Archive for December 23rd, 2009

Evangelism beyond boundaries with an Evangelists !!! December 23rd, 2009

Vinod Kumar

I love the title of “Technology Evangelist” and it is because of this inspiring title that I am where I am today. Though “Technology evangelism” is a relatively recent phenomenon, today’s Evangelists have transformed the term “evangelism” into a household word. My long time friend Jani posted about the same topic a month back and I have been thinking of writing this post – it surely did take sometime. I couldn’t agree more to all the points that Jani brings out in his post. But here are my take on Evangelism & Evangelists.

There are two dimension – Understanding Evangelism and Being an Evangelist. If one does the former, the later is just a way to live that life :). I had an opportunity to read my favorite book on evangelism, Selling the Dream by Guy Kawasaki during vacation and there has been some yes-no that I have gone through on some of the concepts. For me, people like Guy Kawasaki, Don Box, Robert Scoble, Jani live an evangelists life though they might not officially hold such titles today. Infact, this is one of the qualities of True Evangelist.

Getting back, it is so true that Evangelism cannot be quantitatively defined and built with-in boundaries. The core genesis of Evangelism is all about going out of your way to convince, transform and passionately energize like minded people. Atleast, the explanation that Wikipedia outlines for this standard title is quite inadequate. Being an Evangelist for the 3+ years, I have done tons of work that have gone beyond what the standard title warrants me to do as per the job description. In fact, evangelism might be too broad a term to explain to others, but their influence end-of-the-day is very real to organizations. I have felt each and every employee is an ambassador of their organizations technologies and hence an Evangelist intrinsically. So every employee is an CTE (Chief Technology Evangelist) for their organization.

I do concur with the fact that Evangelists do need to do it for a cause they believe in. “Evangelistic causes catalyze selfless actions”**. The very first example that comes to mind is – M.K.Gandhi Evangelized the concept of non-violence for a cause of freedom, how he made the non-cooperation movement a cause for Billions to follow.

Infact, so true in Technology companies, one needs to believe in their company Vision, Products roadmap and finally the product itself (which they tend to talk about later). An evangelist is a bridge between the product and the outside world before & after adoption. If we have compelling products then each and every customer of ours also become our Evangelists automagically. Now this spawns another thought – an Evangelist needs to be an avid tester of all products (Self & Competition). Though there are debates on this topic, I personally feel an Evangelist is an explorer by nature – part of their DNA. Hence, they talk with full conviction, passion and authority provoking change in perception ultimately leading to adoption. They “command respect” by their depth in technology – hence “Tech. Evangelist”.

Let me outline some of the traits that I think which make Evangelists:

  • Bundle of energy – Passion is their middle name
      • I can think of many people here, but let me give you a real-life example. One of the person who inspired me into Evangelism was my friend Kumar Gaurav Khanna (now with Microsoft CLR Team). Infact, the energy, passion, conviction and authority he showed during presentations was amazing. You can always be sure a flock of people around him anytime talking technology post his sessions. Fundamentally, this involves in understanding your audiences mind-set and empower, involve them into your story to convert them before end of your interaction. That leads us to next trait –
  • Wonderful Story tellers
      • This by definition an Evangelist must be great at. I have seen times when people crib about writing what their product can do in 140 character (eg twitter). Typical Evangelist will be ready to evangelize their product in 1 sentence or 1 min or 1 hour or even 1 day without much fuss. Even today most of the session from Mark Russinovich make me think how much of product depth a typical evangelist must be at. And if I were to watch any of Guy Kawasaki’s session, they are so practical, lucid yet dramatic (eg his 10-20-30 rule). Just check any of their presentations, I can assure you will have instances when you get “the Aaahaa” (WOW) in the talk. Just check the “Thinking Vs Speaking Vs Breathing” skills at their talks – you can see how seamless all these are done. Clarity of thoughts combined with their above special skills makes them the most sought-after speakers. Getting there is a journey … after reaching that destination staying there is yet another journey.
  • Empathy, Trust, Loyalty, Openness, Accessibility and Warmth
      • An Evangelist needs to have great public-relation skills with customers / partners. More often one is seen as “Trusted Advisors” and you surely put your organization and your own credibility at risk if you tend to be a fanatic. Being reasonable will always earns you more brownies and trust which will come to your help someday later.
      • Evangelist inspires others who start “carrying the torch forward” for the same cause by “Selling the idea”. They plant their feet firmly on the ground to wade long and difficult battles yet keeping their dreams high up in the clouds.
      • “Evangelists are open to anything that will increase their effectiveness as evangelists”. **
  • Technology Enthusiast – Doers
      • Explorer by heart and enthusiast in every aspect, evangelists will install the latest and greatest bits almost instantly :). You can always find atleast “2 Beta products” (if not more :)) running on my host machine. For me, evangelist needs to get hands-on, dirty and must be able to demonstrate the “HOW” factor of technology and with his story paint the “Why (Objective) –> What (Content)”. Just like the post from Guy on Evangelism on his blog mentions – An “evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron. This brings to the analogy I always give to many – true evangelist becomes synonymous to what they talk. Eg, Mark with SysInternals (aka Windows Internals), Guy with Evangelism, yours truly for SQL Server :) (couldn’t resist) …
      • “People who are far ahead are geniuses while people who are slightly ahead are evangelists” **
      • Technology evangelists can often be perceived as superficial and “talking too much”. This is the exact reason why I felt it was important to highlight the never-die, never-give-up attitude in exploring / trying new things. I can think of another close friend of mine who inspires me even today – Deepak Gulati. An ex-MS employee who always glees with passion, conviction for technology, photography skills, Mac exploration or in the MS days his love for WPF, ASP.NET, Localization, music etc. He always had that within him – people who showed me how to live an evangelist life.
      • An Evangelist earns his credibility by his actions and doesn’t beg for it !!! Even today every session however big or small, I still have butterflies before a session starts. It takes lots of time to build strong credibility but takes one bad session to destroy everything. One needs to understand an Evangelist holds personal credibility which transcends beyond the organizations they works for. Even today people like Mark Russinovich have credibility that is beyond boundaries of where they work or will work – SysInternals or MS doesnt really matter to these Evangelists (in my opinion :)).
  • Love people, people and more people – Community oriented
      • If you get back to the Wikipedia definition they do callout – it is to influence people. Evangelists go to where people are and people flock where ever evangelists live (FB, Twitter, Blogs, Websites, sessions etc). I have seen times when people attend sessions because a specific speaker is doing the session rather than the session content itself. A true evangelist does bring these strong sentiments.
      • Every evangelist will be proactive in connecting with people, grab every opportunity and will be generous in spending time to those who have ears to listen to them and learn.
      • Evangelists need to be extremely extrovert, informal, dynamic, approachable and there for you whenever you need them. For them, the pleasure of sharing is more important than their own personal gains. For instance, even today I do sessions at my hometown colleges (in Madurai) whenever I visit my family during vacations. I just cant stop myself from doing this – its in our DNA :)
  • Unique Style and Leadership qualities !!!
      • Evangelist have solid, rational and tangible technical skills which awe people around them. Interestingly, typical evangelist is possibly antagonistic at times in their mode of functioning. They are big time risk takers with technology and never shy away from being critic of it. Post exploration, they start motivating and inspiring others to accept, adopt and later evangelize the ideas on their behalf.
      • Evangelist sessions are factual, direct and in a structured manner will be able to communicate large volumes of content rapidly and clearly. Infact, you can realize how detail oriented they are on every subject they touch. – (I am still learning this art)
  • Self-Confident, Self-Motivated but a student
      • Evangelist are independent producers of the concept of “Selling the idea”. They don’t need any incentive to try self-starter kits for learning or more so will develop their own kits for others to use.
      • They find opportunities to learn and advance reasonably quickly; changing the job content, nature of problems addressed, and the scope of responsibility. They pave their own paths for others to follow and emulate.
      • “Evangelists are so committed they can illuminate a room with their faith” **
      • Learning is a journey an Evangelist will never forget to take. You will always find something new to hear from them every time / every day you meet them. They are a perpetual students reading / exploring and getting excited.

These are my take on Evangelism as an Evangelist and I am overly passionate on how I want to be in future someday. With all the above definition even I have a long way to go to get into your hearts as an accepted Evangelist. But I did fail to address some of the modern trends via Twitter, Facebook and other social media that Evangelism can reach different levels of engagement. Infact, I am still exploring the same and will post someday as time permits and when I get a hang of them.

PS: these are purely my personal opinions and not to be confused with the way Evangelism is defined by my Employer.

** – concepts from Selling the Dream by Guy Kawasaki.

Please share me your views via comments. Really looking forward !!!

Part II gets online at – Technology Evangelism Demystified – Part II

Part III also gets online as: New face of Online Technology Evangelism

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