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Lessons Learned

January 15, 2008 - 4 Comments

How do you really know if an event was successful? I mean, really, really know?In true analyst fashion, I guess the answer to that is: It depends on the event.Take one of the three most important events in my life: my wedding. Original staging date: November 7, 1987. Successful? Well, we just passed the 20-year mark, we have two beautiful daughters (the other two events), and I’ve never been happier. I can’t speak for my wife, but she comes home every night, so I’m taking that as a positive sign. I know, I know. That one was pretty easy (not to mention a bit self-serving!). Let’s look at a more relevant event -C-Scape 2007. Original staging dates: December 11-12, 2007.Was it successful? Worthwhile? Did we -and more importantly, you -get what you needed out of it?Impossible to answer any of these questions definitively because the old adage -to each his own -applies. And the evaluation forms from the event prove that even further when you consider the wide range of comments they contained. Some attendees thought this was the best analyst conference Cisco had put on to date; others indicated it was the worst. Not a big surprise. I’m willing to bet every event ever staged, regardless of topic or industry, has resulted in a similar spread of opinion. One thing was certain: our conference scores were slightly lower than what we’ve typically seen for this event over the last couple of years. A valid data point and an indication that we can certainly do a better job. To me, however, that does not mean the event was a failure. On the contrary, we were actually very pleased with the conference overall because we believe we met our objectives, including our primary one of engaging the influencer community in a candid, two-way dialog. Furthermore, we were not surprised by some lower scores because -like the company itself -the event is in transition, and in times of change or disruption, there will likely be a dip in scores due to unfamiliarity or uncertainty.That said, we did take away a number of lessons learned thanks to the straightforward feedback we received from attendees. Some of the big one (in no particular order):1. Some PowerPoint is actually OK. A couple of years ago, we got a clear message that we were clearly ensconced in the”death by PowerPoint” zone. We then made a big effort to reduce slideware to drive more dialog. Given your feedback, it looks like we may have overcorrected. Sometimes a couple of slides can actually help structure the dialog and keep a session -as well as the attendees -focused on the salient points.2. Ease up on the panels, big fella. Our philosophy in Analyst Relations over the last 12 months in particular has been: Discussion, Debate & Dialog. In making that a reality, we may have gone a bit overboard with the number of panels this year. All right. All right. We DEFINITELY went overboard. 3. Get to the meat faster. A big challenge at these events is to balance the corporate-level, main tent information with the product-specific drill-downs of the breakouts. Reducing main tent time and getting to Day 2-type sessions during the second half of Day 1 may be effective. We’re looking into for next year.4. Vision is good, but some execution every once in a while is helpful. Day 1 is typically the”strategy and vision” day. Day 2 then becomes more of the”execution” day -how are you planning to deliver on what you told me on Day 1? This year, a lot of Day 2 focused on product-level strategy and vision instead of details on execution of product roadmaps and features. We’re good at explaining what we do and why we do it, but could focus more on”how” we do it. I believe this one is an easy fix for next year.5. Hey, what happened to the business update? While the majority of you like the fact we’ve focused the event on the industry analyst needs (largely because we developed a separate financial analyst conference last year), you miss the financially focused business update that used to be a staple of past conferences. Another one I think we can fix pretty easily for 2008.We received myriad feedback -both positive and constructive -from many of you about C-Scape last month that goes well beyond some of the main points I captured above. If there are still a few pieces of advice, criticism or suggestions you want to share, I’m all ears, so give me a shout or drop me an e-mail.You’ll be happy to know that I’ve already started the planning process for next year’s event, which will be held on December 9 and 10 back at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. I’m looking forward to that already…Happy New Year, all!

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  1. Request feedback from attendees wherever possible. To gather data prepare a short survey for all participants. You could even combine a survey and event photos on one webpage. The response rate will be higher and attendees are happy to look up some great memories.

  2. Isn't the ultimate measure of success of an event with the influencer community is what impact it has on the stock performance immediately after the event?Sam MillerWalker's Research - a quality source of business information

  3. Hi Skip, Thanks for the great post and the candor. Certainly at HP we had analysts who loved and hated our various major events. Part of the issue was setting expectations and inviting the right analysts. The first Corporate Strategy Conference in 2005 did not have business group execs giving an update on their product lines. It was a “corporate strategy” event after all. Well, a lot of analysts ripped me for not having business group updates. For 2006 we did a much better job of setting expectations – no product line updates – and inviting only analysts who would be interested in the corporate big picture. This time only one complaint, much better. BTW, this cut attendance by a third, but that was fine.Carter Lusher, Strategist, SageCircleBTW, I linked to this post at Reading List for January 24, 2008"

  4. Skip - Thanks for sharing the lessons learned in such an open way. We are beginning to plan our program for the European and Emerging Markets Analyst Conference (24th and 25th June) and I think your insights will help us. Very interesting to see that while too much Powerpoint is a problem, there is such a thing as not enough and that a little scene-setting is valuable. I don't forsee a problem in getting our spokespeople to increase the level of Powerpoint (but will take care ....). Over the next few weeks our teams in Europe and Emerging markets will be reaching out to analysts who typically attend our event (as well as a few we'd like to persuade to join us) to find out what they'd like to see us cover. We'll use the opportunity to see if we can discover the right balance for us between vision and execution which is still tricky for us to find. We'd love to hear the opinion of your blog readers too on this topic!