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“Amazon”ian “Ass”umptions!

February 15, 2013 16 comments

No level in an organization is beyond screw-ups and there is no bar on the size of organizations that can mess things up real bad.

I am sure you have heard the story about a CEO who stood hesitantly in front of a shredder with some important documents in his hand wondering what to do next. A thoughtful subordinate who was passing by offered to help the big man – “Sir, let me do it for you!” Just as he fed the edge of the papers into the machine and hit the button the CEO said – “Can you make 2 copies, please!”

Well!

Yesterday, I attended a presentation on the fancied Cloud Computing services at an upmarket hotel in town – the organization making the pitch was none other than Amazon Web Services. I usually avoid naming organizations but am making an exception this time to prove that even the biggest can blunder.

The high voltage 3-hour pitch targeted CIOs, Developers and Solution Providers. The large hall was obviously set up with the help of local Event Managers; young girls and boys received the guests and ushered them in, there was a discotheque like atmosphere created instead with electronic music belted out from large speakers. The head of the room had a huge display announcing the name of the organizer and the event title. There were screens set up along the side of the hall to facilitate viewing. So far so good!

The program was to start at 2 p.m., but my friend and I arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule and took seats after registering – the hall was nearly full by the time the clock went past 2 and then this smartly dressed gentleman walks to the microphone and starts testing the audio system – he goes “Check! Check!” and asks people at the back to confirm audibility. After that in a polite tone he says “We will start the program at 2:30 p.m. because we are waiting for more participants to walk in. After a while I shall start with some program trivia and then get into the program actual.”

Hello! I thought Jeff Bezos believed in speed and smartness at work? Obviously, this young man hadn’t heard these quotes by his Boss.

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful. 

This article is word of mouth in action, isn’t it?

At 2:35 the same man, the smartly-dressed-in-a-suit guy, walks up to the mike and says he is a Manager with the organisation and would be leading the presentation; he started with a very bright “Good Afternoon!” and got a lame response from the audience. He gamely tried a second time, at a higher volume, and got a louder lame response.

He then gave us his name, an South Indian one, and added an Americanized abbreviation that we could use – Wow! He had us there! Mr. America is here to save the day. (Mr. Cheesy, we could do without that.)

What followed was a unmitigable disaster – death by PowerPoint!

He launched into a long rant about the company, its achievement, clients and success stories; add to that a boring diatribe on the product portfolio. The slides had a black background, to match the mood in the room. There were some graphic outlines in the form of clouds at the bottom of each page, but they definitely didn’t have a silver lining.

The presenter did ask the audience to raise hands to check how many were Developers, Solution Providers and so on, but did nothing afterwards to whet their interest. He was treating the audience as kids who didn’t know the subject – the pitch was low-key and basic. Even I, with no exposure to Cloud Computing other than articles read on internet, found the presentation childish. He promised to give demos but even after 90 minutes we got nothing beyond the dull drone of his voice – I had a tough time trying to keep myself awake.

At 4:15 my friend and I gave up, we settled down in a coffee shop across the road to assess the damage. As we made a hasty exit I checked the faces of our fellow-sufferers and felt the desperate looks saying “wish we could do that” – it was sheer politeness or maybe pressure from some higher authority that kept them there.

This young manager from a leading IT organization didn’t know the basics of Presentation Skills or the principles of adult learning.

–          Adults like to be respected: This guy was treating them like kids; he took them for granted. Basic stuff was being offered to a set of experienced people (that didn’t include me)

–          Adults are relevancy oriented: He was not able to show the audience how they could use the stuff to speed up or improve the way they did work – the example he gave were of some international organizations with home the audience had no connect

–          Adults like practical stuff: This was a boring tirade about the product – there was nothing in the form of demo or hands-on experience. He had lost the audience quiet early in the presentation

There is more, but for the moment I shall stay with just three. This dead horse has been flogged enough!

The slides had small-font text, hardly any graphics or pictures and there were no videos to improve levels of interest. I had mentioned earlier that the slides had a black background and the text was of a dull color too.

Let me add that he did try to involve the audience by asking questions, but they were the wrong kind – he just asked them to raise hands to confirm having heard about or used some of features mentioned. He would have got buy-in by getting the learned audience to respond with their own experiences.  He had either forgotten or wasn’t aware that it’s dangerous to make a dry presentation of this nature in the post-lunch session – in the training domain we call it the Trainer’s Graveyard!

This man from a big corporation had committed hara-kiri and he probably wasn’t aware of it!

We walked out without offering any feedback – the form provided feedback only asked questions that related to use and purchase of Amazon Services. How sensible!

It’s important for presenters to prepare the pitch based on the type of audience, the impact of the presentation needs to be tested constantly and he needs to think on his feet and change the pitch if things aren’t going right. Haven’t we seen professional speakers and stage actors using an adverse comment from the audience or even a wardrobe malfunction as opportunities to make a smart response?

The presentation needs to be benefit-focused and lively. It needs to prompt audience participation.

I have presented a negative sounding anecdote only to tell my readers that things can spiral out of control if one were to take too much for granted …. Your blunder can reach “amazonian” proportions!

When we assume too much we end up making an “ass” of “u” & “me” … No jokes!!

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