It has become a tradition of sorts that I get the opportunity to lead an hour-long session at Adobe Summit every year in the U.S. and London on “tips and tricks” to help users get value of the product I work on, Adobe Analytics. When we say “tips and tricks,” what we really mean is practical, hands-on advice specific to a product or toolset, as opposed to theoretical thought leadership content that makes up much of the rest of conferences (including Adobe Summit).
I’m certainly not the world’s most accomplished speaker, but I’ve been doing this for a few years now and—truly for reasons unrelated to my presentation skills—they’ve been really well received.
— Brandon J Fessler (@BrandonJFessler) March 10, 2015
Every year I seem to get questions from a few colleagues or presenters at other conferences asking me what my “keys to success” are. Seriously, it’s mostly serendipity, but here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned about doing “tips and tricks” sessions. (Some of this may be applicable to sessions where you’re not doing tips and tricks for a software product, or not. I don’t know.)
1. Make sure your tips and tricks are tips and tricks
The goal with a session of this type is to get practical recommendations into the hands of users of the product. Don’t wax too philosophical or spend a lot of time on industry/market trends. There is a time and place for those, but this isn’t it. If it can’t be demoed live or shown in screen shots of your product, it probably doesn’t fit in this session.
2. Create a cheat sheet that attendees can take away with them
You’re likely going to throw a lot of information at attendees; there aren’t 2-3 big ideas that you are leading the audience toward, there are probably 6-10 minimally related product tips, and it’s a lot for audiences to consume. A handout summarizing the tips/tricks you’re sharing makes it easier for them to remember everything, and giving attendees something to take away (even if 70% throw it in the garbage) shows that you really want them to take value away from the session. It allows them to focus on learning/watching without feeling the need to document everything as you’re talking.
3. Where possible, spend 80% of your time on things users can do today, and 20% teasing things that are coming soon
If you have to, it’s better to spend 100% of your time on things users can do today. Again, you want your session to be practical. But I have found that a couple of “coming soon” tips gets people excited about what’s coming soon and gives you an opportunity to boost usage of a couple of neat features that they might miss if they aren’t looking for them. NOTE: Make sure none of your sneak peaks are part of larger main-stage announcements, and make sure they are coming reasonably soon (i.e., within the next 2-3 months).
4. Make sure you know the intended audience for your tips and tricks
If your session is positioned for advanced users, make sure you are sharing advanced tips; if positioned for novice users, share basic tips. I like to be really clear about the intended audience in my session description so that the audience is not disappointed. For what it’s worth, I have never gotten survey feedback that the tips/tricks I shared were too advanced, but every year I get a few comments that they were too basic.
5. Walk people through the tips in detail
I normally give a short introduction to each tip, explaining why what I am about to share is interesting/valuable. Then I take the audience through the tip, step by step. (I use screen shots because Internet access at conferences is notoriously spotty and it avoids having to wait for pages to load, but if you’re up for it, you may want to do this in the product.) I probably go into more detail than I need to, but I want to emphasize how approachable each of the tips really are.
6. Have really solid use cases
Many attendees won’t automatically make connections between their business problems and the tips you’re sharing, so good use cases or stories are critical to making your tips relatable. They are the difference between “That was interesting!” and “Wow, that will solve the exact problem I’ve been having.” I try to keep them generic so that they are as easy to understand as possible, even though this means talking about (in my case) really basic metrics like Page Views and Revenue.
7. Even if your tips don’t have a common thread, try to come up with a good overarching theme.
You need something to frame the session in the audience members’ minds, even if the limbic device doesn’t have to do with the tips themselves. For example, two years ago my session was focused on tips related to recently released features, so my theme was “we’ve been busy,” and I used the image of bees in a beehive. Last year I talked about these tips being the difference between a “good” user of the product and a “hall-of-fame level” user of the product, and I made an analogy with Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs improving his jump shot a few years ago to go from “very good point guard” to “hall-of-fame point guard.” (So, in this analogy, the tips are like his shooting stroke.) If nothing else, a good theme will give you a way to introduce your session and warm up your audience.
I’m sure there is other advice I’m forgetting, but these are the big ones. Most of the other advice I would give applies to any presentation you might give at a conference: prepare early, rehearse often, and use humor. Tips and tricks sessions are great at vendor-specific conferences, and if you’ve been invited to give one, you should feel fortunate. They usually score highly with attendees, and they’re highly rewarding because you know you’re giving people something they can take back to their offices and use first-thing Monday morning. My last piece of advice, therefore, is to have a great time with the experience and enjoy knocking the socks off of your attendees with some amazing content!