March 4, 2010

Letter to a Technology Evangelist

In the last two years, I’ve been working full time as a **Technology Evangelist **for a big internet company, Amazon (to be precise, for the** Amazon Web Services** division). It has been a great experience so far, and I feel the need to share some of my experiences with wannabe evangelists. I’ve been covering Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), but since Jan 1st, 2010, I’m covering Asia Pacific (APAC). We are in the process of replacing my role in Europe; therefore, I imagined a dialogue between me and my “successor” in Europe, as a way to dispense some tips and suggestions to you, my readers. Hope you enjoy that. Important disclaimer: If you’re looking for AWS-specific hints, you won’t find them. I am sharing rules that apply to Technology Evangelism in general, not to my job in particular. And, of course, these opinions are solely mine, and don’t represent the point of view of my employer, etc etc. Right? Let’s start.

Apprentice Evangelist: Hi Master, I’m honored to be here with you today. My name is Mike. So, tell me how to become a great technology evangelist. (I am naming this fictional apprentice Mike, in honor of the first Apple evangelist, Mike Boich) ** Simone:** First of all, Mike, let’s understand what a technology evangelist is. People might have different definitions, but from my point of view, a tech evangelist is a person that promotes a specific technology at talks, seminars, conferences, webinars, or other gatherings, using effective communication techniques. Ever heard of Guy Kawasaki? He brought evangelistic methods in the promotion of the Apple brand. This might be called evangelism marketing when customers do that spontaneously. For example, I use an Apple MacBook Pro, and I am a volunteer “evangelist” for most apple products, for free.

Mike: Yes, I’ve read a lot about Guy Kawasaki, and evangelism. But tell me, in practice… How do I promote this technology? How do I start? ** Simone:** There are a few ingredients needed. First, you need to have a good grasp of the technology you’re promoting, as well as the market in which you’re promoting that technology. If, for example, you are hired by a company that promotes a new kind of printing technology, let’s say 3D printing, you have to be familiar with the technical aspects, as well as be aware of similar companies that offer competing products, or what customers need. Example: if you meet a customer, and he says he doesn’t need 3D printing because the old way of doing things is just fine, or because he doesn’t think he needs 3D printing… Well, you need to be prepared to respond to these objections. So, to summarize: know the technology you’re promoting, know what customers need, know your competition.

Mike: that’s good advice, Simone, but quite easy to guess, right? Tell me something that I can’t figure out without your experience. Let’s say I know the technology, I have an idea of what customers need (I’ve been one of them, after all), and let’s say I tried out some products offered by competitors. So, I have all the basics. Now, how do I start? ** Simone:** At the beginning, you need to find a way to properly organize your schedule. An evangelist usually travels a lot, and you don’t want travel to wipe you out. Therefore, you need to decide the pace of your travels, and arrange things in such a way that you can keep that pace for a long time. This also means finding proper ways to interact with conference organizers, event organizers, etc; prepare templates that you can use to ask them all the details, such as: conference venue and logistics, date and time of your talk, what type of audience you’ll face, how many of them; what other speakers will talk that day; what’s the personality of that event; is that a startup event, an enterprise event, a government event, an academic event; do they already know your technology, or do they need to learn everything from scratch? And also: what kind of visual aid you can use (projectors, etc), audio systems (microphones, etc), type of room, etc. Again, to summarize: get organized, and find ways to automate your interactions as much as possible, and manage them when you’re on the road as well.

Mike: Ok, that’s already an interesting tip. Let’s say I’m at my first event, and I’m going to talk in a few hours. What do I do? Simone: Wait, wait, wait, Mike, you run too fast! Before having your first event, you have to prepare for it. In most cases, you use slides or something like that. Slides are a great invention, but nowadays most people are pretty bad at writing slides. They’re just ugly, poorly readable, have poor design… In summary: in some cases, slides do more harm than good.

Mike: So, no slides at all? ** Simone:** Well, you could think of that option, but actually a better way would be to work hard to produce meaningful, beautiful, entertaining slides. You can start reading Garr Reynolds (here a video) or Nancy Duarte to learn something about presentation design, and some other things such as Presentation secrets of Steve Jobs, or Confessions of a public speaker. Also, it would help to watch some great presenters in action, such as Sir Ken Robinson or Tony Robbins. Always remember that there might be many different way to present information, to inform the audience: look at what Hans Rosling does with animated graphics, for example. You’re not forced to use powerpoint or slides: you can use alternatives, such as Prezi or my favourite, SlideRocket, or any other thing that can help you deliver the message to the audience. This is an example of a pretty** successful slide deck** I’ve used in July 2011. Since you already know what you’re going to present, you just need to craft a message for them. Working on the visuals is the first step; then you have to work on voice, intonation, body language, pace, and many other things. To summarize: learn how to communicate in public, using powerful visuals, voice, body language.

Mike: This sounds great. How to become good at it? ** Simone:** practice, practice, practice. This is just another skill: you have to practice it a lot to feel comfortable with it, and develop it to the highest level. Always try to learn from the masters. I had the great opportunity to be managed by Jeff Barr, one of the greatest evangelists, and to meet other very talented people, such as our CTO, Werner Vogels. Having a good mentor always helps, and when you can visualize a bar you want to reach, you have a goal; having a goal makes you thirsty, increases your desire to learn, to challenge your preconceptions and your assumptions, and so on. In fact, learning a new skill (being presenting, or cooking, or driving) is very much like learning a martial art: first, you have to empty your mind from previous notions. And then, fill it with new concepts, new ideas, new skills, new things.

Mike: I love this. It seems there is a lot more than just preparing a few slides and saying a few things in public. ** Simone:** Oh, you bet it! I did about 150 presentations in the last two years, in many countries, different languages, different situations, different audiences, from a few people up to a thousand. You need practice to be able to learn, or even better to master, this new skill. Videotaping you, and then watching you afterwards, can also help you correct problems. So, in short: practice your presentation skills, and be prepared to learn new things.

Mike: Sounds good. And what about audiences? Are they all the same? Or what? ** Simone:** Definitively not! Every audience has its own peculiarities. Mediterranean people are usually warm, and they ask questions. Germans are very shy, unless you win their confidence first. Americans are very informal and are not afraid of challenging a billionaire CEO if they need to; Japanese and Koreans are incredibly shy and they usually don’t even dare to ask. Indians are something on their own. It’s important for you to get a sense of the audience you’re going to meet. It can help watch other presenters before you, and take a look at how the audience interacts with them. After all, when you’re on stage, you NEED to create a bond between you and the audience. You do this with few things: respect, humility, passion, communication. Respect means that you consider them as smart as you, you want to treat them well, you want to make a good use of their time. Humility means that you want to go on stage without that aura of grandiosity, as if you were a demigod descended on earth. Just because you’re on stage in front of 200 people doesn’t mean you’re not human anymore: you’re still the same ordinary guy that went to the restroom few minutes earlier, after all. Right? Mike: I see what you mean. You don’t want people to call you master, or to ask for your autograph. Simone: Exactly. Then, passion: you NEED passion to evangelize something. You can’t do it without passion. If you don’t believe in what you’re trying to evangelize, you’re going to find huge problems in order to succeed. And finally, communication: you want to communicate a message, which doesn’t just mean words and phrases; it also means body language, it means feeling connected with the audience, looking at them, estabilishing eye contact, and such. So, keys points to remember: learn your audience, and give them respect, humility, passion and communication.

Mike: Noted. Now I see the value of your experience come out. This is really valuable information.** **And what about the rest? It’s all about presenting in public? Or something else as well? ** Simone:** presenting in public is probably the most important part, but also listening to customers, writing down their questions, bringing this feedback to your team, to help them improve the product using customers’ suggestions. And then, keeping updated on your company and new products or new features, using online tools to keep track of what customers are saying (Twitter, Friendfeed, Linkedin, etc), and building a valuable network of people that you might use to improve the effectiveness of your trips. Of course, a technology evangelist doesn’t necessarily need to travel: you can also evangelize from the comfort of your home, with webinars, for example. Today it’s easy to imagine using online tools to provide the same kind of service to your company. In short: be the mouth, but also the ears, of your company; and use online tools in a smart way to track customers’ opinions, and to build a powerful network of people.

Mike: And what’s your relationship with the rest of the team? ** Simone:** As in any team, teamwork is what brings the best results. Learning how to interact with the rest of the team is vital to your success. For example, if you’re going to present at a conference in India, and you involve the Business Developer or the Sales person in charge of India, you can do teamwork, and bring home better results. Keyword is: teamwork.

Mike: How do you measure your results? Simone: This is a tough question. I basically use customer feedback (emails, twitter comments, etc), as well as feedback from fellow colleagues that attend that same event or conference. I also publish most of my presentations online, and track these presentations. In short,** I use a combination of feedbacks to measure the effectiveness of my work**.

Mike: You mentioned body language, voice, intonation, pace… Can you elaborate? ** Simone:** This would take too much time now, but in short: there is a lot to learn on how to use our body, how to modulate our voice, to deliver a more effective message. Also, body language changes depending on which country you’re in: there is a gesture that in Israel means “Wait a minute”, and in Italy means “What the fk do you want?“. Or, when an indian person wants to nod, he doesn’t nod: he moves his head on the two sides very quickly, and if you don’t know this you would get a wrong impression on what he’s saying. So, learn how body language works, and learn how different people use body language differently. Check the definitive book of body language, to start. You can have fun watching this nice video on italian gestures. Voice, is another big chapter: the tone of your voice, the pace, how you spell words, and so on… All important things. You might want to read something like this book on the power of voice, or similar things. It is also important that, after reading all these things, you just try to use the things that work for you. Don’t FORCE anything. You want to be spontaneous after all, which means you need to develop your own STYLE. Style is an important keyword. Your style means that you’re going to be recognizable, you’re going to have your personal fingerprint on your presentations. When you get to that point, it means you’re an experienced technology evangelist. In short:** learn your body language, learn to use your voice, find your style and stick to it**. And never forget to be nice to your audience: be friendly, smile, enjoy what you’re doing. Give them a good time. I have a short story for you. I was in France, the last speaker before lunch. I was supposed to speak at 12:20, for about 40 minutes. However, previous speakers took more time than expected, and one of the big sponsors pretended to have their CEO speak before me, for 20 minutes. He stepped up, and read some text the entire time. No slides, no interpretation, no passion. He did read some text for 20 minutes. Why didn’t he simply email all of us, instead? His message was very boring, very corporate, full of vaporware. His last words were about how customer-obsessed his company was, but he was using people’s time as he pleased, without even thinking about their needs. When it was my turn, it was already 12:55, and people really wanted to go to lunch. I was angry. I was in a difficult situation. I introduced myself, and then told the audience: “My talk was planned to be 40 minutes long.  However, we are late, and you are hungry. I’ll cut my talk down to 20 minutes, and then we all go to lunch at 13:15. This is what I call customer obsession.” Big round of applauses. The crowd was mine. So, the lesson is: if you want to deliver a message, the length of the message doesn’t count. Other things count. Also, you can’t force people to listen to you. If they want food, you can’t give them your slides. Give them food. I’m sure that audience will remember me, and my message, better than the previous CEO and his crappy message. So, final lesson is: give the audience a memorable experience, and show them respect. FEEL how they feel. Treat them with high respect. They will love you for this. A good source of inspiration for these things is Seth Godin and his blog, or [Hugh McLeod and his drawings**](

Mike: Well, Simone, I think you gave me some great advices! Thanks a lot. ** Simone:** A pleasure, Mike. Now it’s time for you to start practicing. Good luck!

(My name is Simone Brunozzi, I am a professional speaker, and became a technology evangelist in March 2008. I wanted to share some tips with you, using a fictional story, a dialogue between me and an apprentice evangelist. There is a lot more to say on the subject, and there are other people that are surely better than me at doing evangelism; but I think this is a good starting point for all of you nevertheless. I hope you enjoyed this reading. You can find me on Twitter and Linkedin as well. Ciao!)