Jul 25

Tell me a Story

From the earliest years of our lives we are entertained by stories, from the books that our parents read to us as children to the wonderful films created by the entertainment industry. They engage us, enthral us and often leave a lasting impression on us.

The best advice I can give you if you’re thinking about a talk or presentation is ‘Tell me a story’

There’s a basic structure to every good story. Whenever I’m preparing for a keynote, a meeting with a potential client or working with groups inside my company, I’m always thinking about this structure and how I’ll build the content for what I need to say and the feeling that I want to create around it.

‘Once upon a time’
Every good story has a clear beginning, we’re setting the scene, establishing the normal state of events. This is about making a connection with people and where they currently are.

‘The Villain’
Now it’s about disruption, the villain in this context doesn’t have to be a person, it’s a disruption to the life we know. It could just be change, something that’s happening or is going to happen that will change the peaceful existence that we know into something worse. In the case of the IT industry it could be a new regulation or something far more sinister such as Ransomware.

‘The Hero’
Our Knight in shining armour, new technology or a new approach to doing something. Again the hero isn’t necessarily a person, it’s something that allows us to deal with the villain, to slay the dragon.

‘Happily ever after’
All good stories end with the world being a better place than it was at the beginning, the villain is gone, the hero victorious and people can go back to living their lives in peace and comfort.

There are many other elements that can go into developing a powerful story, a story that people want to listen to, but I believe the ones above are essential.

From my experience in the Tech industry we often start the wrong way when we think about the content we’re developing, we think about the products that we want to talk about, then we go off and find slides that we like that describe these products in the best detail. Once we have our 50 or 60 slide uber deck we then start to whittle this down to our favourite slides, usually applying the one slide per minute rule. 30 minutes of content? that’ll be 30 slides then.
When you see these types of decks presented it’s like someone reading an instruction manual to you, full of good information but typically very dull to listen too.

Then once you do have your content often the next biggest mistake is that you don’t practice, how on earth can you think that you’ll get through 30 slides in 30 minutes if you haven’t actually tried?

At an event a few months ago the speaker before me had a 30 minute speaking slot and had prepared 114 slides! As someone in the audience I felt physically exhausted by the end of his talk, he managed 70 slides before he was pulled off stage. I remember almost nothing that he talked about, what a wasted opportunity

Here are my 5 recommendations, most learnt through trial and error;

  1. Start with the story. I have a slide template and word document with the four sections I described above, using this I start to build my story for each of the sections. There’s an added benefit to this approach, you can begin to move away from relying on slides altogether. If you’ve done the ‘Once upon a time’ section then you know the next step is the ‘Villain’, once you’ve done this it’s the ‘Hero’. Over time you can reduce the number of slides to the point that you can tell the whole story without them if you wanted to.
  2. Get your timing right. For a keynote you have a fixed window and you have to develop your talk to this. But if you’re presenting a solution then you should decide how long you need to present for, not have this dictated to you by someone who is trying to fit you into an agenda. If you truly believe you can cover your content in 20 minutes then don’t agree to a 45 minute slot on an agenda.
  3. Begin with a thank you, don’t finish with it, you’re not a comedian and it’s not a performance. Finish with what you want to happen next, what do you want people to do because they listened to you, this is the reason you spoke in the first place, don’t lose sight of this.
  4. Find a critic, someone you respect that will be honest with you and practice your talk in front of them. Do not pick someone that is likely just to placate you, choose someone that will be honest. I’ve made this mistake, I chose my critic poorly and went to an event feeling like I had a strong talk, it wasn’t pretty.
  5. Be prepared. In my years of speaking at events I’ve found that if I do these things then I’m usually well prepared and I enjoy giving my talk. I’m not thinking about what is on the next slide because I know exactly what’s coming. I can relax and drop in anecdotes or be more descriptive where I want to be. I can even get a sense for how the audience is responding and adjust if necessary.

The Mirror Effect

In acting circles they say that how you feel on stage is often reflected in your audience, if you’re stressed, they are probably stressed, if you’re uncomfortable then they are often uncomfortable as well. Practice and enjoy your talk, if you are relaxed and enjoying delivering it then there’s a very high chance that your audience is enjoying listening to it.

Jun 06

Data Visionaries Wanted!

I saw this slide the other day presented by one of our Chief Architects, he was discussing how the relative importance of Infrastructure, Applications and Data has changed over time and how this will continue to change into the future, it made me realise very clearly that as the bubbles grow and shrink so does the importance of the conversation.

Generational Shift in Data Value and Management Over Time

While the phases are not distinct, this process and trend are absolutely correct.

Infrastructure Phase

Back in the days of Infrastructure it was great to discuss Infrastructure and there were plenty of people willing to hear about your sprocket and how it was better than the next persons widget; ours is faster, larger, has more ports, more features.

As this phase declined, it took with it many companies that didn’t make the transition to the new conversation. Companies we assumed would  be around for a long time.

But I guess when you’ve had a solid business for years, accepting change and trying to get the people inside your organisation to change is difficult. Some companies made the transition and changed, but many didn’t.

Application Phase

The next phase was about applications and how they created better value for our organisations and did it significantly faster. Some of these applications we wanted to run ourselves, while others were much better being delivered to us as a service.  This allowed us to focus on how to run and manage our business and to find new revenue opportunities and for the stuff you keep? oh yea you’ll need something to run it on.

Data Phase
As we move forward, the discussion is increasingly about Data. What data do we have, what new data should we collect, where can we collect data from, how do we use data to create new value based upon it.

We still are in discussion about the applications that will enable us to do this, and our infrastructure conversation now includes the cloud. But as the conversation has shifted, our needs have shifted as well. We need solutions that are simpler. We need to find ways to run things with far fewer people. Because it all comes back to focusing our efforts toward creating new ways to deliver compelling services to our customers

So how does this play out?

Let’s take something simple such as navigation, I’m sure many of you reading this will remember having your road atlas in the car, one of the tools of the trade for the road warrior.

Then we saw the move toward digital navigation, These were websites that would plot the optimum route for us that we would print out and have lying on the floor of our cars for weeks.

As we saw the development of web and mobile Navigation and we saw the rise of companies providing little custom GPS units that we stuck to the windscreens of our cars. They were selling infrastructure and applications and look at what’s happened to their business models. Why would you buy a GPS when it’s now either built into your car, or you can simply install an app on your phone.

The companies that could provide the maps with the best and quickest updates had a jump on their competitors.

Step in the Data Visionaries. This movement has led to applications being delivered in entirely new ways, with data coming from not hundreds of sources but in realtime from hundreds of thousands of people using the application.

If you’re in a traffic jam, tell the app and everyone is now aware of it, Accident? tell the app. The number of applications required to support this model is huge and the quantity of data being provided in real time is staggering.

This truly is a significant move toward what it means to be digital. And in order for your company to make this move you have to simplify and modernise what you have. You also have to consider how far into the Cloud you want to go. The Cloud provides the means to get the resources you need to be able to progress.

And you have to consider how to build a Next Generation Data Centre that uses technology designed to support thousands of applications, and capable of collecting millions of data points. Which enables you to focus on the business outcomes you want to create from data.

It’s this future that has driven the evolution of NetApp

Data Visionaries are wanted and needed to support Digital Transformation and to enable the full potential of what companies need to become for the future.

Apr 11

Why the Future of Healthcare is Being Driven by Data

Healthcare organisations are facing unprecedented demand for high quality, affordable clinical services.This demand is driven by the ageing population, rapid advances in medical technology and pharmacology, and a better informed and litigious population. Organisations globally are under immense cost pressure as consumers demand demonstrable value for their money. Fortunately, NetApp offers a number of solutions with the sole goal of delivering improvements in the delivery of patient care.

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Apr 07

Tech ONTAP Podcast Episode 81 – NetApp Service Level Manager

This week on the podcast, we invited the NetApp Service Level Manager team to talk to us about how they’re revolutionizing storage as a service and automating day to day storage administration tasks. Join Executive Architect Evan Miller, Product Manager Nagananda.Anur and Technical Director Ameet.Deulgaonkar as they detail the benefits of NetApp Service Level Manager!

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Apr 05

Fact or Fiction: OpenStack is for Dev/Test Only?

I’ve been hearing a common misperception in the market that OpenStack is only being used in development & test deployments. From the projects we are involved in today, we can see that this is not the case. The move to production deployments has, in fact, accelerated.

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Apr 03

Top 3 reasons for virtualizing your workstations

Cisco, NetApp and Nvidia introduced a solution for the next virtualisation wave: the workstation virtualisation. The solution is based on the Converged Infrastructure from Cisco and NetApp’s FlexPod, enhanced with the virtual GPU (GPU GRID) technology from Nvidia

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