You might think that the trick to good speaking is speaking well. Being confident. Having interesting content. And all that.
Now that I've given a bunch of speeches (four in the past two days), I'm learning that the real skill a speaker needs is listening. Can you take a question during a talk and turn that into something useful? Can you do it from Amazon's CTO? It's hard.
What was interesting was how different all four audiences are. The Chamber of Commerce audience asked lots of questions that showed they were hungry for ANYTHING that could help them get their business more exposure. Guerrilla marketers. The government audience asked lots of questions about how to get approval to do a blog. They pointed out that there are lots of rules inside governmental organizations about how to, and when to, share information with the public. Made me realize why the government took a couple of days to really start to deal with Katrina.
The Amazon audience told us that they like to let their product do the talking and that then they'll listen to the feedback and participate in their forums. This matches the kind of stuff I heard at Target and Google.
Doc Searls, in 2004, noted that great brands won't get blogging. It's too bad, too, there are so many passionate people inside Amazon who are just waiting to share their passion about online shopping and books. I took pictures of them so I could remember them. To me the people who work at Amazon are Amazon (yes, I can still hear Jeff Bezo's laugh in my head — I remembered that he hung out with everyone else at O'Reilly's FooCamp all night long — that drive to find a better idea is why they have such a great company).
One thing I learned, though, at Amazon is the deep love of their customers. That resonated with me a lot. Appreciate the people who pay your paychecks and reward them with killer stuff and listen to them when they talk with you. I love that culture.
I guess that's why I'm different than a "consumer." I wanna know what's on the minds of the people creating products and services, and, I'd love to have conversations with them about their products and learn some stories so that I can better evangelize their work. Ben Hollis asked "what about Apple?" during our talk at Amazon today (and, I missed, that he asked the same thing on his blog earlier). Yeah, maybe Amazon, Google, Apple, and Target don't need that — this quarter.
But, long term? Most people I know like doing business with people and companies 1) that they know and 2) that they like 3) that listen to them when they ask for something better/different. I was reminded of this the other night when Shel and I were out to dinner. He got a piece of duck that simply was not worth the $28 he was paying for it. He complained, nicely, but the woman serving us didn't do anything and just said "I don't make the prices here." It isn't lost on me that he's not gonna go back there (and neither will I, to tell the truth cause it was damn tiny).
Aren't you more likely to be a happy customer when you're listened to? Maybe if the chef came out and explained why the price was so high and gave us a good story things would have been different "that duck is a very rare one hunted in an exclusive area in Canada and air-flown straight here so it's really fresh." Heheh. I'm reminded of that every time I look at Microsoft's Product Feedback Wiki. You do realize that Microsoft didn't create this, right? Our customers did. Allmost everything there is written by a customer. Why in heck would they do that if we weren't gonna listen? And, if we don't listen, do you think people will keep doing it?
Other things I learned? Everyone is proud of what they do. I met people from FEMA (Michael Howard, PIO is someone I wish I could go on disaster drills with — he told me that there's a 25% chance of a major earthquake sometime in the next 30 years here, so his team is working to try to get ready for that kind of disaster), from the Red Cross, from universities (hi Kathy Gill, nice tech blog by the way), from small businesses (if you ever need a DJ to host a wedding in Seattle, check out Susan McKee), to Ann Marshall, director of public relations for Cingular Wireless (I thanked her for my great phone). All authorities on their business, their communities, their competition, their marketplace.
I keep asking myself this week after my big blow up last week. "Are you listening?"
Update: Steve Rowe wrote, on his blog, about our session at Microsoft yesterday. I hear that the video will soon be made available publicly from that session.