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, 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 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 chocka-
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 new T-mobile ads that describe themselves as the Un-Carrier,
dedicated to doing everything that the big carriers don’t, you’ll get the

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,

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 breath.

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
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 do 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. 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.