Death-by-PowerPoint

In episode eight, we’re back with Duncan Chapple again and a short part two that continues our discussion from last time.

I stopped recording and Duncan and I started talking about death-by-Powerpoint–a common affliction for analysts–so I restarted the recording again and we’ve got a brief discussion about that.

Slide shows and analyst relations–or death-by-PowerPoint. Enjoy!

Mark: Duncan, wouldn’t you love to have the experience of walking into a meeting with an analyst relations professional and not get a slide show?

Duncan: Absolutely. There are so many reasons why that is the case. I remember the best the best briefings I’ve ever had. One of them was on a yacht.

Mark: Well, that sounds fabulous.

Duncan: So, it was IBM. They took a group of us out into the middle of nowhere–not a very big yacht, not a very luxurious day. I mean, it’s just a boat, really. But we were just there and forced to talk to each other–and forced, therefore, to talk about things in context. To talk about ourselves and our own research and it to talk about them and their career paths and the competencies that their clients value. And we were understanding, not just what these technologies did, but why was I was here as a person and why were you there as a person. Second best briefing I ever had was with a senior executive from Oracle. He came along to the meeting and he took out an index card from his pocket and put it on the table. He just had some words written on it. And those were the things that he wanted to talk about. And we had a real conversation. Obviously, it’s important–it’s self-evident, in fact–that having the conversation seems like a great thing to do because spokespeople and analysts should both be able to hold up a conversation and create value from it. But the other thing is the incredible similarity of these PowerPoint decks. So, I’m an analyst relations consultant and people ask me: “What slides should I having my deck when I meet the analysts?” And I say, “Well, firstly don’t have too many.

But if you’re going to have some slides, you should probably have this slide and that slide and this slide and that slide.” At the moment I’m in the middle of writing a PhD dissertation, where I’m looking at industry analysts and I’m part of a team of people at the University of Edinburgh who are looking at the way that industry analysts consume the information given to them. So, as part of this, I’ve seen lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of pitches by different vendors in different industries. And what is astonishing is how similar these presentations are. Even if you are different firms in different industries, they come along with the same stories–they’re mobilizing the same rhetoric. They’re using the same graphical tools and the same rhetoric and the same cadences and the same name dropping. And the memorability and the emotional effect of these briefings is extremely limited. And what you never understand as an analyst is how much effort has been expended to produce this uniquely bland hour. Organizations have spent so much time rehearsing and rehearsing, producing this immense convergence between vendors. And they come along with no sense of the heroism of their customers. They come along with no sense of the pain that their clients have felt. Everything is so formalized and lifeless that it can be very hard for analysts to really understand, “OK, there’s this point of purchase, there is this problem where you have created a dramatic solution.” It can be really hard to understand why the people in this room have been able to survive and stay in business when all of their competitors are mobilizing the same rhetoric–I’ve got almost identical slides.

Mark: Yeah–and having worked for a number of analyst firms over the years–I’ve seen dispirited analysts exit briefings, kind of thinking, “Well, there’s an hour I’ll never get back.” And, yet that presentation that they viewed, as you say, there were probably a lot of sparks that were thrown off by a lot of people to get that ready. And they just don’t understand what analysts should know.

Duncan: The one other point that I would say about slides is the way that they lull the analyst to sleep. You know the structure of the slide deck before it’s opened. I mean the odds of you seeing anything that you didn’t really already know.

Mark: Or couldn’t get on their website.

Duncan: Exactly. It’s extremely limited. There’s only one way that I’ve seen the use of slides work and that is when the person opens up the slide deck and says, “I’m not going to show you the slides. Let me just show you how familiar all of this is.” And they press the down button and they click through and then the analyst says, “Hang on can you just go back to Slide 9?” That’s the only way that it works, is to go down and see: Is there anything at all in this deck that has any valence, you know, that produces any kind of spark in the analyst?

That’s the only way that I’ve seen slides work really well. There is a side effect of slides which is, if you’re research director, I can have the slides to my research assistant. They can go into the outline view and cut and paste the text into Word and then they can write the headings up as sentences and then that is an easy blog post. So, it’s an easy report, it’s an easy memorandum. That’s one advantage for super-lazy analyst firms whose research doesn’t really matter. But I don’t think organizations should be spending so much time on slides when what really matters is not the slides is the stories, it’s the emotion, it’s the physical evidence that people are able to mobilize in these briefings. But, as people use blander slides and as more people take the choice to not meet face to face, but to meet online–or if they are meeting online, to turn off cameras and to only appear as words on the screen–it’s almost as if organizations are deliberately trying to give up every option, every lever that they have to make an impression on analysts.

Mark: Or make a human connection.

Duncan: Exactly. We call it analyst relations but so few analyst relations managers are spending even one tenth of their week really trying to build relationships with analysts.

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