I’ve been writing this week on demos and presentations.
Monday I wrote about Joel Spolsky’s wonderful demo of Fog Creek’s new products. Joel did one other thing at his presentation that I found very interesting. He didn’t introduce himself (nor was he introduced by anyone else).
Pretty much everyone in the audience knew who “Joel Spolsky” was, but few would recognize him by sight. It didn’t matter; from the context, it was quickly clear that the speaker — and bug reporter — was Joel. (Just in case someone was still unsure, when he filed the bug report his name was on the onscreen form.) I’m pretty sure that if you went to that invitation-only demo, you know about Joel.
I wonder in my own presentations how much to say about myself, assuming I haven’t been introduced. One school of thought says, “What you’re selling is your credibility, so you need to establish your bona fides up front.” I don’t buy that, in most cases. If I’m part of a panel discussion, that’s one thing, but in most of my presentations people are coming to hear me. Over time, I’ve eliminated any self-introduction entirely, other than my name on the title or walk-in slide. I may start by saying, “Hi, I’m Steven Levy,” but then I jump into the initial content.
I’ve learned that people are there for the content. When I say they’re coming to hear me, what I mean is not that they’re looking to me to deliver the word from the mountaintop, but rather they’re coming because the topic interests them and they have some idea who I am, rather than walking into a room where the topic is known but the presenter is an unknown factor. I may weave occasional “bona fides” facts into my talk — e.g., “I saw in my decade and a half at Microsoft that….”
I sat through a demo Wednesday where the speaker spent the first ten minutes telling us about his life — and was proud of presenting himself in this manner. I found it profoundly uninteresting — and worse, a waste of my time. I am determined not to inflict that upon others.
So I appreciated Joel simply getting up and starting to speak. We knew who he was, even if we couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup. We’re ready to listen; now give us something worth listening to.