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I've been thinking about what happens in the planning process that lets this happen. Particularly in a year like this where there is so much to get excited about, it left me slack jawed to see how badly stepped on the excitement was. In years past, they built excitement only to step on it hard at the end. This year, they avoided the problem by building little or no excitement. So what happens?
You bring in a production company to help you may a big exciting event. They don't have ANY idea what the stuff you're showing actually does. They also don't have any understanding of your audience. There are two ways that a production company figures out what parts the crowd will like. The look at it, and they ask the people running the show.
LOOKING at the content, a production company in their right mind is NEVER going to guess that Maureen showing source code editors is exciting. Dragging around video windows, however, looks cool -- even if its just more portal based crap that few of us care about.
ASKING about it is more of a problem that can be fixed. When they asked, IBM has to start telling the real truth. Saying "oh, they'll be really excited by Portal" isn't going to work if it isn't true. They may WANT it to be true, but it isn't. The production company can't help you if you don't tell them all the story. If someone had honestly said, "well, we'd like them to be excited about Portal, but they'll give a standing ovation to Maureen's code editors", they may look disbelievingly but they'll be able to shape the session better. It is like going to the tailer. Don't suck in your gut at the tailor. Let it out, then the tailor can hide it with a couple of careful alterations.
Finally, they need to stop "speaking to the analysts". The idea here that I've been told is, "We're really speaking to the analysts in the OGS, so it makes more sense even if it seems boring." I call bullshit on that one. The analysts I know and have spoken with don't want you to talk to them. They're listening to the crowd response. If they hear the crowd go nuts, they write down the buzzword that seemed to cause it, and then go off and figure out what that meant so they can write about it. If you want to talk to the analysts, issue a press release.
How should IBM correct this? Bring more people into the process to help. Partners, developers, and other industry people can help identify places where really big opportunities are missed. Here's an example:
IBM announced that Lotus Notes 8.5 beta is now available on the Macintosh. That's a big deal because it finally shows the last steps toward bringing the Mac to full parity with the PC for the Notes Client. After last week's announcements at MacWorld. Mike Rhodin should have come out with a big envelop. From the envelop he could have removed a new Mac notebook (possibly even one of the new Mac Air ones). Opening the notebook he could proclaim "Hey, the Notes 8.5 beta is on here. Yes, its been released as of today." That would have been a FUN way to announce something instead of the stilted "oh by the way" manner in which it was done.
If they need help with showmanship, they should create a team of people who consistently get great reviews at Lotusphere in their sessions.
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