When our panel talked internally, we all agreed we were there to collaborate on the state of the art in Performance Measurement for government transportation management. We were taking the "research" in Transportation Research Board seriously. So, even though my presentation showed elements of upcoming products by my company - it never mentioned a product or my company by name. We merely talked about strategies for the visualization of complex data.
A vindication of this came during the morning plenary session on the second day. One of the speakers, a gentleman from the company Traffic.com, got up and gave a 30 minute speech about how great his company was and pitched their products. This was in a session called Data / Tools. It was not called Pitch / Woo.
After about 10 minutes of this, I excused myself and left the room. I felt sort of guilty about it, but I just couldn't stand hearing a half hour commercial for Traffic.com. So I went out to get some coffee.
I was surprised to find the hallway filled with people. As I was getting coffee, someone said to me, "What, you didn't want to listen to Collins talk about how great he is?"
This was an agency guy. This was someone who could be a client of Traffic.com. Instead of being interested, he now committed the speaker's name and company to memory and filed them under "Irritating."
The coffee area was filled with people who had voted with their feet. "Pitch or coffee, I vote coffee" they were saying.
I didn't think too much of this since then. But it came roaring back today when I read Jeremiah Owyang's post on moderating conference panels. He has some great advice, most of which my panel's moderator adhered to.
Never let panelists pitch
This one really irritates the audience, as they’ve spent time and money investing in a panel, they don’t want to hear vendor pitches. Typically, when one vendor talks about how great his company is, the next panelists will need to one-up, and it never ends. The moderator needs to pre-warn panelists that won’t tolerate this vile deed, and will cut them off in public, and that’s embarrassing for everyone. BTW: If you’re in the audience and you see this happen, you have a right as a customer to demand them to stop.
…but let them tell a case study
I prefer that panelists demonstrate their expertise by showing their experts in the field, or provide a case study how their customers have been successful. There is a very thin division between this and a vendor pitch, so it’s best to remember that a panel is more like a white paper, not a brochure.
Owyang is right, there is a thin line between pitch and telling a story. But everyone at the TRB conference could tell the difference. There were many case studies told and discussed. No one confused them for a pitch.
There was a sniff test and it was apparent. The line may be thin, but it is malodorous.
For conference attendees, when you are speaking it's hard to tell what your impact is - even if people don't say anything. However, it is screamingly obvious something is wrong if half the room gets up and leaves. Don't sit still for people wasting your time with a pitch.
Either way, please do go, read, and bookmark Jeremiah's post. It is clear and concise. it is also easy to pass on to other panel members with a simple URL.