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I’m at the annual industry analyst event for HP this week. I’ve been wrapped by a NDA, so I can’t share any of the content. However, as I was watching the presentations, I realized that there is little in the way of resources telling companies how to successfully present to an industry analyst audience.
Over the years, I’ve seen some companies do this very well, engaging the analysts and convincing them to think of their firms more favorably. For example, IBM demonstrated that ability last week at their analyst event. On the other hand, the worst event I’ve ever attended was a Netscape event where they convinced many of us they were in the process of failing. (They effectively failed a year later.)
There is a skill to talking with industry analysts. You need good content, but a great deal also depends on the presentation, location and trappings that surround the event.
For any presentation to any audience, there are three aspects to a great presentation. One is staging that puts the focus on the content, not on the slides or the presenter. The second is on preparation which conveys the importance of the material and the audience, and the third is the quality of the content, which should engage the audience and keep them off email.
IBM last week showcased the power of staging by holding their event at one of their top labs in California. The location demonstrated their intent and capability to lead in innovation and development.
In terms of preparation, two of the best presenters I’ve ever seen were HP’s Carly Fiorina and Apple's Steve Jobs. They both clearly spent a massive amount of time rehearsing and making sure they hit their marks. And their talks were interesting and compelling.
Finally, content is critical. Some of the best presentations drop most of their PowerPoint slides in favor of customer testimonials, physical demonstrations of products and services, and integrated tours of labs and manufacturing locations.
The talk has to inform, convince and entertain. This isn’t multiple choice; it has to do all three. And few events cover all of these bases.
Drilling down on content, analysts like numbers. They like third-party validation, and they love compelling demonstrations. Too often, events are full of promises and sweeping statements that don't include competitive perspective or third-party validation.
Even when numbers are provided, they are often provided with the company itself as the benchmark. For instance, while it is great to know quality has improved 50 percent, it would be far better to understand how this benchmark was reached and how the result compared to major competitors.
At the event I’m attending, Dave Donetelli did the best job of covering all of these bases.
When projecting the future, it is also important to use third-party sources for validation. Research results, even internal, can play well, but when an executive takes a position on the future, it is very risky. This is because analysts, particularly those in firms, compete by taking positions, and the winning position determines internal status. They are more likely to disagree with an executive taking an individual position, because doing so successfully is what they often do inside their own firms. Young analysts with poor foundation for their beliefs often come into firms challenging senior positions. When an executive does the same, they lose credibility in the eyes of these senior analysts.
Wrapping Up: Working From the Desired Result Back
Often when I attend analyst events, it feels like the goal was to have an event. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea because executive face time is very important. But if that is the case, why not make the entire event full of one-on-ones, which would optimize that face time?
If there are going to be formal presentations, I believe the firm should start with the desired result, work backwards to create the pitch and then test it with a few analysts — much like a play would have an early rehearsal with an audience to assure a positive review and the desired result.
At the IBM analyst event last week, it seemed clear they wanted analysts to see IBM as more future-focused than their peers and well positioned to drive the IT side of the technology market indefinitely. Many other events seem to showcase a ton of products, but don’t seem to focus on the more important goal of convincing us that they are uniquely powerful and successful.
In the end, analyst events are an art. The technology industry is surprisingly short of artists.