Trying to figure out what to submit for 2015 conference abstracts? Over and over, I see people describing their session in terms of how awesome it’ll be, or what a great time the attendee will have, or how the presenter is really excited about the topic.
Nobody cares. Seriously. Put the exclamation points down.
tl;dr – here’s the winning formula:
- Identify the pain that’s driving an attendee crazy.
- Build the simplest, fastest, cheapest relief for that pain.
- Describe the pain and the relief in as few words as possible.
It’s that simple. But this is one of my favorite subjects, so I’ll keep typing and some of you will keep reading.
1. Identify the pain that’s driving an attendee crazy.
This comes from solution selling, a marketing concept that tells you to ignore the product and focus on the customer first. As a consultant, I only make money if people are in so much pain that they’re willing to hand me their money to make the pain go away. I have to ask what pains they’re feeling, listen carefully, and figure out if the pain is bad enough that they’re willing to spend their time and/or money with me.
Everybody’s always in pain – but the pains usually aren’t that big of a deal:
- “I wish I knew more about ___.”
- “I’d like to hear about what’s coming in ___ next year.”
- “I’d like to improve my server’s ___.”
But if you drill down for more details on these kinds of pains, they’re usually rooted in the person’s own curiosity or private desires. Whoever pays this person’s check isn’t kicking their door down, demanding that this pain get fixed. The Mom Test is my favorite book on the subject, and it’s worth every penny just for chapter 1 alone. Read that, close it, and come back here.
You’re looking for someone who’s screaming, “If I don’t get ___ solved by tomorrow, my boss is going to fire me and our company is going down in flames.” Now THAT is a pain point, and if you can build a session to help them solve that pain, you’re going to be appreciated and adored by your attendees.
2. Build the simplest, fastest, cheapest relief for that pain.
Pop quiz: arrange these in the order that your attendee would prefer for pain relief:
- A blog post or script that they can digest in 5 minutes
- A 15-minute YouTube video
- A one-hour conference session
- A one-day training class
- A one-week training class
- A one-month onsite consulting gig
Take index fragmentation as a pain, for example. If someone wants to make their index rebuild jobs go faster, are they going to pay you tens of thousands of dollars to do it, or are they going to download free maintenance scripts off the web?
And even if you could convince a client to pay you mucho moolah to fix fragmentation, how do you think the client’s going to react when another consultant waltzes in and solves it for free?
As crazy as this sounds, this is why I wrote sp_AskBrent®. I don’t want a client paying me money to find out why a SQL Server is unusually slow right now. Just go run the script and find out if there’s something obvious like a backup running or a data file growing. I’d much rather solve that for free, because if I can’t solve it for free, somebody else can just by writing their own script. Then, I want them to remember me when they have a truly nasty pain that can’t be solved quickly – because that’s where value lives.
Many presentations shouldn’t be presentations at all.
If the pain you’re trying to solve could be just as easily solved with a great 15-minute YouTube video or a blog post, do that. You’ll help way more people because most folks can’t be at the conference.
This is especially true of one-day pre-conference classes where an attendee has to make tough choices between several available sessions. Should she choose the one that basically reads a bunch of blog posts out loud, talking about low-level pains that are rooted in curiosity? Or should she choose the one that will give her the skills to make her users stop screaming in pain?
3. Describe the pain and the relief in as few words as possible.
This is hard as hell. Here’s my current favorite example:
“Performance Tuning When You Can’t Fix the Queries”
The perfect attendee has a slow SQL Server – maybe an ISV app or developers who won’t cooperate – and needs to make it go faster. Her manager looks at the cost of the pre-con, compares it to licensing/hardware/time, hears the users screaming in pain, and the response is clear.
They probably don’t even read the abstract.
That’s your goal. Stop talking about yourself and your favorite concept – think about the attendee’s pains.