I go to a lot of events and attend a number of CEO keynotes. This week, I’m at EMC World listening to Joe Tucci’s keynote. Recently, I learned, again (apparently I’m a slow learner), that when a CEO asks you how they are doing, the only right answer is “Great.”
This happens a lot with me. As far too many know, I used to compete in speaking and was, at one time, ranked third in the nation. Unfortunately, when it comes to feedback, even though I know executives reward the answer they want to hear rather than the truth, I’m not that guy. Why I enjoy the Joe Tucci keynotes is I can generally give a very positive response and not feel like I’m left somewhat tarnished by the process. Tucci’s keynotes tend to be some of the best in the industry. What follows is why.
Dark IT Knight: The Mechanism of a Great Keynote
First, they have a theme that adds a bit of whimsy to the effort but still tie it in to an overall company message. Last year, they had a “Star Wars” kind of theme playing off the size of space and Big Data. This year is was the Dark IT Knight and the problems with the massive amount of unstructured data that is coming in along with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) efforts. This clearly played off the idea of Dark Data.
Tucci opened with a standing ovation for the customers and partners in the audience. Now, in any keynote, you have to get folks’ attention these days; otherwise, they will drop into email or drift off into thinking about the problems they would otherwise be dealing with. Recognizing a major component of the audience and giving them credit is a great way to get them interested in what you have to say. You’ll see President Obama often do this and this mechanism is often used by successful politicians. It both gets the audience’s attention and bonds the audience to the speaker.
He then moves to congratulating key members of his team for certain major efforts. This not only shows a substantial pride in his people, but subtly focuses the audience on the areas that are receiving praise. It positions Tucci as a CEO intimately involved with his people and very well aware of whom his major stars are. It also reinforces loyalty in his senior staff.
Now he needs to ground the audience and rather than making broad statements about what he believes, which is what most CEOs do, he first uses an outside source to provide a taxonomy for what he will talk about. In this case he chose IDC, the leading numbers firm (a good safe choice), to provide the necessary market taxonomy and rather than taking his word for it, this taxonomy is backed up by independent research.
Throughout his talk he provides a heavy numbers focus. IT customers and analysts tend to love numbers so he provides them. For instance, early on, he tells them 12 percent of revenue is focused on R&D, and 10 percent on doing acquisitions. That 22 percent focused on strategic elements of the company. For an IT audience this is critical because they want long-term assurances for what remains a capital-intensive industry. An excessively tactical company represents too much risk, because the related investments have to often last for decades. This isn’t a consumer market.
If there is an overarching message, it appears to be developing and leveraging intelligence. One proof point was talking about how EMC’s systems are designed to Abstract, Pool, and Automate the massive repositories that EMC retains in order to provide the intelligence the client needs to make critical decisions. This is backed up with the idea of software-defined data center, they appear to be specifically speaking against the stacks that HP defines and argues that you don’t want the complexity of stacks and that the individual components need to be horizontally integrated and points to VCE, its partnership with Cisco, VMware and Intel as the proof point.
Building on this differentiation he points to traditional database vendors like IBM and Oracle and argues that most vendors are focused on structured data, but then, given unstructured data is growing far more rapidly and that EMC has shifted resources to make sure they are ahead of this trend. This creates a differentiator for EMC and provides partners and customers in the audience with another reason to place EMC higher on the consideration list.
One of the interesting things that EMC is showcasing at the event is its new Pivotal initiative. Starting out with over 1,200 employees and being led by Paul Moritz, the guy who likely should have taken over Microsoft when Bill Gates retired (we’ll save that for another day), this wholly owned company is targeted specifically at the next-generation cloud. This is a very risky move because it is basically a startup at massive scale.
But by separating this group out of the company it allows the unit to disregard existing lines and products and develop specifically for the new opportunity. Another company going down a similar path is CSC, which bought a startup that was in its initial VC funding cycle to create its highly successful cloud unit. It is very hard for a firm to address a massively new and different market with existing resources because existing resources tend to have a great deal of time extracting themselves from existing issues to focus on the new opportunity.
Wrapping Up: Audience Connection
So what differentiates a great keynote from one that is just an opportunity to catch up on email, has a sense of humor, clear engagement with the audience, solid proof points, a clear taxonomy that has a strong (in this case externally validated) foundation, good presentation skills (including adequate rehearsal), and a sincere, demonstrable, caring for the audience? This last is one of the most unique things about Tucci and one of the most powerful.
One of the things that really makes Tucci different in any talk that he does is that he appears to really care about the folks in the audience. He spent the last few moments of his talk sincerely thanking the audience and expressing his interest to meet personally everyone in it. Given the massive size of the event, he won’t be able to do that, but he generally makes a credible effort to shake and talk to as many attendees as he can. This is a skill successful politicians often develop and the lack of this skill often separates those who win from those who do not.
While Tucci isn’t as polished as some in his talk, his sincerity bleeds though and that is what often separates the winners from the losers. You want to like Tucci because he seems, and I actually believe he does, to care about the partners, customers, analysts and employees listening to him. That is a powerful difference.