Influence, Don’t Educate

I’ve got one more follow-up point to make regarding the post on Why Conferences Suck. And I bring it up because it has implications to marketers.

In fairness, the point I’m going to make isn’t strictly a reason why conferences suck, or even why some presentations suck. Instead, it’s why many presentations aren’t as effective as they could be.

My point: Too many presenters assume the role of educator.

Not a lot of presenters are even aware that their style and content have an educational tone to them. Their presentations are oriented towards answering the question: What can I tell you about what I know?

This isn’t inherently bad or wrong. But it presumes that the:

1) Audience doesn’t already know the topic. I see this a lot with Web 2.0 presentations. Seems like a lot of speakers want to educate the audience on “what” Web 2.0 is. But is that really the question the audience wants answered? Or would they rather like to know when to use Web 2.0 technology and when not to use it?

2) Presentation jives with audience’s preferred style of learning. Even if the audience wants to be educated, is a Powerpoint presentation the most effective way for a majority of the audience to learn about it? Some people might learn about the topic more effectively through a hands-on demonstration.

3) Speaker is an effective educator.
Not every presenter’s style is well suited to playing the educator, though.

I know mine isn’t. I always dread it when a client says “we need you to come in and educate us on [insert topic here].” I don’t like playing the educator — I like playing the influencer. I want to get up there and tell the audience why they should be doing what I think they should be doing, or seeing the world the way I see the world.

And with so many speakers playing the educator role, conferences can become redundant, repetitive, and downright boring.

What does this have to do with marketing?

When reporting to senior management, Marketing often assumes the role of educator and not influencer.

I see a lot of reports that marketing sends to senior management. At the risk of insulting someone (i.e., a client), many marketers seem obsessed with pretty graphics and reams of data.

When I get a chance to evaluate a marketing report, I’ll point to a specific slide or graph and ask “why is this slide in the deck?” The response I usually get is “management needs to know that.” That answer isn’t sufficient.

Marketing needs to evaluate each slide, graphic, or data point in their reports and ask themselves the questions: 1) Why are we putting this in the deck? and 2) What do we want management to do with it?

Not every page of the report has to lead to a specific action. It’s OK if the answer to the questions is “we want management to see that we were successful and want to continue the course.” But that’s still influence-based reporting, and not education. It’s influencing senior exec’s perceptions of what’s working or not working with marketing’s investments.

Another comment I’ll often get is “management asked for this data.” Yes, they did. A year ago. When the crisis du jour was decreasing sales in the midwest territory. But what happens with marketing reports? Once in, never out.

For sure, marketing reports need to address “what it is.” But to be effective, marketing needs to address “what it means.” And focus on influencing, and not just educating.

Technorati Tags:

7 thoughts on “Influence, Don’t Educate

  1. Pingback: Hotya Marketing » Influence, Don’t Educate

  2. A potentially frivolous, and almost certainly off-topic comment (be forewarned)–what is it with the PowerPoint overkill? Can we get away from slides with way too many bullets? Isn’t there a better way?

    I, too, am guilty of PowerPoint presentations that have way too many slides and way too many bullets. I’d love to hear about alternatives–what presentation formats have worked for others?

  3. Suzanne,

    Get a MAC and use Keynote.

    Seriously – there are some “rules” around PP slides that I see violated all the time.

    RULE #1: Never use less than a 24 point font.

    RULE #2: NEVER EVER read the bullet list to your audience.

    RULE#3: Avoid bullet lists whenever possible.

    RULE#4: Don’t make your slides so thorough that no one really needs to hear you talk. If it reads like a book, you should get it published.

    I always use these guidelines when preparing for a prez:

    1. Don’t tell them what I know – tell them what I think they NEED to know.

    2. Don’t make more than three big points.

    3. Slides are to guide, to keep me on point.

    4. More pictures, less words.

    5. Music and motion – if It’s relevant.

    Also, I recently bought my own remote control and with a MAC I can see the next slide that’s coming up. This helps me avoid the urge to look over my shoulder and see that the slide is up.

    Great post and point Ron.
    I look forward to seeing you at the CUES event in 2008!

  4. Thanks Denise for the good tips! I truly do need to bring in music and motion to my presentations…

    And, thanks Ron, for letting us share presentation gripes and tips here 🙂

  5. Denise makes a good point. Keynote does encourage more graphics and fewer words.

    As for influencing rather than educating, that sounds like “don’t concentrate on being right, but being effective.” The latter I understand, but I must confess the former differentiation confuses me.

    How can you influence when the audience doesn’t have the proper foundation?

    Perhaps we should concentrate on the APPLICATION of the knowledge we are trying to convey rather than the theory. Now that, I understand.

    So the way we present the facts takes on the tone of “Here’s how this strategy might work in your situation.” But when we do that, then we are giving away what we do as consultants for free. The application of knowledge is a big part of what we sell.

    I don’t mind addressing the process and perhaps a case study. But I resist giving away the store until I get paid.

    I must admit that I am reacting to something a pitch consultant told me when I was presenting a direct marketing strategy to a general advertising client who had no clue about that they were missing the boat by spending all of their money on awareness advertising. Their sales were suffering. And they needed a different perspective. I was accused of “educating” rather than selling.

    Therein lies the challenge. How to influence in a sea of ignorance? That’s pretty tough in some circumstances.

  6. Ted, you make a good point, and perhaps I would have been more accurate to say “more influence, less education.” Or as I alluded to at the end of the post: “less what it is, and more what it means.”

  7. This post really hits home because it talks about what puts me to sleep in presentations (and sad to say, some of my own).

    It gets down to what makes anything interesting to the audience.
    – What’s in it for me?
    – What is the benefit to me or my organization if I do what you recommend?

    The real challenge is to understand what makes the audience tick. What are the hot buttons? Unfortunately, this information is beyond the scope of most presenters.

Comments are closed.