We’ve all been through it: The meeting agenda promises that we’ll learn about a cool new technology that will change the way we work and live. The meeting begins. Within 5 minutes, you feel that familiar wave of realization; today, your mind will not be blown. You will not feel or see the technology. You will not even see its impact on somebody in front of you, or on a screen. Instead, you will sit there, listening to the speaker speak, in detail, telling you about the technology—how your mind would be blown if you could use it, or see it. Worse still, there are probably lots of slides. The slides prove (probably with plenty of numbers) how profoundly your mind would have been blown. You are left as unconvinced as you were the day before, perhaps even more so.
No more excuses
I understand the excuses. The numbers on the charts prove the power of the technology. The speaker’s credibility is reinforced by their explanations of how the technology works. It’s hard and expensive to let an audience experiment or play with a new tech tool. But I’m beginning to lose patience. If the tool is as cool as we profess, surely words won’t do it justice. If I can’t use it, I at least want to see what it does.
Imagine if things were different. I often do. And I believe that three simple principles can make the difference when convincing an audience about a new technology:
Empathize with your audience—when designing your presentation, speech or workshop, put yourself in the shoes of the audience. What would really convince them that the technology will actually change the way they live or work? After all, isn’t that what you’re promising?
Focus on the experience—let the audience feel, use or at least see the tool in action. In some cases, it’s impossible for the audience to actually use it. But unless they see it in action, it’s unlikely that anything you say will stick in their memory. That’s certainly true for me as a listener, so I assume it’s true for many others. If you can’t use the technology live, try to show a video. There’s always a way.
Beware of over-selling—it’s understandable that you want to explain why the technology is mind-blowing, but there’s nothing more dangerous to credibility than hype. If your pitch is to be trusted, then you need to be honest about opportunity and risk, strengths and shortcomings. That doesn’t mean that you can’t wow the audience with the prospects ahead, but it demands an articulation of how to realistically attain those prospects.
Seeing is believing
We’ve been testing these lessons over the past year, at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance summits in 2018 and 2019. Being young and entrepreneurial usually means that opportunities are eagerly sought out, but skeptically dissected for feasibility. They want to be inspired about the future, but they need pragmatic outcomes. They can quickly see through a weak pitch. A tough crowd… and there are hundreds of them.
2018: At last year’s event in Buenos Aires, Argentina, our session was about the impact of intelligent technologies on workers, skill demand and the future of learning. Rather than lecturing the audience about the importance of experiential and immersive learning approaches, we decided to show them why and how immersive learning works. Working with the FORM team, we developed a 90-minute interactive session with the entrepreneurs, including activities in groups, and a range of supporting tools, from booklets and stickers to real-time interactive engagement through their mobile phones. We even measured their engagement with neurotech sensors and showed them the results, live. Immersive learning in action. All this was supplemented with powerful data and stories from our research that measured the massive, world-shaking opportunities of AI—but also reinforced the pragmatic actions essential to guard against its serious unintended consequences. We even modeled the risk, emphasizing that we do not look at AI through rose-tinted glasses. Job done.
2019: This year’s summit was in Fukuoka, Japan, and took place last week. Our topic: Extended Reality (XR), including Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Haptics and other immersive tools. We clearly couldn’t allow all 500 entrepreneurs to use these tools. We chose to bring the future to life through magic, literally. Our presentation included Marco Tempest. Marco is Lead Consultant on XR at Accenture, as well being a practitioner of cyber illusions...and also working for NASA. We designed performances and a narrative that gave the audience a glimpse of what these technologies will enable in the future. Magic is a step ahead of that future.
We also used illusion as a tool to highlight the power of these technologies to deceive and trick. This opened the door to a serious exploration of the risks inherent to these tools; from fake experiences and cybersecurity to damaging individual mental and societal wellbeing. The entrepreneurs made it very clear that they appreciated our honest and responsible approach to talking about these technologies, and that our exploration of the risks actually allowed them to treat the opportunities more seriously.
I have purposefully chosen these extreme examples to drive home my point—I don’t expect every meeting to include a magician or neuroscience. But I do expect that if the session is meant to introduce a new concept, technology or tool, that we somehow see its impact. And that we see it first, before listening to an explanation of why it’s great. That explanation will make a lot more sense after we’ve seen what it does. When considering our cyber-illusion pieces, we had three or four back-up options, from streaming demonstrations from our Tech Labs to pre-recording demos. Even a simple video with our live narration would do. Anything but a lecture.
We’re entering an era of mind-blowing technologies that really are changing the way we live and work. So please, let’s give the tools and our audiences the credit they deserve.