I’m weighing in on the Spock controversy, even though the tech gossip blogs are calling people names when they do.
Background: we’re talking about a presentation by the co-founder of Spock, a search engine in beta, to the Web 2.0 conference last week. The purpose was to showcase the product. He began the demo, and his own home page on the engine came up on the screen. Which is how we learned that his favorite search is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit models.
So after the first cringe, I
prayed the guy wouldn’t go there — for his sake, for his backers’
sake, for marketing’s sake. Prayer unanswered. He went on to use the
supermodel subject as an example of how you can keep specifying the
search on his marvelous little engine.
Yes, I was offended, even hurt. For the obvious reason — but I’ve been dealing with insensitivity for ages. Do the workaround.
There is another gorilla in the blogosphere. If you startup founders, and any other kind of management figure, for that matter, wrestle it to the ground, you won’t ever find yourself in hot water again. At least on this topic.
Presentation content featuring people of any gender, in any stage of undress, is inappropriate for a business audience.
Use another example in your demo, for crying out loud. If your search engine is so fabulous, show us something a little more arcane. Of course you’re going to get a lot of hits for semi-dressed human mannequins in your demo.
OK, fine, Mr Co-Founder’s favorite search is supermodels. Very cute. But do I and every other stranger in the
audience, gender whatever, need to know this? That’s more information than I’ll ever need, and some habits are better kept private.
Besides, you’re in front of a
with professional women whose jobs require them to remain dressed, whether you like it or not.
Rule Number One in
speechmaking is to make everyone in the audience feel welcome to your
message — not to exclude them from the dialog you want to establish. And even though Rule Number Two is to inject a controversial point into a speech, this wouldn’t be it. We’re talking thought leadership, not hormonal pandering.
I know for a fact that Accenture puts its people through sensitivity training and presentation practice. Goodness only knows what Wharton is teaching its MBA candidates — but I’d be willing to bet that this isn’t it. And one would think that the VCs backing Spock would be offering some coaching. But I’ve been wrong on that one before.
Please, don’t remind me that this was one of the highest-ranked presentations at Web 2.0. Or that the Spock website is getting more hits as a result. Sometimes, we should be responsible for responsibility’s sake.
Now, there’s a controversial idea for all of us in the Silicon Valley startup community.