Many of you out there in the IT world have been invited to, and have attended a vendor-sponsored ‘lunch and learn’. These typically take place at a high end steakhouse, such as Ruth Chris, Abe & Louie’s, Capital Grille, or such other fine dining venue. While it is an opportunity to learn something new in the IT world while having a nice steak luncheon, the price you pay is sitting through an hour or two of boring, sanitized powerpoint presentations on the topic or product of the day. In the past I have been in the audience sitting through these, and now working with a VAR I have had to stand up and present those awful slides to a captive audience. Regardless of how interesting the subject, Virtualization, iSCSI storage, Performance Tuning, DR… it is still a powerpoint presentation force-feeding info to the audience. I can honestly tell you that it is as painful for me standing up there presenting as it is for all of you in the audience.
Recently, we decided to make a change in the format. Instead of the regular PPT slides, we left the projector and screen back at the office and just brought along a few whiteboards. No cookie cutter slides, no canned presentation, just an engineer standing up front with a few dry-erase markers. Our topic of the day was Virtual Desktops, and without a formal slide deck to run through, it left the format wide open. Standing in front of the audience, I just started to talk… and talk, drawing on my whiteboards, scribbling words, boxes, and lines running back and forth between them. After about 10 minutes of me talking and drawing, I had to erase on of the whiteboards. While my back was turned, someone asked a question. Nothing earth-shattering, just a simple question to clarify a point. As I turned around and looked out, I saw that EVERYONE in the audience was sitting forward in their chair. People were taking notes and trying to replicate my chicken scratch on paper. And it was quiet. Nobody was checking the phones for email or texts, talking to neighbors, or nodding off in the dark. They were engaged and interested in what was going on.
Well, the question was answered, and soon followed by another… and another. This ‘steak and storage’ event morphed from a presentation into a conversation. As we moved along from one topic to another, people even stopped raising their hands, and simply started firing off questions as if we were doing this in their office instead of a dining room. Questions were asked and answered, I went off on tangents based on questions, and we all went down the rabbit hole a few times. I think that a few guys asked questions simply to ‘stump the chump’, and see if I really knew what I was talking about. Apparently I did, as nobody got up and left. It became very personal and direct. It became fun. Finally, we had a event format that was not only entertaining and educational, but engaged both the audience and presenter.
When we finally finished up the event, it was another 40 minutes before we could pack up and leave, as I was swamped with follow-up conversations. People that would normally be bolting for the door at the finish stayed late to come up and introduce themselves, ask a question that related directly to their environment, or simply to say thanks for the great lunch and presentation.
If I have my way, I would not give another PPT, especially in this sort of format. Give me a dry-erase marker and stand back… it could get messy!