11 responses to “Weekend Journal: Know Your Nerd Audience”

  1. Eric

    Excellent advice, Chris. Every semiconductor vendor employee who visits customers needs to read this. I’m on the other side of the table, which means I often have to present to customers.

    At every section of the presentation, I ask the engineers if this type of product is relevant to what they’re doing. If not, then I skip it. Or I’ll ask them what method or product they use for function X. I try to tailor my presentations as much as possible to the needs of the customer.

    One time we had a lunch presentation at a large and well known customer. Someone else in my group was presenting, and I arrived late. There were three people in the room. Two of them were eating the pizza we provided faster than I thought humanly possible, and the third was sitting in a chair fidgeting and twitching. My coworker was droning on and on. The local sales rep was playing with her pen, and the local FAE was staring off into space.

    When I came in, my coworker had to stop the presentation for introductions, business card swapping, and so forth. The pizza-eating guys left rather quickly. The third gentlemen looked like he had some things he REALLY wanted to talk about, so after we were introduced, I asked him what was on his mind. He started talking about this new design that he was required to develop, and he wanted to know if there was a chip that could do it. I happened to remember there was a similar part but it was outside my product area. We talked about it at great length (to the disgust of my coworker, who eventually unplugged his laptop from the projector). The sales rep set up some followup calls, and the FAE promised to bring samples.

    This would never have happened we had simply continued through a boring presentation which wasn’t relevant to the interests of the audience.

    1. Chris Gammell

      Great example, Eric. That is exactly the kind of thing that a.) will get you some serious business and b.) is what I expect out of vendors. Talking beats presenting any day.

    2. Chris Gammell

      Oh and feel free to pass it on to any of those semiconductor vendors you might happen to know 😉

  2. jrspruitt

    Not engineering specific, but I’ve given presentations, and I’ve sat through them. The easiest way to give them in my opinion, is let the audience do it for you. You will actually have to know the topic, and be able to field a wide variety of questions, or risk looking, very un-expert like, but it means you spend a lot less time filling up the clock. And for the audience, actually participating in it, turns it into something fun, and informative, instead of 5 minutes into it, mentally running down your grocery list, planning your vacation, etc.
    These things always get so boring, when the presenter is plowing through their script, like they have so many times before, and the audience is fighting off falling asleep. Passive presentations seem pretty useless to me, and give everyone in the room reason to just tune out, even the presenter.

  3. Shae Erisson

    About six months ago I was working at the company that makes the most popular open source software for VoIP.

    We had a tutorial introduction on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) from one of the biggest local router manufacturing companies. His presentation was aimed towards what he knew best, SIP for routers.
    The presenter ended up knowing far less than our tech support guys about anything else SIP, and pretty much wasted our time.

    The bigger problem here is that presenters need to know their audience!

  4. Moiety

    Its seems that the second rule, know your audience was not considered. Its seems from your story that VSG just wanted to get up and talk about his work and not as it related to the value chain.

    I had this experience once. I was with a collegue in Japan with a client installing a pilot technology line (who is fluent in japanese and the expert of the technology; I was the equipment grunt). We had too other collegues coming over who were supposed to show how we could extend the business. Like VSG they talked and talked but did not consider the vaule chain and forgot about the extending bit and talked about pretty much everything that our company can and could do.

    My friend was less than happy especially as he had to field the aftermath when our collegues returned home. He gave the same message as you did but in very blunt fashion (i.e. he gave the clients impression unaltered which was not a good impression to say the least).

  5. Paul Clarke

    I currently have to present technical items at Seminars for visitors as well as give presentations to customers on a one to one basis. Many of the other people I see giving similar death by PowerPoint presentations never make the content interesting and as you say never engage the audience.

    I never hide behind the lectern but walk out and talk to people and simply start by saying hello and waiting for a reply. I relax and despite having a number of slides to go though approach the presentation as a friendly chat between engineers. Keeping it honest, direct, to the point and encourage questions and interruptions.

    I look at the audience response to topics. It’s not too hard to spot people who don’t understand – if you do, ask if there are questions on the last point. Make eye contact with people talk to them not at them.

    Your totally right that unless you engage them you will not pass on your information and they will not buy into your ideas. Your are there for them, not for a sales pitch. I find engineers spot marketing BS and salesmen miles off and will switch off from them. Keep it simple and let the conversation direct you, not your slides.

  6. Charles J Geravsi

    I agree. “Feedback” is the key to the whole thing. The rest is a means to that end. I wonder if people tolerated this sort of thing in the days when more media were one-way, i.e. there were four TV channels and the only way to comment on them was to write a letter to a magazine or the station.

    I have never had a vendor carry on about the finer points of device fabrication. That would be so odd that it would almost be interesting just because of how unexpected it is. After a few times, though, I suppose it becomes a dubious benefit of working at a big company. I rarely saw anything like that at Jabil Circuit, but maybe vendors knew we were sometimes more Jabil Circus than Circuit and skipped the device fab details.

    This reminds me of my first un-conference, which I attended this weekend. The very first thing they said is feel free to walk out of any presentation and feel free to discuss whatever topics you want. The un-conference event went surprisingly smoothly. I wonder if that will be a trend and what you experienced is relic of the past.

  7. Mike Cowgill

    Crocodile salesmen (or Alligators depending on where in the world you come from). All mouth, no ears.

    There is one key skill that virtually no engineering school teaches, and I suspect sales training courses are even worse. It is a skill in which medical doctors and legal specialists are trained, and who continue to refine their abilities long after graduation. What is it?


    Most vendors treat it like they are simply some 3D holographic video recording. Wheel on the sales engineer and press [PLAY]. Unfortunately, unlike YouTube videos and DVD players, they don’t come with a fast forward button.

    I guess benefit of being self employed is that I don’t have to put up with sales lectures. I do still get the “We’d like to come and talk to you about what we offer” but most of them have learned not to bother now.

  8. Natalie Brown

    Hi Chris,
    Great advice. I would also add that it is the responsibility of the sales person coordinating this presentation with VSG to prepare VSG with your group’s background and desired outline/meeting goals. I find the best way to begin a meeting is to review the “reason we are all here…” usually when introducing VSG. It provides a great framework for all to be sure we are having the right meeting at the right time. If anyone speaks up at the introduction/stated purpose of the meeting, we can change direction right off to have a meeting that is mutually effective.

    Your description of the meeting leads me to think that the sales person may have been intimidated by VSG and did not take control of the meeting.

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