March 01, 2018

Diamonds Not Duds: The Challenger Presentation

Julian Aldridge

Julian Aldridge
President and Owner/ENACT Agency

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Or, how not to bore your audience, 94% of the time.


Throughout our career as marketers, we search for diamonds, those elusive gems of creativity, insight or data that can transform the way we think, the way our companies do business or even popular culture.

Which is why so many of us attend conferences, searching for those rare diamonds, but often come away feeling like all we’ve seen are an array of duds.

The sad reality is that marketing diamonds are rarer than the real things. But why is that? Why are so many conferences devoid of real value? I’d argue that it’s because most presenters don’t think like Challengers.

You want the proof? Equations are all the rage these days. What was now geeky is once again cool, so here’s one for you.

First, count how many conferences you’ve attended over the last decade or so. Now, multiply that number by the average number of sessions you have you sat through in each conference. This is your Sessions Number.

Then estimate the number of sessions you can recall where you had even one ah-ha! moment. This is your Ah-hah Number.

Finally, divide your Ah-ha! Number by your Sessions Number and express as a percentage. This is your Conference Value Number.

Here’s my estimate.

Sessions Number: 30x15 = 450.

Ah-ha Number: 30 (one per conference, unfortunately).

My Conference Value Number is 6.7%.

In other words, over 93% of the presentations I’ve seen have had no tangible value. For all intents and purposes, they were duds. It’s not that they weren’t quite good, or that the subject matter didn’t have interest, but it didn’t get me to do what I went to the conference for in the first place: gain insight, challenge my preconceptions and push me to think different. I didn’t find any diamonds.

Instead of taking a Challenger approach, presenters simply regurgitate facts, case studies or last year's (or in some cases last decade’s) opinions.

Which, when you think about it, makes no sense at all. Many of us spend much of our working lives thinking about how to recast, present and enact our brands as Challengers.

Yet, how many of us think about our presentations in the same way? In many ways our presentations – particularly when we’re on stage at a conference – are our brands. Which means we need to start thinking about how to put the Challenger ethos into our presentations.

So, what can we learn from the world of Challenger Brands?

Challengers base everything they do on insights, they act based on fundamentally and deeply held core beliefs, they identify and then slay monsters with compelling offers, they live their beliefs and behave accordingly – always, and they clearly identify a target mindset and figure out how they want them to feel (and behave) post-brand interaction.

Let’s apply this Challenger approach to presenting. Here are the six things that Challengers always do:

First, unearth an Insight, or two. Most conference presentations are chock-a-block full of facts. One recent example I sat through had 77 slides, 287 builds and over 500 facts according to the presenter – in 30 minutes. However, there wasn’t an original insight in sight. We all have the material, but how do we employ one of the challenger credos, Intelligent Naivety, to that material and draw out the those surprising, game-changing, ideas? It could start by looking at the data or slides from a consumer perspective, or through the eyes of your teen daughter, or a VC. Or it could start with an insight about the audience and what motivates them – or what their preconceptions are.

Challengers identify a big, fresh insight about the category, the mindset of the customer or audience, shopping habits, their history or social trends; something that often seems obvious in retrospect, but that everyone else has overlooked.

How can you employ Intelligent Naivety to your material and draw out an insight and a story that will surprise, engage, and delight?

Second, identify your Core Belief. Challengers use the metaphor of a Lighthouse to talk about how they insistently, and consistently, project a core belief. When it comes to presentations, less is more. If we can get the audience to remember one thing that we believe in, and then get them to adopt, adapt and spread that point of view, we’ve won.

Remember - 93%. To get to be in the 7%, where your core belief is not only ingested but evangelized, means really searching for the core of your presentation and understanding what it is you want to project to your audience, consistently and insistently.

Third, identify a Monster. What is it that you are fundamentally challenging? What tension are you exploiting? What value system, habit, perception or belief are you pushing up against? All stories have protagonists and antagonists. That’s what makes them memorable. And the more vivid the monster, the more memorable the story, so paint yours loud, give it teeth and bring it to life. Don’t be shy about your monster – or your offer will seem un-heroic by comparison.

I recently listened to Charles Kennedy from ABC give a compelling presentation on how to make ideas stick. His monster, clearly painted, was ‘attention’. More specifically, the fact that the scarcest resource on the planet these days is attention. Not water. Not diamonds. Not uranium. But attention. A clear monster that threatens all marketers, just as the Alien threatened humanity in the movies of the same name, or Voldemort humankinds in the Harry Potter chronicles.

Fourth, devise a monster-slaying Offer. A Core Offer to the Monster is what St George is to the Dragon. It slays it. It doesn’t wound it, argue with it or besiege it. The Offer has to tackle the Monster head on. If you have seen the T-mobile ads that describe themselves as the Un-Carrier, dedicated to doing everything that the big carriers don’t, you’ll get the picture.

Brands need offers. People need offers. Presentations need offers, they are how we present our central idea – as an offer for our audience to engage with, build on and own (if we are lucky, or skillful). The central idea in Charles Kennedy’s talk was that ideas need to be Sticky and Sneezy. In other words that they need to stick with people and be easy to spread – like a common cold by a sneeze. A strange way to present his thesis? No, because he wrapped the offer in a compelling, imaginatively presented story that brought to life his offer. And his Core Offer tackled head-on his monster – A.D.D.

Fifth, behave like a Challenger. Challengers never forget that everyone, inside the organization and outside the organization, is watching their every move, all the time. Being a challenger requires walking the walk, 24/7/365.

Challengers can exhibit wildly differing behavior in living their Lighthouse Identity, there’s no one-size-fits-all modus operandi - just like we all have our own presentation styles. However, as a presenter, we have to live our Core Belief when on stage. We have to evangelize it, and never forget that our form will be as important as our function in getting our idea – our Core Offer – to stick.

Being a Challenger as a presenter means re-inventing how you present. It means perhaps forgoing the hundreds of PowerPoint slides. It means telling stories that may be brought to life with pictures or videos, anecdotes or even actors. It means involving the audience and making them participants. It often means sacrificing a lot of content in order to over-commit to the central idea, your Core Offer, the one thing that you want to get across. It means using pauses and giving your ideas the space to breathe.

Sometimes it means taking a big risk, and sometimes, potential ridicule. A few years ago a colleague of mine and I presented in Las Vegas at a big Word of Mouth Marketing event. Our story – that we told as dual-narrators – was about the launch of a new sports drink to rival Gatorade, one born from the world of endurance sports. In order to engage and demonstrate the Challenger behavior that our program described, we both wore our lycra cycling gear to conduct the presentation. Brave? Stupid? Gimmicky? Probably. But an initially half-full room soon became full as tweets rapidly spread that ‘two guys in lycra’ were presenting in room 400C.

Sixth, determine WHO you are trying to connect with, and HOW you want them to feel. Challengers describe their customers in clear, simple, terms. They know what makes them tick, and what stories they want to believe about themselves. For Apple it was ‘the crazy ones’, for Audi ‘the progressives’. Critically, it is probably a subset of the total audience – but a subset for whom your Core Offer will resonate. The key then is identifying the mindset common to this group – and how you can add the value that they are looking for.

Challengers have an incredibly single-minded perspective on how they want their target to feel after engaging with the brand, and by implication, what they want them to actually do. By starting with this angle it is much more likely that we will design and execute presentations that become diamonds, not duds.

Conferences are an opportunity for presenters to champion their brands, their companies – and themselves. However, in this information-overload world, to cut through and be remembered we have to act like the brands we purport to represent. We have to think and act like Challengers – and apply those same tenets to our presentations. Then, perhaps, our diamonds to duds ratio will increase from 1 in 15, and we’ll all return from Miami, Los Angeles or London with more than a hangover and a hefty hotel bill.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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