How (Not) To Give An Enterprise Software Keynote

Warning: snark ahead. I attend 40+ enterprise software conferences a year. If you’re preparing a keynote, please don’t do the same as everybody else, i.e:

  • Show Dramatic opening video featuring an American Announcer Voice
  • Start with a few irrelevant words about being in city X, the current date, etc.
  • Unenthusiastically thank the sponsors for paying for the conference and the audience for attending
  • Give a few stories about cool disruptive companies that have nothing to do with your organization  (Whatsapp, Uber, etc.). Bonus points for using terms like “paradigm shift” and “game-changing”
  • Marvel at how the technology your kids use is different from when you grew up
  • Mention how many Milennials will be in the workforce in the future
  • Display lots of big numbers on the screen, ask “Did you know that there’s more social/cloud/analytics/mobile than ever before?” (actually, yes, we did). Bonus points for including the words “zetabytes” and “yottabytes” and/or using 8pt fonts
  • Put up some cherry-picked statistics/quotes from industry analysts (does anybody really believe or care about “predicted market size” figures?)
  • Optional: include some high-level social trends that have nothing to do with the audience, such as growth of consumers in Asia, water scarcity, etc.
  • Talk about the consumerization of enterprise IT and the importance of ease of use. Bonus points for using terms like “democratizing” and “for all of us”
  • Awkwardly link everything you just said to the product that you actually want to talk about
  • Play buzzword-laden product marketing video with an American Announcer Voice
  • Call colleague on stage to demonstrate your software (audience wakes up!).
  • Nervously mention how it might go wrong because server is other side of the world, etc (or use canned demo, but don’t mention that it’s canned)
  • Give long business situation setup explanation that audience instantly forgets
  • Click around in the software, pretending to find out something new. Omit to point out that what you’ve found is either obvious or doesn’t really make much sense
  • Tell some lame jokes
  • Include lots of colorful charts in the demo (bonus for 3D pie charts) and emphasize mobile-first native HTML5 interfaces
  • Use the terms “open,” “ease of use,” “simple,” and “real time” at least ten times
  • Tell an oversimplified story about a customer deployment of the product and the benefits they saw. Don’t mention any challenges, problems, etc. (Bonus for another American Announcer Voice video)
  • Repeat above points per product you’re trying to sell (bonus for vaporware that doesn’t exist yet and double bonus for concept demos of software that you have no intention of actually ever building)
  • We also have services! and training! and partners!
  • Did I mention that there was disruption, and we all need to innovate?
  • Mention ease of use/simple/real-time etc. again
  • Talk to us!/download the product!/buy the product! etc.
  • Go 20% over your allotted time because you’re more important (and nobody dares complain), thank the audience for “holding out” for so long.
  • Upbeat rock walk-out music

Did I miss any of your favorite keynote tropes? Tell me and I’ll include the best ones!

[updated with suggestions from @esjewitt, @biscorecard, @graphomate, @clemoha, @koehntopp, @matthiaswild, @jonerp and others — thanks to all!]

14 comments to “How (Not) To Give An Enterprise Software Keynote”
  1. Thanks for the above – it’s good food for thought. Now that you’ve told us what you don’t want to see…can you tell us what you do want to see? What…in a keynote…would get you really jazzed?

    • Andrea — of course, it’s much easier for me to poke fun than it is to offer constructive suggestions. The big problem with keynotes is that there is indeed a certain number of things that the executives “have to” cover, and in the bigger events attended by analysts, the amount of time spent on various topics will be taken to be a strong indication of the company’s directions. In addition, the audience is almost by definition from a wide variety of backgrounds, meaning that you have to do something high level. Hence the “formulaic” aspects of what goes on: it’s not perfect, but at least everybody knows where they stand. The basic advice I would give is what I started with in the blog — try to do something (anything!) different, even if it’s the same pieces in a different order…

  2. The moment when the speaker gets on stage, says his good morning, the audience mumbles their good morning, and the speaker then feels compelled to play annoyed by the response and starts yelling GOOOOD MOOOORNING… and then the audience starts yelling back…. that’s when I want to start throwing things.

  3. So quit attending and wasting everyone’s resources, not least of which are customers paying way the hell too much from most of the me-too/ game-changing noise (aka incremental tax models). What’s the point?

    • Mark — I believe most people to go conferences for the networking and the detailed track sessions (which is why they still go even if they haven’t much liked a keynote). And to be fair, I’m NOT the target audience — many (most?) people in the audience will only go to one or two conferences in a year. A case in point: I have been listening to, and doing presentations on SAP HANA for years now. I sat through another one at SAP Select, and chatted to my seat neighbor on the way out. He was a CIO, had also heard a lot about SAP HANA, but admitted that this was the first time he had really “got it.” The moral of the story is that just because I find something boring, it doesn’t mean that everybody else will…

  4. Great article. Spot on. Only thing that gives me the sads: Everything you mention will keep happening in keynotes ad infinitum.

    • Chris — I think it’s because the average keynote is so fenced in by requirements that it’s difficult to break out of the box without running the danger of ending up with something far worse — and most presenters don’t want to run the risk (it’s one of the reasons that Steve Lucas’ (@nstevenlucas) presentations are so entertaining — he’s not afraid to try something different!)

  5. Great list – I would add, don’t thank every executive that comes on stage “for their leadership”, otherwise you may become part of a long standing Twitter meme. 🙂
    #TTFYL Timo!

  6. Timo, your snark is appropriate. Thank you for this long overdue post. I’d love to see a follow-up with “please do’s!”.

  7. Amazing 🙂 Very true. Alternatively I’d really love to hear a “best practice” example from you.

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