Keynote presentations are great opportunities for technology companies to announce new products and to get a lot of attention.
Nevertheless, crafting a technical keynote is not an easy task. It is easy to get lured by the “feature creep” and start telling about all of the things you know and care about your product.
The great challenge in technical keynotes is to present technical facts and data in a well-organized and easy to digest fashion that ultimately inspires the audience.
Elon Musk’s Tesla Powerwall Keynote is an outstanding example of a technical keynote. This article presents a dissection of this talk, showing the key elements that made it successful, and why you should watch it before your next technical presentation.
Structure of Tesla Powerwall Keynote
Research shows that people retain structured information up to 40% more reliably and accurately than information that is presented in a more freeform manner.
This 18-minute keynote has a clear and effective structure, which is not always a common practice in technical presentations. The sections are:
Problem -> Solution -> Product -> Benefits -> Call to action -> Subproblem and its solution -> Demo -> Is this really possible? -> Wrap up
Let´s then look at the strengths of this keynote in closer detail under each segment in the structure.
Elon Musk starts his keynote showing the problem of energy today: dependence on fossil energy resources and its negative consequences. A set of images–accompanied with the phrase “THIS IS REAL”–speak itself. He replies to someone in the audience with “It sucks, exactly.” Then Musk shows a graph with the growth of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. “I think we collectively should do something about this.”
This section informs about a relevant problem and tells how both Tesla and we share the same values and concerns.
As Simon Sinek would say: start with why.
Once Musk presented the problem, he transitions to the solution. The solution was clearly explained as having two parts and there being a clear gap in what the current solutions are offering.
Part 1: The Sun. “We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun. You don’t have to do anything, it just works, shows up every day and produces ridiculous amounts of power.”
Part 2: Batteries. Then he shows the main challenges of this alternative: today’s batteries are inconvenient for a long list of reasons (they are expensive, unreliable, low efficiency, unattractive, etc).
Show clearly what are the shortcomings of current solutions. People are intrigued by contrast and this way you will create clear contrast between what is and what could be.
The solution to the problem of today’s batteries (called “the missing piece”) was the new Tesla Energy product. Musk presents Tesla Powerwall by showing a well-designed video. The video first shows how a Powerwall mounted outside a house can power a car, and then shows how it can also power a house and be connected to a renewable energy grid. “It looks like a beautiful sculpture on the wall.”
There may be many advantages in your product, but it´s better you focus on one or few that are the most essential ones.
After the audience showed its excitement and interest about the new product, Musk starts presenting clear benefits of the product. The main three points were:
- The benefits of being wall-mounted, instead of relying on a “battery room” which is the common standard today. Several Powerwalls can be stacked up to nine.
- The cost is just 3,500 USD for a 10kWh battery
- Thanks to Powerwall batteries, there will not be need of deploying electrical grid infrastructure in remote locations.
Remember that it is benefits that people are buying. You may be enthusiastic about the features of your product, some people may see that there are clear advantages compared to other products, but most people only understand the benefits of your product in their daily life.
Call to action
After having showed the benefits, Musk gave a clear call to action: “You can order the Tesla Powerwall right now, on the Tesla website”. He announced that Tesla would start shipping in approximately 3-4 months (as of today, this has been delayed).
The objective of any presentation is to create a change of some kind in its audience. It is the responsibility of the presenter to give a clear call to action to his audience. So have a clear vision of what do you want to achieve with your technical keynote.
A subproblem and its solution
In this section Musk brought scalability to the table as a potential limitation of his offer. “What about something that scales to much larger levels?”
The solution he presented was called Powerpack, designed to scale infinitely, let’s say a Gigawatt-hour class solution. However, seeing a Powerpack on the stage was less impressive and it sounded more technical than the Powerwall. Instead of just telling more numbers and facts, he quickly moved to showing a well-prepared demo.
After Musk unveiled the Powerpack and explained its scenarios, he brought the idea of switching the energy used in the building to battery-powered energy.
The camera immediately went to a room that showed the energy source of the building at that moment. “Let’s go and check out the power meter”. The camera zoom showed two power meters labeled “Grid” and “Battery”. A closer zoom showed that the Grid meter was actually zero. “This entire night has been powered by batteries”. This was the WOW moment of the demo, which caused applause and hurrahs. “Not only that, but the batteries were charged by the solar panels on the roof of this building.”
Demo is great, but it should add more value to the presentation than just an example of what it is that you are selling. Think how you can achieve a WOW moment with your demo.
Is this really possible?
Right after the demo Musk transitions to a new reflection: what is really needed to transition the world to sustainable energy? Is this really possible?
If you wanted to transition all transport and all electricity generation and all heating in the world to renewable you need approximately 2 billion Powerpacks. The number of cars and trucks that we have on the road is approximately 2 billion.
As this keynote was not only showing us a new product but a change of how the world should produce and consume energy, he ended reiterating the shared mission, and that Tesla is committed to make it happen.
“The path that I’ve told you about, the solar panel and the batteries, is the only path that I know that can do this, and I think it’s something we must do, and we can do and that we will do.”
What was best about this keynote from a technical presentation point of view?
This keynote had many elements that when put together made it easy to follow, even for a non-technical audience. The most important elements were:
- Great analogies. “Cellphones leapfrogged the landlines and there wasn’t a need to put landlines in a lot of countries or in remote locations” That’s how Musk showed that there will not be need of deploying electrical grid infrastructure in many places in the world.
- Translate data into visuals. Musk showed that a tiny blue square within the map of USA is the area needed to power the entire country with solar electricity.
- The demo. A surprise moment that showed that the product already solves a real problem.
- The preparation. Did you notice that Musk didn’t have a clicker in his hands? This proves that the keynote has been rehearsed a lot, as the synchronization between Musk and what was showed in the screens was flawless and smooth.
I hope this brought you inspiration and great ideas for the next time you present your product. No matter how long your talk will be or how technical your product is, you can apply the same principles Elon Musk did during Tesla Powerwall Keynote. Start with the problem, follow a logical structure, and add as many elements as you can: analogies, stories, a demo, visuals, etc.
About the author:
Oscar Santolalla has experience as a Product Manager in the software industry, and two years of experience as Lecturer of Computer Science courses.
In his work as a Technical Product Manager Oscar became frustrated in how difficult it was to get people to understand technical topics. So he aspired to become a more effective presenter and was inspired by great technical presenters such as Mikko Hyppönen and Steve Jobs.
Today he is the former President of Stadi Talkers Toastmasters public speaking club and has won accolades in Toastmasters public speaking contests. Either onstage or on blogs he advocates making technical presentations and product demos that engage and inspire.
Oscar is also Host and Producer of the public speaking podcast Time to Shine.