Influence, Don't Educate

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I’ve got one more follow-up point to make regarding the post on Why Conferences Suck. And I bring it up because it has implications to marketers.

In fairness, the point I’m going to make isn’t strictly a reason why conferences suck, or even why some presentations suck. Instead, it’s why many presentations aren’t as effective as they could be.

My point: Too many presenters assume the role of educator.

Not a lot of presenters are even aware that their style and content have an educational tone to them. Their presentations are oriented towards answering the question: What can I tell you about what I know?

This isn’t inherently bad or wrong. But it presumes that the:

1) Audience doesn’t already know the topic. I see this a lot with Web 2.0 presentations. Seems like a lot of speakers want to educate the audience on “what” Web 2.0 is. But is that really the question the audience wants answered? Or would they rather like to know when to use Web 2.0 technology and when not to use it?

2) Presentation jives with audience’s preferred style of learning. Even if the audience wants to be educated, is a Powerpoint presentation the most effective way for a majority of the audience to learn about it? Some people might learn about the topic more effectively through a hands-on demonstration.

3) Speaker is an effective educator.
Not every presenter’s style is well suited to playing the educator, though.

I know mine isn’t. I always dread it when a client says “we need you to come in and educate us on [insert topic here].” I don’t like playing the educator — I like playing the influencer. I want to get up there and tell the audience why they should be doing what I think they should be doing, or seeing the world the way I see the world.

And with so many speakers playing the educator role, conferences can become redundant, repetitive, and downright boring.

What does this have to do with marketing?

When reporting to senior management, Marketing often assumes the role of educator and not influencer.

I see a lot of reports that marketing sends to senior management. At the risk of insulting someone (i.e., a client), many marketers seem obsessed with pretty graphics and reams of data.

When I get a chance to evaluate a marketing report, I’ll point to a specific slide or graph and ask “why is this slide in the deck?” The response I usually get is “management needs to know that.” That answer isn’t sufficient.

Marketing needs to evaluate each slide, graphic, or data point in their reports and ask themselves the questions: 1) Why are we putting this in the deck? and 2) What do we want management to do with it?

Not every page of the report has to lead to a specific action. It’s OK if the answer to the questions is “we want management to see that we were successful and want to continue the course.” But that’s still influence-based reporting, and not education. It’s influencing senior exec’s perceptions of what’s working or not working with marketing’s investments.

Another comment I’ll often get is “management asked for this data.” Yes, they did. A year ago. When the crisis du jour was decreasing sales in the midwest territory. But what happens with marketing reports? Once in, never out.

For sure, marketing reports need to address “what it is.” But to be effective, marketing needs to address “what it means.” And focus on influencing, and not just educating.

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