As an Innovation Evangelist for SAP, I often get asked “I’m interested in being a technology evangelist — what should I do?” Here are some personal answers.
What is a Technology Evangelist?
There are lots of different types, but the basic notion is that an Evangelist is acknowledged expert in a subject who is paid to explain, teach, and inspire. Here’s wikipedia’s definition.
The role is similar to that of an industry analyst and requires many of the same skills. The big difference is that Evangelists are typically paid by a company that has a vested interest in the success of the industry or technology.
The term “Evangelist” may strike some as uncomfortably religious. However, the word was originally used thousands of years ago in ancient Greece to mean the reward given to an messenger for good news. Therefore the way the term is used in the phrase “technology evangelist” is actually closer to the original sense than the religious “good news” that it was later associated with.
Other widely-used terms include Technology Advocate and Technology Champion.
What is Technology Evangelism?
It’s about connecting people who have problems with the products, technology, and knowledge they need to succeed. In other words, it’s “just” part of marketing — but it’s the opposite of the common phrase “oh, that’s just marketing.”
Evangelism is about authentic content, communication, and community, and it’s a key part of the “new marketing” in an era of social transparency.
What does a Technology Evangelist do?
Personally, I present at around forty conferences each year in a few dozen different countries, publish more than a hundred blog posts, and send out thousands of tweets and other social comments. I do strategy sessions with customers and regular sessions with press and analysts.
I started my career doing IT projects for companies such as Shell, then became an Evangelist slowly over the course of 20+ years working in a variety of roles (product marketing, sales training, competitive and marketing analysis, strategic initiatives, etc.). As time went by, I spent more and more of my time working with customers and doing presentations, until it became my primary focus.
Today, most of my work comes from word of mouth. People contact me to do presentations or create thought leadership materials, and I prioritize the different requests until my calendar is full. With any spare time, I actively look for new and important topics where I think I can add value.
What skills do you need to be a Technology Evangelist?
Above all, you need to be passionate about what you do. It’s like being a writer or an artist: you have to want to do it in your spare time. You also have to be an expert, but it’s easier to devote the time needed to become an expert when you care deeply about your subject.
You have to be authentic: you must truly want to help people be successful, not just sell them something. You have to be a trusted advisor, which means being transparent and upfront about any possible biases that you may have. It means telling the whole truth: nothing you say or write should be any less true if you were working for a competitor.
You have to be able to communicate effectively, in the style that works best for you. Personally, I try to emulate the Discovery Channel, which engages and entertains audiences at the same time as teaching them something. Become an expert in analogies and story telling. Make people laugh.
You need to understand and adapt to your audience. You have to know, through having lived and breathed the same working environment, what is and isn’t interesting to others. You should never give the same presentation twice because you will never have the same audience twice.
How do you become a Technology Evangelist?
By doing it. To be credible you need to have spent lots of time with people wrestling with real-world problems. Whatever work you are doing today, use it as an excuse and opportunity to work with people trying to innovate in their industries.
Follow other experts. Start blogging and tweeting. Whenever you find something you think is interesting, note it down and share it with others. Disagree with people and explain why you think differently. Spend time pondering what’s going to happen next. Ask new questions, then do original research to find the answers and tell others what you have discovered. Be creative: build on others’ content, rather than recreating it. Improve your ideas by discussing them with everyone you meet.
How do I get paid to be a Technology Evangelist?
It’s hard. You have to be able to convince an employer that you have a significant impact on an industry or technology niche. Your presentations have to be good enough that you get invited back the next time. The more time you spend with customers in that industry, and the more those customers find your contributions valuable, the easier it will be.
Of course I’m biased, but I believe technology evangelism is an increasingly important force in the world, and a very rewarding career for anybody who is self-driven, thrives on change, and wants to change the world.
[Update: Here’s a presentation I did to explain some of the concepts behind why I believe Evangelism is the future of marketing]