

A rumpled piece of paper and his casual appearance were to his message what the suits and ties and their PowerPoints were to theirs.

Marc Hausman said...

@Maggie -- That's an excellent point and, candidly, not something I had considered.

My suggestion is to ask Justin and see what he thinks. You can reach him here:

SE said...


You're such a bright guy, I can't believe you listened to Justin talk about building communities and this is what you blogged about. Wow man, your glass half must be half empty this week. Knowing Justin, I'm betting that you missed one or two real gems.

As for dress code, I think it's funny that companies still get their guidance on this subject from the likes of Lehman Brothers rather than Apple, Microsoft or Google.

How many times have we been stuck listening to some out-of-touch "executive" in a $200 necktie read directly from bullets on a PowerPoint slide deck? Ugh! Frankly, I'd rather hear new thinking from someone in a dirty tee shirt and ripped blue jeans. Oh wait, I have. It was Steve Jobs, over 15 years ago.

I suggest that Justin listen to your advice about making his messages a bit crisper (after all, that is your area of expertise) but also that he learn from the RNC and NOT spend too much money at Nordstrom's on wardrobe enhancements.

Nicholas Tolson said...

I agree with Maggie's point. If Justin had showed up wearing pressed khakis and tie, that wouldn't be him. Part of being a community manager and developing trust in a community is being genuine.


I think your portrayal of Justin's preparedness misrepresents the reality.

First, I talked to Justin before his presentation, and he told me about how he sat down to write out a few points for it, and the next thing he knew it was hours later and he had thousands of words written.

Moreover, Justin's notes weren't "scribbled," they were all neatly typed. That said, I did notice him taking notes while some of the others were speaking. I took this to mean that he was listening to what they were saying and taking notes to in some way incorporate what they said or respond to them during his portion. That is, tailoring his presentation on the fly. That's a sign of a good speaker in my book.

Third, I get the feeling that you are responding to the fact that Justin didn't have a PowerPoint. I talked to several people after this event that expressed relief and delight at this. I agreed with all of them.

Last, during Justin's presentation was the only time I heard laughter and talking at the tables. This is called audience engagement, and is a sign of a good presentation. When I go to an event, I want unique content; I want to be inspired. As far as his wardrobe is concerned, I'd much rather hear a passionate and unique talk by someone wearing jeans and an untucked shirt than watch someone in a suit click through and read Powerpoint slides.

I felt Justin's presentation was well-structured, if a bit rambling at times. He had four main points he wanted to communicate and he did so with real-world examples from both his own life/job and other companies and comunity managers. Here's a test: off the top of your head, write down the main points you remember each presenter making. The one with the most points wins.

Marc Hausman said...'s apparent that Justin's presentation at the Erickson Barnett event appealed to a number of the attendees. Interesting to see such a difference in reaction and take-away.

@SE - your insight is much appreciated. However, I do feel differently regarding attire and appearance in a business context. A speaker has to understand the audience and the environment.

For instance, Sun's Scott McNealy insists on wearing his trademark jeans when he speaks to government executives at FOSE. His casual dress negatively impacts his ability to connect with this particular audience.

Lisa Throckmorton said...

It's ironic that there is so much analysis of someone so uncalculating. There is so much work to be done bridging the old and new schools of communication and this post is further validation of the divide. Kudos to Justin for his efforts in helping an audience (clearly in need of his expertise) find their way to the middle.

Larissa Fair said...

Marc - Justin is a very well respected person in the tech and Web 2.0 community. His wisdom and experience using social media to engage with customers etc. is something that should be taken to heart. If buttoned up, conservative companies really want to get involved with social media, then they need expand their thinking to go beyond what is expected (i.e. suits, ties, and PPTs). Results matter much more than appearance.

Justin is the sole headliner for next month's Social Media Club (SMC-DC) event in December - I hope you will attend and perhaps reconsider some of your criticism.

Marc Hausman said...

@Larissa -- my criticism of Justin is in no way directed at his expertise or passion for the company he represents.

Rather, it is based on lack of understanding of the environment and his audience at the Tower Club.

It's fine to dress casually, yet would you do so when attending a wedding...or religious services. Probably not. Why? Because it is not appropriate for the event.

Geoff_Livingston said...


Once again you demonstrate that social media and its community eclipses your mindset. People are people, and suits are suits. One belongs in the 20th century. Guess which one?

Marc Hausman said...

@Geoff -- great to see you reading the blog and thanks for the comment. Rather than merely insulting me, it would be great to get your take on my belief that Justin failed to connect with this particular audience at the Tower Club because of his presentation and packaging.

Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D. said...

People who have met me know that I can usually be found wearing something that can only be described as Ralph Lauren meets Zara. I haunt places with dark wood, bourbon, and oysters. I hang out at obnoxious events thrown by the likes of the 1869 Society of the Corcoran. Yet there are photos of me with Justin Thorp at events in Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC. Why? Because we met and I listened. You might have it backwards - the audience failed to connect with the speaker.

Sunir Shah said...

Sales is a two way street. It's not just about the seller attracting the buyer, but also about the seller quickly shedding expensive or impossible customers.

If you're the kind of customer who is paying more attention to clothes, then you are probably not a profitable customer to attract.

Probably you don't have any pain Justin is solving, and so while you're bored, attention drifts to peripheral details.

Conversely, if you're interested, knowing Justin, he was probably getting to the heart of the matter for you rather than hiding behind a PowerPoint deck.

Part of good messaging is making it immediately clear who you, your message, and your brand are built for. You want those people likely to buy to start paying attention, and you want unlikely customers to lose interest quickly so they won't spend your or their time in a dead end.

So, consider this: Those tweaked to work 21st century markets would be sceptical of anyone preaching 'mass-market online community' but wearing a suit. That would be off brand. A serious fail.

Nicholas Tolson said...

I was there, and I'd say that both Justin connected with the audience (judging from the chatter during and after in response to the points he was making) and the audience connected with Justin - at least those that were more concerned with the content of his talk than the clothes he was wearing while delivering it.

For those not so fortunate, Justin has distilled his talk into a blog post, 4 Tips for Building Better Community.

Marc Hausman said...

@Nicolas - so...we'll just need to disagree on Justin's ability to connect with the audience at this particular event. Just to clarify, my concern extended beyond his wardrobe to also include the lack of structure and presentation in his comments.

For anyone who did not attend the event, the folks at Erickson Barnett captured all of the presentations on video. You can find them here:

Nicholas Tolson said...

@Marc - I think it might be more accurate to say that he didn't connect with *you*. Did you talk to anyone else at the event that felt the same as you? I talked to more than one person - and not just those that knew Justin prior, old-school corporate-types - that were energized by his talk and got a lot out of it.

And I just think you're flat out wrong that his presentation didn't have structure. He had four main points he wanted to get across. He laid these out in the beginning, followed them to a tee one-by-one during the meat of his talk, and revisited them/summed them up at the end. Pretty much textbook presentation 101 stuff through and through.

To my memory, the others didn't provide this framework for their audience; they simply clicked through their slides without framing their presentation as a whole the way Justin did (and they way you're supposed to). Not saying they didn't do a good job, I thought everyone's presentation offered valuable information/insights, but to single Justin's presentation out as not having structure is, like I said, just wrong.

Peter Botting said...

SAP, Gold Mines, Shotguns, Handwritten notes.

Some interesting points - may I chuck in my 2-pence worth (yes - I am a Brit). For background, I have over 20 000 plus face hours coaching senior professionals, Managing partners and MDs in some of the world’s best known companies, plus over a thousand politicians including a Prime Minister.

Appropriate dress:- suits and ties as per the Lehman Bros comment are appropriate when pitching and wanting to an equally corporate audience to avoid distracting non-verbal noise.

However - when I was pitch-training SAP Business Development guys in the early 1990’s (R3 hadn’t been launched yet - mainframes were still at the helm!) - SAP Developers (most uniformly scruffy even by casual German corporate standards) were often brought in to add in-depth content and to support the Sales team in their sales presentations. This enhanced the (correct) message that SAP had squadrons of super clever techie guys beavering away like mad-scientists in the SAP magic laboratory.

If you worked for Anglo American mines and you wanted to buy a gold mine from an old, grizzled, ornery prospector in Africa or Australia you would get short thrift and some buckshot in your butt if you arrived in a suit and tie with Ray Bans on.

Short summary: clothes should enhance your message at best, provide no negative distractions, create a bond (old school tie, Texas Oil Mens hat, university ring, Rotary badge) or at least be neutral.

There is no rule. Each case is as individual as the person or people in the audience.

Power Point - unless you are an educator and/or it is truly stunningly and professionally produced (for a start - lose the bullet points!) - is verging on having archaic status with my clients. If you can’t present without electricity - you shouldn’t be standing up there. Anyone ever see Barack Obama use Power Point?

Power Point has nothing to do with structure - you do! So does your message!

Taking notes of what other speakers say so you respond or refer to them is merely good practice.

Proper Prior Preparation famously Prevents P*** Poor Performance

Marc - its your blog. Stick to what you believe and stand by your guns. Authenticity is what counts. Valid for you and valid for Justin.

And Mark D. Drapeau Ph.D - I love your writing.