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What could be more boring than talking about features?


Last week I visited a conference. It wasn't planned and on short notice, so I didn't know what to expect. The conference has been sponsored by a large and successful product company. One of the sessions was dedicated to their new product release. I was curious as this is something PMs do - pitch new releases.

In a vast conference hall in the middle of London, with close to a thousand people in the audience, a company head of product stepped onto the stage to announce latest product changes. He started brightly. Energy and enthusiasm were evident. He looked like he was enjoying his work and the product he created.

As soon as he started talking about the new features, I lost him. Completely lost track of what he wanted to say. I looked around and found multiple evidence I wasn't alone. Most people played with their phones, barely watching the stage. I felt sorry for everyone involved. A lot of people put some hard working hours in producing this new version of the software. The room was full of people who either used this software or had a problem that this software solves. And yet little to no interest.

Why has the presentation failed?

I blame the delivery. The talk about features. Talking about features is boring!
Talking features is an "inside-out" approach. It's "look how smart we are, look what we did". Who cares about that except you?

What could work better?

A problem-oriented story. "Outside-in" approach. "Let's see how we can empower you so you can do what you want".
An example of this approach is the latest Salesforce conference "Dreamforce". Huge, diverse crowd. Massive, complex product. High-pressure environment to pitch. And yet Salesforce managed to talk new stuff without ever mentioning features. Instead, they spoke customer stories. Real stories about their customers trying to progress their business and how Salesforce helps them to do so.

Absolutely critical difference. Because not being a toy manufacturer trying to marry physical and online experiences, I still find their case inspirational. People like me, trying to solve a real problem for their business. It's relatable. It's a story people like to hear until the end.

After we heard an interesting story, there are much better chances we remember it compared to a list of "amazing" new features.

How does features-oriented presentation end?

A guy on stage moves to a live product demo.
Hint: never do a live product demo unless you're 100% sure it's going to work flawlessly.
Hint 2: you can never be 100% sure. Ever. 

After five minutes of fixing the demo and then other minutes to fix it again, we finally see the new stuff. Every feature is presented in isolation. There are so many features you immediately forgetting what the previous did. The crowd can't possibly envision how those new functionalities would help them in their work. The crowd leaving the audience with consistently increasing pace.

Closing the door on my way out, I keep on repeating the famous words by Kathy Sierra: "It's about users and their context, not about your product".

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