How To Become an 'Expert' In An Hour

By: John Honovich, Published on Sep 02, 2016

If you want to be perceived as an expert in your market, speak at every event possible... the math is simple: when someone stands in front of an audience in an official capacity and speaks on a subject, they become an expert.

So says security sales consultant Chris Peterson.

There is both truth and sadness to that.

That perception can be a hoax, as Peterson admits about a conference he attended:

On stage, he was a genius. One-on-one, his knowledge seemed to have no depth or flexibility.

There are two issues here.

Exuding Confidence Simulates Expertise

Most people respond positively to speaker confidence. If a speaker is enthusiastic and optimistic, most will assume the speaker knows what they are doing especially if the topic is outside their own expertise.

Take Steve Russell, former CEO of (the now failed 3VR), now of Prism; Two companies that have raised tens of millions in VC funding yet struggle to be serious players in the market. [3VR sold for pennies on the dollar, Prism quietly stopped operations.]

Russell is a world class presenter / speaker. He is brilliant at it. That is great at getting people excited. And it works great on stage. The problem is so much of that is wishful thinking and technology mishmash that sounds good but is not viable.

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By contrast, an engineer who is uncomfortable presenting or cautious because they understand the complexity involved may come off as not knowing that much even though s/he knows far more than the 'expert'.

Stage Limits Exposure of False Experts

The other big issue, or more precisely benefit of doing presentations on stage, is that there are typically very little questions, generally at the end and easy to dance around.

Peterson exposed his expert on an elevator (the anti-elevator pitch I suppose) but that requires one-on-one with someone willing to push deeper. That type of exchange rarely happens at an event and is great for an 'expert', especially since so many events are built around helping their 'experts' sell.

Events Worth Limits

Events can have some value but with limits. In the security space, the total number of attendees for a presentation tend to be small - 50 is solid, 100 is great. With tens of thousands of people in the industry, it is a long and expensive road to reach even a small portion of industry people. On the other hand, if you have an expensive enough product or service that even one of those attendees might buy, speaking at an event might be worth it for that, perceived 'expert' or not.

Finally, I agree with Peterson's general recommendation that professionals should strive to be recognized as experts. That 'brand' building is important in an increasingly competitive market. It would be great though if experts proved their expertise, not simply created its 'perception'.

Postscript: Real Expert Approach

Michael Silva, security consultant, is a good example of a real expert who does well marketing his expertise responsibly and accurately. Besides authoring his own book on becoming a security consultant (which signals expertise), when he posts on IPVM, he posts with great insight and showing significant direct experience. A few examples:

Moreover, because IPVM lets members comment and discuss, he puts himself in the cross-fire that would expose puffery or mistakes. Yet Silva's true expertise shows. Try to be like him.

Comments (31)

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That perception can be a hoax

How true. In the security sales world I see evidence of it weekly. Not in the addressing of a group at a conference or event, but right in the small interactions where a salesperson is engaging (attempting to) with a small team of integrators or end users. What I see:

  • Show up and throw up - scripted pitch.

  • Inability to connect the dots - listen to challenges and provide specific feedback that addresses those customer challenges.

  • Belief that socializing will overcome lack of knowledge.

  • The feeling that "I'm a salesperson, I don't need to know the technical details" is acceptable.

I believe it has become worse in our industry in the last ten years--this inability to communicate intelligently and with depth.

Why? Who knows. Fewer people committed to learning the industry? The growing tendency for society to have the attention span of a gnat on so many subjects? The belief that "someone else" will provide the details?

"The growing tendency for society to have the attention span of a gnat on so many subjects"

Do we know each other? That is one of my favorite expressions.

As to the article, another aspect of this is what's informally known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. I slowly grew to recognize this over years of experience and was pleased to find this had been given a name.

The Dunning-Kruger effect...

Interestingly, I haven't looked at this Wikipedia article in awhile and I don't remember it having the reference to someone covering their face in lemon juice to evade surveillance cameras- maybe it's been updated since last I read it. But pretty darn funny.

The feeling that "I'm a salesperson, I don't need to know the technical details" is acceptable.

Worse is sales people who actually say that when they do not know something.

The belief that "someone else" will provide the details?

Unfortunately for salespeople, that would be the Internet. It is somewhat amusing / sad for people to find information on the manufacturer's website in a minute that the salesperson does not know.

I joined IPVM because I watched a video of John Honovich speaking at a Milestone event. I didn't care too much about the content; I was impressed with his ability to speak. Twitter also helped me join.

Personally, I take every opportunity I can to speak in front of large crowds. I do it more for practice than anything else. I have noticed it has helped me build a personal brand and reputation that has helped our business grow. Am I an expert in an hour? I don't think so; maybe a few people would believe that but not the majority.

That was back in 2009.

John, when you speak, what type of events do you go to / find useful?

That was back in 2009.

Interesting, I saw the video right before I joined. Shows how far it can go.

I will speak at just about any event as long as I am comfortable with the topic. For the last three years, I have spoken at the DMP Executive Roundtable. This event has helped me connect with people in the industry, connect with great mentors and build my relationship with one of our top vendors. I speak to neighborhood watch groups and participate in local Chamber events. I have spoken in front of business groups and philanthropic groups. I am a member of our public relations at my church and have spoken dozens of times to communities and other churches in our area. These events often have over 100 people in attendance. I have been a Sunday school teacher for the last ten years, this more than anything has helped me learn how to convey my thoughts publicly.

You don't always have to be speaking about security to help your business grow. In almost every speaking engagement no matter what the topic is, I get asked what I do for work, and I end up answering security questions/concerns.

"That was back in 2009."

Interesting, I saw the video right before I joined. Shows how far it can go.

Class of '09 reunion?

Let's see the rest of that hockey stick, ay? :)

That chart is from IPVM For PR / Marketing People.

I had our graphic person update the chart last month, here it is:

I have not had a chance to update the full original post but I plan to after ASIS. Also, plan to do another IPVM for PR / marketing people call.

Fredrik Nilsson comes to mind. For some years there (not sure about now) he was a prolific speaker and while he might not have been a great orator he had the ethos of the brand behind him and I think people tended to forget he was a salesman..

Fredrik Nilsson comes to mind.

He's quite the 'expert'. I actually find him to be a very good speaker, far more than his actual expertise.

John - thanks for the mention, and nice piece.

One note about the limitations. My audience is mostly independent integration companies, so influencing 50 people in the Indianapolis market (for example) could make an impact.

For manufacturers, I agree - it's a long road. Which is why they need to train and support their integration partners to deliver these sessions, but that's another topic...

Thanks again John - good stuff.

Chris

interesting choice of market there, Chris...

Funny. I was actually thinking about you when I wrote that (although it is a perfect representation of a market) - knowing that utilize IPVM.

The sad truth of an "expert".

I have been in a version of that meeting more times than I can count.

"So you can track a person as they walk through a building..."

"No, it's video analytics to identify a person in a scene to reduce false alarms."

"So I'm right, they can identify a person."

"No, they can only tell that it's a person."

"I don't see the difference. I think you're making it too complicated."

That video was one of the funniest things I've seen in quite a while - thanks for sharing

Presenters in this industry should be knowledgeable about their products, how they become solutions and how to apply those.

When speaking to a large group I focus on the fact that they showed up feeling they needed to learn what I had information on, so I am most likely better informed.

I don't focus on the potential for an intelligent heckler in the audience, which brings fear to those who don't know their stuff and sometimes to those who do, but can't manage a heckler!

I believe the purpose of a seminar or speaking engagement is to "transfer" knowledge. Entertaining speakers help, great questions and audience participation make a huge difference. Without participation you could just show a video

The concept of a "Subject Expert" is applied in too many cases.

I don't focus on the potential for an intelligent heckler in the audience, which brings fear to those who don't know their stuff and sometimes to those who do, but can't manage a heckler!

AKA the Seymour.

If Rick Flair taught me anything, it was 'you have to beat the experts, if you want to be a thought leader'.

Does the term "thought leader" offend or turn-off anyone else?

Does the term "thought leader" offend or turn-off anyone else?

For sure, given the way it is used in this industry. It typically is self applied to sales and marketing people posting thinly veiled pitches of their offerings (or applied by publications or events to their sponsors).

Related: Are You A Security Thought Leader?

"(or applied by publications or events to their sponsors)."

Oh right, like a certain Microsoft Global Security person at a "Great Conversation."

I forgot about that!

Related: Buying the 'Great Conversation'

It is pretty common when people with a deep expertise in one subject become arrogant. A sales person does not know the subject, marketing specialist publish stupid ads, a CEO is saying nonsense. Expert status does not belong to the technical area exclusively. If somebody can pitch efficiently and send the message to the audience - he or she is an expert, find new customers - expert, make kids seat calmly - super expert.

In most cases the public person gets the expert status whether it was intentionally or not. Is a CEO of a known / famous company who presents the new products and future technologies an expert in them? Pretty often people will think so. But will he look as an expert if somebody from his team screw his part of job?

Expert status does not belong to the technical area exclusively.

Related, being an expert in on technical area does not mean that one is an expert in another. For example, myself in video surveillance vs access control. And even within a specific area, there are specializations - one can be an expert in VMSes but not cameras or vice versa.

Perception of expertise by a public speaker has more to do with human conditioning than it does with actual product/technical knowledge. Most humans will naturally believe assume that someone who is confidently speaking at any event they are headlining has some level of expertise just by the fact that they are up there speaking. i.e. the organizers of the event (even if it is this persons company) would not have chosen this person to speak by drawing names out of a hat.

In controlled events with little audience participation, public speaking skills will always trump technical knowledge, imo. ...and it is quite rare to find a person who possesses both skill-sets. I know very few engineer-types that also excel (or are even comfortable) in a public speaking setting.

Sidebar: The smartest (technical) person at the company where I work is known to everyone who works there to be the product technical expert (via longevity and being really smart). It is also known to everyone there that speaking in public is anathema to this same person - which is a large reason that this person is unknown to casual observers from the outside.

Public speaking is what sales people do - and so it goes that many of the speakers at these events have at least some sales background.

Is that an Expert speaking or just an Expert Speaker?

Some defy easy categorization, for instance the International Man of ONVIF:

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