Seattle is well known for lots of things. Besides the rainy climate, dead rock stars, environmental activists, micro-brews and mediocre sports teams, we’re home to more than our share of global brands — Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft and Boeing among others. Innovation and creativity thrive here. Perhaps fueled by all those lattes we drink. Not to mention the big minds and free spirits who choose to live here.
Less well known (except among book publishers and authors), Seattleites read more books per capita than people in almost any other city in the US. So it’s not surprising that established or aspiring authors visit Seattle to pitch their latest books. We enthusiastically support an ecosystem of independent booksellers, as well as one of the most active public library systems in the nation.
Last night Daniel Pink, prolific author, came to town to promote his latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I loved his prior book, A Whole New Mind, so I persuaded 3 friends to join me for Pink’s presentation. Little did I know that the experience would be more about promotion and less about substance.
Our reputation for rain, lattes, and liberal attitudes was clearly top-of-mind for Daniel Pink. He quickly shed his formal navy suit jacket when he realized he was the only guy in the auditorium wearing a suit. (It reminded me that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a guy in a suit and tie in Seattle.)
Sadly, Pink committed the classic sin of underestimating his audience by talking down to those well-read, if casually dressed Seattleites. He put more emphasis on entertainment value than content in the substance of his remarks — clearly his goal was to persuade us to buy his new book rather than educate us. So Pink’s attempted low-brow humor — frequent apologies for using big words like “fiduciary responsibility” or “cognitive work” — kind of missed the mark. I don’t know — maybe that goes over well in the Heartland, but not here.
During the drive home one of my friends, a retired restaurateur, complained that his 60-minute speech felt more like “an outline” than a solid presentation. Hmm, I said. So this morning I compared his 18-minute presentation in London at TED to his hour-long pitch in Seattle last night. And she was absolutely right: he delivered more substance in 18 minutes to those Londoners than he did to his book loving audience in Seattle.
During the Q&A session it became clear that the Seattle audience was full of educators, entrepreneurs, local government officials, business managers, execs, retirees, and out-of-work talent looking for jobs. So we probably understood his vocabulary and allusions.
Another social sin was Microsoft-bashing (a hometown sport, but not one people welcome when outsiders do it). I sat next to a friend who is a director-level exec at Microsoft, and she had just blogged favorably about Drive. Her wince when Pink knocked “Microsofties” was pained. [Disclosure: as a former Apple employee who has never worked at Microsoft, I enjoy the bashing but recognize that it can be provocative to a Seattle audience.]
So, my advice to presenters and book promoters: know your audience.