What speakers would you look forward to hearing?

By Phil Roybal

Once in a while, not very often, I have a chance to listen to a great presenter.

There are lots of fine speakers, probably millions of so-so ones, and those magnificently dreadful ones who raise on-stage train wrecks to a fine art. You’ve probably encountered representatives of each group. But are there speakers you look forward to?

I’d go out of my way to hear Steve Jobs talk. I’d look forward to it.

Why? It’s not for his command of volumes of facts, nor for because he never says “um”. What makes his speeches so compelling is the passion, the almost naive enthusiasm, which he displays in talking about his subjects. And those subjects aren’t his products. Products are just the hook he hangs the presentation on.

Steve focuses on the user experience. He paints a magnificent experience—one people not only want to have, but one they use to make a statement about themselves. The experience is the thing, and it’s “wonderful”, “cool”, and “amazing”. He provides just enough product detail to make the experience believable. Because that’s all it take to sell the idea. Once people are sold, they’ll go to a web site to get more details, and convince themselves that any missing elements aren’t really that important. In their hearts, they’ve bought the experience they could be having if only they had the ____ (fill in the product here). The rest is just detail.

So how about when you speak? Are you focused on something people can emotionally identify with? Are you telling them how they’ll rule the world if they have what you’re providing? Or is it death by PowerPoint—an endless parade of charts and bullet points—with the listener on his or her own to develop meaning from the words?

If you want listeners to look forward to your talks, and recommend them to friends, you’ve got to leave the cool features behind. Talk about what they mean in lives of your listeners, and let your passion for that meaning shine through your words. That’s what’ll get people looking forward to your presentations.

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People Crave Human Interaction

Going to a trade show is expensive! Airfare, hotel, cabs, meals, martinis, massages, it all adds up. And it’s time-consuming too. All that hurry-up-and-waiting when you’re traveling. Standing in lines, sitting in cabs and buses, waiting for room service, etc. But can’t I accomplish the same thing sitting at my own desk “attending” a virtual trade show? They’re great! I can get the info I want and not have to leave my office. So why go to Orlando? (Or as we call it in the trade show industry: Central-Florida-Not-Set-Up-For-Business-Airport-Too-Far-Away-Screaming-Kids-Tourist-Prices).

But we humans are pack animals, well, except for C++ programmers. We like to be around people. We like to get out and mingle and trade ideas with our colleagues. But is it worth the $600 airfare and all hassle of traveling? Can you get the same quality of information and interaction when your interacting face-to-face as you can half-listening to one of the virtual trade show sponsors wrapping a self-serving infomercial around some Wikipedia data? What? Biased? Me?

But virtual events and webinars allow the attendees to multi-task, or as we call it, “half-paying-attention.” And they also have that level of personal contact that you can only get from a disembodied voice. And studies have shown that you’re only missing out on 55% of the potential communication when you’re not face-to-face, that’s not too bad.

With everything that’s available to you on your computer, you really never have to leave it. All the information you need is just a search away. But you know what? People are starting to crave human interaction. Yes they are. They won’t put it into those words, but their desire to go to Orlando (ugh!), Las Vegas (ouch!) or Chicago in February (brrr!) is rooted in basic human needs: We like and need human interaction. We understand the value of it even though we can’t adequately communicate it to the bean counters when we’re trying to justify attending a conference or trade show. We know we need to have face-to-face conversations to test our ideas, to evaluate other’s ideas and to foment human relationships.

We like the spontaneity of real-time conversations. Texting or emailing just doesn’t do it. We like the witty banter and quick exchange of conversational tidbits that are impossible over the tubes of this Internet thing. We crave human interaction. And events and trade shows are focused on enabling human interaction.

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Pharma shows after the Pharma Code Part Two

I just got back from another Pharma show and I have realized something: Food and beverages have replaced give-aways and tchotkes as the way to draw attendees into a Pharma booth. Of course you can’t have anything if you’re from Michigan, Vermont and a couple of other states with tight rules. I’m serious. All of the Pharma exhibitors serving coffee and cookies, or whatever, have to post a sign saying if you’re from those states you aren’t suppose to partake. But it is up to each doctor not the exhibitor to enforce the rules. Believe me, they all take the free food and drink.

But I think this food and beverage give-away thing is really taking hold. Instead of the booth-begging, trick-or-treating doctors and spouses grabbing squeeze balls or pens they just chow down on diuretic coffee at AUA (America Urological Association), sugar-laden cookies at ADA (American Diabetes Association) and high-fat cheeses at AHA (American Heart Association).

And don’t forget the other draw to stay in the booth once you’ve waited in line to get your coffee and cookie; comfortable seating. Oh yes, please have a cookie and a coffee and sit down in our booth for a while. That is what’s going on now at Pharma shows.

And the smarter exhibitors aren’t just giving away one item. Know why? You can drink a cup of coffee while walking around. You can eat a cookie while walking around. But give them both a coffee and a cookie and now they have to sit to enjoy them. And now they’re captive! They can’t escape when an in-booth detail is forced on them mid-cookie. Just kidding. I teach the staffs to be kind and gentle to the visitors as they know they’re captive and they’re are on their guard.

Most Pharma companies, however, miss the built-in opportunity for some conversations. By show rules, the convention food and beverage staff must dispense the items. And most Pharma companies leave it at that. These people are professional and polite but they don’t work for the exhibiting Pharma company. I encourage my clients to have some of their own staff at the food and beverage counter to greet and engage the doctors. It’s a touch point. It counts.

Giving away food and beverages does seem to be working. Even doctors who probably make half-a-million dollars a year still want free stuff. When they start to plan ahead better, they’ll be bringing in zip-lock bags to the booths so they can stock up on the cookies for their kids.

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Three steps to moving your audience

By Phil Roybal

Back when I was a newly-minted computer salesman, I loved to talk about my products. They were just so cool! And ours had such wonderful features. If I could just tell prospects enough about the machines, I knew they’d buy.

One day my boss took me aside after a presentation and said, “You know, you’re selling the product in the first five minutes, then buying it back in the next 15. Don’t tell everything you know. Just talk about what they’re interested in, then shut up.”

Great advice.

I try to remember it as I prepare a talk., and follow these three steps to connect with my audience and get results.


I decide what my audience should do as a result of listening to me. Do I want them to allow a sales call? Vote for a policy? Sell me their home? Effectiveness is measured by audience actions, and I can’t plan for results if I don’t know what I want. As Yogi Berra said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”


Knowing my goals, I look for why my audience would want to help me get there. My goals aren’t (necessarily) theirs. So what would they gain by helping me? I try to list their most important benefits, then focus on the two or three most powerful ones. In the end most decisions are emotional, rationalized by facts. And emotional decisions aren’t made on twenty factors. They’re often made on one or two.

That means I have to know enough about my audience to guess what’s important to them. That may vary by age, gender, occupation, company, race—a thousand things. I can never know enough, so I try to allow time to chat with individuals before a presentation, learning as much as I can about what’s important to them. Since I already know what I’m going to talk about, I’m looking for “hot buttons”—ways to make my content meaningful to them.


I know my goals and the key benefits that might motivate listeners to help me achieve them. Now is the time to marshal just enough facts to back the claim that my approach will get listeners what they want.

Here’s where my old boss’s words ring in my ears. I want to talk about how my listeners benefit, and provide a few facts to make my claim credible. I don’t want to provide more than that for two reasons:

New facts raise issues people may not have considered before. What I see as a bonus may get someone else thinking, “Gee, I wonder if I should hold off while I investigate…”

Each new fact is one more thing for the listener to remember. If I pile on enough, they’ll forget the things that are most important for their decision. Cicero said, “Every unnecessary word pours over the side of a brimming mind.”

“But what about all my great facts?” Put ‘em in the handout. Make your stage presentation simple, powerful, and oriented around a few key benefits. If you connect with your audience, they can turn to the handout for the facts that help them rationalize the decision you’ve already helped them reach.

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Drive listeners to your view by starting with “Why”

By Phil Roybal

When I talk to audiences, I try to lead with the juice, the core value, the “why”. This is the way, really the only way, to bring them to my point of view. Tech seer Alan Kay says “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points. It’s the why that provides that perspective, allowing listeners to buy into a concept; a decision they then justify with the facts you give them. Simon Sinek, in his book Starting from Why, talks about why this approach works and how to apply it to your situation.

How often do we do something just to do it? Almost always, it’s to get some benefit related to an image or “brand” we’ve bought into. We hike not for the joy of putting one foot in front of the next, but because we see ourselves as nature lovers, reveling in the solitude and the views of high and lovely places. The hike is how we manifest that self-image. If a company wants to sell us hiking boots, they can connect best by showing us how they, too, believe in the experience found at the end of a trail—the why. Because they believe this, they think deeply about how to reach the end of the trail safely and comfortably. Out of their thinking comes boots that have this feature and that feature—the what. But they aren’t selling us the boots by their features. They’re selling us the why. If we buy their concept, we’ll trust their boots because we trust they built them the way we’d build them ourselves if we knew how. After all, they think like we do. So we’d be willing to buy other outdoor products from them as well.

But think of the talks you’ve heard. So many start and end with the what. “We make great appliances. They have wonderful features and will last a lifetime. Blah, blah, blah…” And so what? The talks overload us with information without giving us a concept to buy into. Garr Reynolds, in his book Presentation Zen, says, “What we want from people who stand before us and give a talk is to give us that which data and information alone cannot: meaning.”

So that’s our job as speakers—to present the why behind our offerings, to explain our approach to manifesting it (the how), and then to talk about some of the products that demonstrate our belief. At that point, we don’t have to say a lot about the products. Their two or three key benefits, and a couple features that let them deliver those benefits, are enough. If people identify with our why, they’ll pursue the rest info on their own. If they don’t identify, presenting more features won’t help.

That’s why lengthy lists of facts belong in handouts, not in speeches. People won’t absorb shovelfuls of information lobbed at them orally. They’ll pause to think about one fact and miss the next several. Or they’ll miss them all because they don’t understand why they should care. And even with all the facts in hand they may still be ambivalent, because they can’t translate those facts into an emotional response. They don’t buy into ideas because they don’t know what the ideas are. They just know the products and services, which are pretty much like competing products and services.

When I compose a talk, I want the why to shine through. it’s the “meaning” of my talk. Then I look at the meat of my subject—the facts that prove the whys. Those facts are only valuable as support. They are the reasons my product or idea can deliver the why promise.

Simon Sinek’s excellent TED presentation develops these ideas further in the video below. Just follow the link.

Phil Roybal

Starting presentations from Why

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