A tale of two talks

This is a true story that happened a couple of years ago when two executives of competing companies delivered a plenary keynote address during the opening session of a large industry conference.

The first presenter of the day was deliberately a charismatic speaker. He brought a broad and interesting slideshow about his company’s vision on emerging market trends, the challenges and opportunities these pose to customers, and gave examples of how his people were providing the right solutions to tackle the problems.

Forty-five minutes later, the second speaker talked about largely the same industry topic, but addressed it from a technical regulation perspective – with lots of acronyms, jargon and details. During his speech, he made at least five references to the preceding presentation, acknowledging the trends, challenges and opportunities earlier listed by his competitor. But he forgot to mention his own company, and neglected to talk about the products and solutions they were building and selling.

Both keynotes were interesting, complementary and well presented, but IMHO speaker #2 made a few notable mistakes:

  • By taking a dry regulatory stance, he missed the opportunity to inspire the audience and position his company as a thought leader and market leader in the domain;

  • By making so many references to and confirming what was said by the previous speaker, he provided free publicity for his competitor;

  • By not explicitly mentioning his own employer and their solutions, he missed a great opportunity to promote them to a large audience or potential buyers.

Although I am not a fan of hard sales talk (particularly not at public events), the first keynote speaker certainly did a better job in selling his story, his employer and his products.


More keynote presenter advice may be found in this blog post by Mike Brown.

3 thoughts on “A tale of two talks

  1. Interesting, Marc, how audience members perceive the same speakers differently. While I obviously wasn’t in the audience for the sessions you mention here, I actually like when a speaker references previous speakers. It says to me they are listening and helping the audience connect the dots. A smart speaker can use those connections to go further on a topic than they might otherwise have been able to without the previous speaker’s setup. Obviously a speaker shouldn’t go overboard (maybe 5 times is too often) and if he/she is too dependent on text heavy slides it makes it hard to improvise and vary the content.

    • Mike. Thanks for your comment. You are right. It’s indeed a good practice to piggyback on earlier presentations (that’s why I always try to arrive at an event early enough to listen to the previous speakers and connect with the audience). In the example I described in this post, however, I really perceived an unbalance between speaker #2 applauding his competitor and positioning his own company.

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