Here’s My Wall Of Experience – What’s Yours?

I just moved offices, and had to decide whether to move this:
What is it?

It’s my “Wall of Experience” for technical speaking and demoing…layers of badges each representing one or several sessions I gave at a technical conference.

For me, the decision was clear: Move it, Cherish it, Study it.

Why? Because each conference helped me be a better speaker…each session honed my skills. As I pulled each badge down from the old wall and later put it up on the new wall, memories came flooding back…not only about the city/country I was in, but also in what I learned:

It went something like this:

  • Ah, this was my first solo presentation…ever. I learned I could actually do this!
  • This is the one I was so nervous for because the ‘critical customer’ was in the crowd…I learned that honesty and deep technical knowledge beats showmanship
  • Here was the one that I added theatrics…first session went great, second one didn’t…but in the end the attendees appreciated the effort. I learned if you care about your customer, they appreciate it even if it doesn’t totally work.
  • This one was my first keynote…I learned that 10 run-thrus really do make the keynote go smoothly!
  • This is the one where I improvised on the piano…I learned that doing something unexpected keeps your audience’s attention
  • This one I only had one person show up…but he learned a lot because I learned how to personalize a pitch just for him
  • …and on and on.

    Each badge, sticker, pin, ribbon helped shape my skills and unique techniques. I’m grateful for each one.

    I’m starting to think I need to create a wall of experience for other things I’m passionate about to remind me how far I’ve come, what I’ve learned, and that I can still learn something from every single experience.

    I also think we need to start sharing our walls of experience. If I can learn something from your experience, and you from mine, then we both become better.

    How about you? What is your wall of experience? What has it taught you?

    IBM PureFlex Anniversary – Thoughts From The Demo Guy

    Exactly one year ago today…

    I am in the heart of New York City participating in the biggest product launch of my career. I am back stage surrounded by video and stage production equipment of all kinds and have carved out my own ‘nest’ filled with computing equipment that I’ll be using today.

    On stage are two of our leaders announcing the capabilities of PureFlex. I am responsible for the live demonstration during the announce so while I won’t be on stage today, my work will be.

    From the FOH speakers I hear “Now I would like to show you the value of PureFlex”.

    Here we go!

    For the next four minutes we perform a technology-filled 3 person dance: the live demo appears on the stage-right jumbo-tron, the ‘behind the scenes’ animation appears on the stage-left jumbo-tron. Me? I’m playing ‘OZ’ behind the curtain. Leader #1 picks up the iPad that I’ve configured to show the demo to the world. It is connected to our SmartCloud Entry software through a private WIFI to show how easy it is to deploy new workloads into PureFlex systems. “4 clicks” he usually says. But not today. The software was design to run nicely on iPad so today he says “4 taps”.

    Leader #2 talks about ‘what happens behind the scenes’ during those four taps…from image deployment with built in expertise…to optimizing resources based on workload needs and real-time performance.

    I am monitoring the live demo…and running a redundant live demo on a completely separate iPad and system. AND, I’ve got a backup recording running…ready to switch to either backup instantly in case there’s a problem on stage. I’ve been gigging for years so I know that in a live situation you always need a spare guitar (or demo system) or two as backup.

    In the middle of the demo I hear “Oops”. My heart stops. I am about to switch to live backup demo when I hear “Ah…there it is”. My heart is still stopped but a smile of relief appears on my face as the live demo continues to run perfectly.

    Before I can breathe the demo is done. I hear applause. Our announce of PureFlex is a success! I mingle with the VIPs and enjoy a small portion of the 35 cases of vodka. The audience files out and after some souvenir pictures I help strike the set.


    Today is a day to remember and has exceeded all expectations! I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

    From that day to today I’ve traveled around the world (literally) and performed dozens of pressure-filled live demonstrations showing all that PureFlex offers…from SmartCloud Entry deploying multiple images across multiple hypervisors to a single PureFlex system…to showcasing our latest Flex System Manager user experience on our desktop UI and mobile app. The response? Enthusiastic applause, requests for more, and stories of how our user experience is truly having an impact on customers and partners alike.

    It’s been quite a year and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

    User Experience is the Daily Renewal of Enthusiasm

    “Sales is Simply the Transferral of Enthusiasm”

    That’s what I heard at the recent IBM PureSystems event I demo’d and spoke at. It resonated with me because, while I’m not a sales guy, I do spent a lot of my time transferring my enthusiasm for IBM Flex System Manager to those that use it and sell it. In fact, my recent trip to Shanghai and Dubai was solely because I have a way to successfully transfer enthusiasm through demonstrating and speaking about Flex System Manager that makes both end users and sellers excited about the product.

    However, what I am discovering is that regardless of how successful I am at transferring my enthusiasm to others, their new-found enthusiasm will fade fade quickly if it is not continually renewed.

    How is enthusiasm for a product best renewed?

    Through its user experience.

    I am finding with our latest release of FSM that our new user experience is being very well received by both users and sellers alike. It is this new user experience that is renewing their enthusiasm every day, not the memory of a well-executed demonstration.

    Think about it: How many times have you seen an online video or in-store demo of a product and you get so excited to use it you quickly part ways with your money so you can bring it home…only to discover that the product is far too difficult to set up and use for your particular needs? I know I have … especially with music software. The bullet points are exactly what I need to accomplish my goals, but the interface is so confusing I end up uninstalling and wishing I had not been suckered in by the flashy demo.

    Maybe that is the ultimate litmus test for a product…for the user experiences I own: Can the level of enthusiasm I transfer to sellers and end users during the initial demo be constantly renewed by the user experience they interact with every day after?

    What do you think?

    Worst Intro EVER – How NOT To Communicate Your Message

    I was just in Las Vegas speaking at a trade show. I peeked into a 300 seat room the day before my session and heard:

    “I really don’t like these after-lunch time slots…I like mornings when I have a captive audience”


    That was his opening line! In one swift statement, this speaker communicated to the 75+ in the audience:

    “I don’t want to be here”
    He obviously wanted to speak in a morning session. Stupid. If the audience is sitting in front of you, you have a rare opportunity to communicate your message to those specific humans. Who knows where each of these human connections will lead…other contacts, more sales, a better understanding of your product, even unique feedback on your product’s user experience. There are a thousand ways to blow a speaking session, but this is the most dumb.

    “I don’t want you here”
    He insulted his audience by assuming they would be inattentive. It’s like he said, “All of you in this audience are not who I had in mind. Even though you chose his topic over the 5 other concurrent topics, you are bound to be inattentive. After all, the success of this session is really up to you, the audience. If only you people were different, you would make the session more compelling”. Stupid speaker.

    “I’m not really that good”
    On the surface it sounds like he’s so proud of his message that he doesn’t want to ‘waste’ it on the 78 people in the audience. I think he’s just not that good: To lay blame on a lame session…before it even starts…on the audience, the time slot, the lunch, tells me he’s accepted a disastrous outcome and does not want to be responsible for its failure. Heaven forbid he work on his delivery, add some passion, and communicate concepts clearly so it’s interesting to the audience … even during an after-lunch session.


    If I’ve learned anything from my 18 years of speaking about technology is that whether you have 1 or 1,501 in attendance (I’ve had both), they are there because they want to learn what you know…they already chose you over many other options (including exploring the host city). It’s your responsibility to focus, deliver with passion, use stories and personal experience to make it interesting…and make them thrilled they spent that hour with you because it might just change how they run their business.

    How about you? What is the worst speaker intro you’ve ever heard?


    Demoing A (You-Tell-Me) User Experience

    It’s time.

    Our over-a-year-focus on user experience enhancements is now being seen by the world. We couldn’t affect our whole product, but instead focused for this release on what customers said they use/need the most.

    These enhancements are for our product IBM Flex System Manager, and it includes some really big user experience changes that our design team has been designing/iterating on for over a year. I haven’t been this excited about a release I’ve been involved with since my album (check it out here or on iTunes/Amazon… it ROCKS!)

    We have received very positive feedback during our customer testing, and our own internal users seem thrilled. We have measurements that tell us we’ve reduced time/effort to get things done, that it’s simple to use, and it just looks pretty 🙂

    But I wonder if I, or anyone, can really declare a level of user experience has been achieved until users get their hands on it and use it (probably for at least a month)? Because, in the end, it’s all about our users and if the product is useful to them…and delights them.

    Be that as it may, check out what our new user experience is like…

    How about you? Do you have a favorite way to share your improved user experience to your users? How do you get feedback?

    You can say more in 15 minutes than 35 minutes

    I just killed a keynote session where I was asked to talk about Flex System Manager…our strategy and future directions.

    “Great content…outstanding delivery” said one VP. “This was the first time I understood the value of this technical product” said a non-technical sales lead. “You’re like a technical rock star”, said a technical sales specialist.

    But 12 hours before, I was a complete wreck.

    Originally I had 35-40 minutes to talk…

    …I practiced several times and was ready

    Then, at 8:30pm the night before, I was told they wanted a Q&A at the end so my section was shortened to 15 minutes

    My heart sunk…

    …I had a great arc and story that would most likely be shattered

    …I had 10 minutes of demo I was showing to illustrate what we’re delivering today that was cut

    I mourned

    …then I regrouped, rethought, recovered

    I reshaped the talk…sharpened the story arc…cut out duplicate, less-relevant content

    …and delivered a potent talk that was much more effective than my 35 minute talk

    That makes me wonder? Should I do that for everything I do? For speaking: Is there a way that can take 1/2 the time yet be twice as effective? For UI Design: Is there a way to give users 1/2 the details and be twice as effective?

    What if we were always given last minute changes to our best-laid plans? Would we all benefit with a reshaped and refocused effort?

    What do you think?

    String Break, System Crash, Show Must Go On

    I broke a guitar string during a big gig…nearly 25 year ago…

    …as a result, I’m regularly asked to perform live technical demos.

    Let me explain…

    I grew up playing in a band. My first big gig was at a “Battle of the Bands” contest, where we had only one song to show our skills…

    We start: the song I wrote sounds strong…the chorus ends and I’m just about to go into the big solo and…

    …my high E string breaks.

    That’s bad. What’s worse is I’m playing my Charvel with a tremelo and all the strings are tuned relying on the tension of each other…and when one breaks, the tension moves from the broken string to the other strings.

    Now, while this sounds noble and all ‘how a team should work’, but in this case it just made my whole guitar awful. I was lost, frustrated, and the song completely failed. The solo was awful, and since I didn’t know how badly the guitar was out of tune, I just played with my normal hand positioning…terrible. Not playing anything would have sounded better.

    I was not prepared for the worst, I did not have a backup plan, and I did not have the experience in doing the best with what I had at that second.

    What I learned:

    Since then, I prepare for the worst during live events. For technical demos, I bring backups:  Backup demo systems, backup pre-recorded movies, and even backup slides on an iPad.

    Overkill? Lets see: My primary system has failed. My backup system has not, but the wifi to CONNECT to that backup system did. Once I did the whole demo to a pre-recorded movie. Another time I worked with a crippled system, verbalizing much of what I would have done while moving my mouse around a limited system.

    I’ve learned that effective presentation is putting on a good show. Sometimes shows props will fail, but the show must go on. So plan, practice, and prepare for the worst. You may never need your backups, but you’ll never regret having them.

    How about you? What event caused you to plan, practice, and prepare?

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