Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Corporate Rock Star

I have to admit. When I’m on stage, wearing my AC/DC shirt, wielding my instrument, lights shining, connecting with the audience, and sharing my passion with what I’ve created, there’s really no place I’d rather be.

When I’m flown in for a 1.5 hour show in front of an audience filled with initial skeptics, those unfamiliar with my work, and executives that can make or break my career, and my performance is at its peak, there’s really no place I’d rather be.

The weird part? I’m not rockin’ on the guitar to songs I wrote with a great band. I’m demoing a product that I am lead user interface designer for. I’m playing the product like an instrument and showing why it’s great to a large group of sales, business partners, and executives who are skeptical or unaware of its value.

The really weird part? I love it.

This one was a wild ride. Started a month ago when I was asked to demo all of IBM Systems Director to our lead sales / business partners. The goal: Prove the product is easy to install, configure and use. systems-director_200p

The challenge: All live. No movies, no slides…all live.

I’ve done dozens, probably hundreds of demos before, but the pressure for this one from the execs was higher than ever. They wanted to point to this moment to say, ‘Here’s why customers should invest in this product, and in IBM servers and software’.

For 2 weeks before, I prepared by running through the install and configuration of the product several times. With the incredible help from my colleague Tim, I loaded and customized two great systems with our product installed. I had run through the whole demo several times, created an outline script, recorded a backup movie, and even polished my analogy (a cooking show…and how the “Chef’s table” is the best because the meal is customized for you…just like how IBM Systems Director is best when customized for a specific user).

I really felt ready.

Note: Always back up in triplicate, because you never know which of the hundred dependent technologies will crap out and leave you in a panic:

  1. Setup a live primary demo system
  2. Setup a live backup demo system
  3. Record movies
  4. Capture pictures on slides
  5. Put all movies and slides on USB memory key

Why all the redundancy? Lets count the ways:

  1. Airport destroys your laptop
  2. Windows destroys your laptop (with 30 seconds to go…it’s happened)
  3. Laptop is just crap and it’ll decide to revert back to its basic carbon elements
  4. Conference center lies and doesn’t really have a ‘state-of-the-art’ network, they have a ‘Hey, we’re in the 90’s and think this InterWeb might catch on’
  5. Cables won’t work (Ethernet, power, video)
  6. Wireless network won’t work
  7. Server at home decides to die
  8. VPN, IBM intranet decides to complain
  9. Network works, but is so slow it’s unusable to prove the ‘snapiness’ of the product

Day of the demo the wireless network is slow. That’s OK I think, I tested the wire at the podium and it worked great. As I walked up 20 minutes before to set up? No wire. No problem. Get reserve wire. Plug it into the podium? ‘No connection’.


Have to use the slower wireless. Thanks to another colleagues suggestion, Craig, I ‘Remote Desktop’ into my primary system back in Rochester, and use the web browser on it. Result? I’m only dependent on the wireless network to render remote desktop, not all the data to the web browser. Brilliant idea!!!

All Ready. I start…the install portion of the demo.

Only takes 5 minutes to show how I downloaded, find the install script to type, and I enter all parameters (which is nice because it does the install and auto connects to Internet to download any updates). I say “That’s it. Lets go to lunch and when we get back, it’ll be done”. They love it.

As they leave for lunch, I validate: NO!!!! I miss-typed the password!!!  I didn’t practice or plan on a nervous tick in my hand! Luckily, I could stop, restart the whole process and and still get to lunch.

When back, with my laptop up front, I had to wait for my ‘opening act’ to finish before my main demo…a full hour of waiting…at this point I had no way to validate if the install/update worked. (HATE not being in control. It only compares to not knowing if my guitar is in tune just before a big song).

I walk up. Looked. Everything is perfect. The remote environment is performing really well. Systems are ready. AC/DC shirt on (really, just under my ‘business casual’ attire). Mentos consumed.

I’m ready to ROCK.

For the next 1.5 hours I dance through our product, showing value, showing how easy it is, making jokes, and make them laugh. They ask hard questions, ‘can it do this, that’? I show how it can be done. By the end, they’re giddy. Their skeptical minds have changed and they’re hooked.

The encore: When asked by the VP ‘OK. Now who plans on selling this?” EVERYONE raises their hands.

For the rest of the night, RSG (Rock Star Greg), hears accolades and answers deeper technical questions. “You’re the talk of the town” says one VP. “Loved how you demoed that”, says another. “You made ME understand the value!”, says a key business partner. “Yes, I agree completely”, says a key marketing executive.

After a celebration beer, I sleep soundly.


Now I’m traveling home, riding the wave…and thinking:

  • I love being in the spotlight (Vain? don’t know. Just using God’s gift? that sounds vain)
  • I am floating it’s so satisfying
  • My history gigging and singing definitely HELPS corporate spotlight performance
  • I depend on a lot of people and I need to make SURE I give them proper credit (I did send Tim, his manager and his 2nd line a glowing email of thanks and appreciation)
  • The pressure is growing. At some point my demo will fail (just like bands on tour have bad nights)
  • The stress was lots bigger than before…but the stakes were higher
  • If I didn’t do well? Lose my job? No. Lose credibility? Yes. Lose the reputation? Yes. A passionate evangelist isn’t worth much if their reputation is poor.
  • There’s a direct correlation to the success of my last demo and my reputation. Just like in the music business.

Last thought: Lots of people at home were praying for me. Wife and Littlest prayed during the actual time. I wonder, does Jesus give a rip? It didn’t further his Kingdom. Not unless Heaven runs on IBM Servers and IBM Systems Director, or unless HP is the devil (and while a competitor, the company is not evil).

But, with such great success in such great odds of failure due to network and other environmentals out of my control, I wonder if it did help? If it did, I need to not let it go to my head because while I did prepare and practice, It wasn’t all me. I also need to give my worries to Him.

Corporate Rock Star? Maybe. Grateful for getting to do something I love for a living? Yes. Fascinated that Jesus might actually care about my normal, non-church, work life? Definitely.

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