How to Give a Great Product Talk

BY Gibson Biddle ON JANUARY 7, 2019

That’s me, giving my “Customer Obsession” talk at ProductTank in SF.

Have you ever watched a speaker and said to yourself, “I could do that!”? Are you interested in building your network to accelerate recruiting or to discover new opportunities? Or, like me, do you love new creative outlets and teaching?

If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, then I hope you enjoy this post. It articulates a step-by-step approach to building a presentation: 1) Share your story; 2) Outline your talk; 3) Deliver your MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

For product people, building presentations can be a lot of fun. Like product development, creating a talk is a highly iterative process that depends on feedback loops and metrics. And like entrepreneurship, it begins with the search for a problem you can help to solve.

1. Share Your Story

Your creative journey begins by identifying a story you’d like to share. Think about the challenges you faced in your career. Identify ideas that excite you, that bug you, or where you think everyone else is wrong. Your passion for an idea establishes your credibility.

You can explore ideas via tweets, Medium articles, LinkedIn posts, and the like to see what resonates. Search for a story where you can offer insight through inside knowledge, special skills, or a unique perspective. Look for conflict or surprising outcomes – that’s what makes stories interesting.

Here are some sources for talk ideas:

  • Key challenges or conflicts in your career, your product, or your company’s life.
  • Controversial ideas you believe in.
  • Ongoing debates between you and other product leaders.
  • Frequently repeated questions from product leaders.
  • Ideas or stories you repeat to others.
  • Timely product issues, especially if you have inside knowledge. Privacy and product ethics are good examples today.
  • A tweet or post that gets lots of attention.

Don’t over-think. Your first presentation is analogous to an MVP for a product — it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can test-drive the idea with small audiences then iterate after your MVP talk is complete.

2. Outline Your Talk

Beyond content and delivery, the keys to building a great product talk are:

  • Engagement tactics
  • Stories
  • Tools/frameworks/models, and
  • Presentation structure.

Below, I outline these tactics then provide a template for your first talk.

Engagement Tactics

Engagement drives high-quality talks. Think back to your worst professor and how dull his or her lectures were, with little interaction or storytelling. Now, do the opposite.

Here are tactics that work for me:

  • “I want you to think of a time when you…..”
  • “Imagine you’re…”
  • “Do you think demographics help predict movie taste? Why? Why not?”
  • “Think of a time when you disagreed with your boss…”
  • “How many of you think product roadmaps are helpful? Not?”

For me, the most effective engagement tactic for product talks is case studies – “what would you do?” scenarios based on real-life situations. It’s best if the outcome is unknown, and the case inspires debate. Your job is to tease out the “why” behind the audience’s views and facilitate a vibrant discussion. The very best case studies have unexpected outcomes – surprise leads to learning.

You can create a case study for anything. For instance, “a patent troll sues you – do you fight or settle?” Set up the debate with simple slides that guide the conversation and let the audience provide the content. In the end, reveal the answer and outline key learnings.

Tell Stories

Stories are the simplest way to make your ideas stick. They connect you with the audience – the audience wonders what they would do if they were in your shoes. Stories can range in length from 30s to three minutes. Here’s an example:

  • “During my first month as VP of Product at Creative Wonders I learned we were being acquired and it was my job to tell the team we were moving our office to the new corporate HQ, 30 minutes away. Here’s what I said…”

Great stories provoke an emotional response that makes them memorable. As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Storytelling makes your ideas stick by letting the audience ride your emotional roller-coaster of challenge, learning, and eventual success.

Tools, Frameworks, and Models

A pet peeve of mine is that most speakers don’t incorporate enough product examples into their presentations. Presenters worry about revealing secrets, but also recognize that spending too much time on their product may not be helpful to others.

The key is to share your product, abstract learnings from your experience, then give enough direction that the audience can apply your learnings to their product, company, or job. Start with details about your product then abstract your thinking into models. Last, help the audience to apply these models to their work.

One of my favorite models is the “GLEe model” which helps to craft a product vision. Here’s how I present the model, using Netflix as an example:

Netflix Product Vision

  • Get Big on DVDs (Initial focus to build product/market fit)
  • Lead Streaming (The next wave of innovation to set up later expansion)
  • Expand Globally (Market expansion once Netflix no longer had to build DVD-by-mail distribution hubs)

In sharing this model, I demonstrate how “GLEe” helps companies think long-term via a phased approach. The audience naturally begins to apply the model to their own product.

Presentation Structure

A straightforward structure is to divide your presentation into three chapters. A well-developed structure forces discipline and makes your presentation easy to follow.

But there’s a more compelling format for product talks: 1) Problem, 2) Solution, 3) Outcome. This structure enables effective storytelling, builds interest, and makes you relatable to the audience.

Here’s the high-level view:

1) The problem. Describe a problem or challenge you faced. Make sure it’s a big problem that’s relevant to many product leaders.

2) The solution. For product talks, this means describing tools, models, or frameworks the audience can apply to their product, job, or career.

3) The outcome. Demonstrate what happens when you use these tools and how product leaders’ lives will improve if they do the same.

Create Your Outline

Here’s a rough template to get you started:

  • What’s your point? What will you share with the audience that will improve their lives? What change will you inspire?
  • How will you start strong? Do you have a story that will instantly engage your audience to ensure a fast-paced start? (Pace helps demonstrate passion, which builds credibility.)
  • The problem. How can you illustrate the problem through your job, product, or career?
  • The solution. What tools, models, or frameworks will you share to help solve the problem? Bring these models to life through stories, product screenshots, data, and examples.
  • The outcome. Given your solution, how did your life get better? What change will you inspire, and how do you expect the audience’s product, company, or careers to get better as a result?
  • A strong close. Tell a story that motivates change. Great talks require a strong start and finish. The opening sets the pace; the close is what people remember.

Then I begin to add more detail to the outline:

  • Within each of the three main sections, what are the three sub-points? In presentations, everything works in threes — it’s easier for you and your audience to remember three things.
  • What stories or examples illustrate your points? Where do they fit into your outline?

It’s a good discipline to create a complete outline, with exact text for each slide, but I begin to build the slides early, iterating back and forth between outline and slides. This helps me to see how visuals might support the story.

3. Deliver Your MVP

Your goal is to build a rough version of your presentation as quickly as possible, then find a friendly audience to get fast feedback. When I first started, I asked product leaders at various companies if I could present to their teams – and I wasn’t very good. But I iterated quickly, giving between five and 10 talks a month, and worked my way from small, friendly audiences to large product organizations, local meetups, large conferences, and eventually to paid gigs.

Product leaders understand the importance of feedback loops and iteration. One tool that has accelerated my learning: I got Net Promoter Score survey feedback every time I presented. Each survey result gave me a sense of the talk’s quality plus insight into how to improve. Siqi Chen, a product leader at Sandbox VR, commented: “Gib, we just want to know how you made the hard decisions.” This comment inspired one of my favorite talks, “Netflix: Wicked Hard Decisions.”

Qualitative insight is also important. The key is to find an initial “friendly” audience to practice your talk to. When you finish ask for feedback, then quiz key audience members to learn more. Ignore the “that was great!” platitudes from friends and ask “what was good? What could be better?” I read my NPS results, experiment with new approaches and keep iterating until I’ve got an NPS above 30 (50 is considered excellent, 70 world-class). Then I feel I’m ready for large audiences.

Eventually, you’ll progress to big conferences. The key is to give one or two talks and to iterate each time, based on feedback and conversations with the audience. Once you get good, you’ll develop momentum. Talks are highly viral, so the more talks you give, the more invitations you’ll receive.

Conclusion: Just Keep Getting Better

Building a product talk is like developing a product. Start with a problem, identify how to solve it, then share tools and models so others can solve the problem, too. To get there, start with an MVP for a friendly audience, then iterate quickly using NPS survey data.

The good news: it’s faster and easier to create a product talk than to build a product. And once you present to large audiences, you have an opportunity to inspire change and to help many product leaders “dent the universe” through the products they build.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and I look forward to seeing your new talk some day!

______________________________________________________________________

You can watch Gib’s “Customer Obsession” talk at ProductTank SF here, and his “Wicked Hard Decisions” talk at ProductTank NYC here.

13 Shares
Gibson Biddle

About

Gibson Biddle

In 2005, Gibson Biddle joined Netflix as VP of Product. In 2010, he became Chief Product Officer of Chegg, a textbook rental company that went public in 2013. Today he speaks, leads product management workshops, and teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford. He’s also an adviser for multiple consumer tech companies. Gib lives in San Francisco and tries to ski his age in days each winter!