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When we tech journalists hear the word keynote, we pretty much know what to expect. Flashing lights, big production values, Tolstoy-esque lengths, questionable song and dance routines, oodles of promises and a speaker that probably gets a little too much pleasure in hearing himself speak.
In a short 20 minute presentation, Musk talked about the world’s increasing reliance on fossil fuels, discussed its negative impact on the environment, introduced his solution (the Powerwall) and even went as far as to tell us its price and colours it came in.
Your traditional tech keynote on the other hand, would take 20 mins just to show the first slickly produced trailer.
The potential of what was revealed could change the world, yet Musk delivered it with a certain disarming charm, stuttering now and then. This, as opposed to speakers who go on stage and sound like they are having a crisis because their new phone is now a hair thinner than the last flagship.
I would go so far as to say that c-suite’s should really take a long hard look at Musk’s presentation and learn from the South African-born billionaire.
Here are 5 methods Musk employed that I feel would be useful for pitching entrepreneurs and any speakers because these days, some tech announcements feel like the second coming of Christ.
1. Humble Confidence
During the entire presentation, there was a sense that Musk was just a dude talking to other dudes. There was no discernible sense of superiority, no “I told you so”moments or any sort of patronising. You knew Musk knew what he was talking about and from start to finish, it felt as if Musk was there to talk about how a solar panel and battery combo could finally free the world from the evil clutches of fossil fuels. The Powerwall product announcement almost felt like an afterthought. He even engaged in some banter with people in the audience, reacting to what they were saying and answering in kind.
2. Knowing when to get technical
Musk’s audience was mainly filled with journalists and industry insiders. He knew this and tailored his presentation brilliantly to take advantage of this fact. After all, while understanding the tech is important, some things are beyond us journalists and instead of trying to force a highly complex piece of tech down our throats, Musk cleverly focused on what the Powerwall was meant to do. I am certain that if Musk was presenting to engineers and scientists then he would go into much greater detail on the actual innards of the tech.
3. Discussed a real problem
Even though the presentation was on introducing Tesla’s new energy technology, the actual product, the $3500 Powerwall almost felt like an afterthought. It seemed that the main reason for the keynote presentation was for Musk to discuss what he felt was one of the most pressing issues of our time: An over-reliance on fossil fuels. “What if we could transition the whole world off fossil fuels,” he said, willing people to see the possibilities. “At the rate humans are going, we are headed for a level of carbon dioxide pollution greater than anything even in the fossil records.” This is the very definition of a real problem and one that Musk believes is very much within our power to deal with. By bringing all this to the attention of his audience, he was able reach them on a very human level because hey, solidarity is awesome. And because he was able to strum the heartstrings of the audience, Musk was able to sell the product.
4. Long term goals
“We have designed the Powerwall to be infinitely scalable,” said Musk. A lot of time, speakers go up on stage and talk about a great product but there is often no mention of what the long term goals for it are. Is this a one off product? Is there potential for this technology in other sectors? What do I need to do when the product hits critical mass? All these and more are questions that speakers should ask because I assure you, journalists are asking it in their heads. By telling us that the Powerwall is infinitely scalable and was designed to be such, Musk also revealed that the Powerwall technology is something that he sees integrated on multiple levels. If a speaker is able to properly communicate this, then the product goes from being just a piece of tech to an important step in a grander plan, in Musk’s case, that plan is a world that doesn’t use fossil fuels.
5. Keep it short and sweet
17 mins and 57 seconds.
That’s how long Musk took for his entire presentation. In the short amount of time, Musk delivered probably the best keynote I have ever seen from a CEO. It was short, to the point, did not meander into fluff and had little pomp and circumstance. It had all the things that make good keynotes good and at the same time, was short on the things that make them annoying, overly long trailers, unnecessary ‘wow’ moments and rambling jargon. If there is one major take back for this point, it should be this: We all have lives, we all have things to do and places to be. There is nothing worse than a speech that goes on longer than it should because for every moment it continues unnecessarily, you are doing damage to the message you gave earlier.
This article by Rahil Bhagat originally appeared on e27, a Burn Media publishing partner.