LinkedIn TechConnect 14 and the Power of Authentic Connection

Tech ConnectLast week, I had the pleasure of presenting to a crowd of tech marketers and entrepreneurs at LinkedIn’s TechConnect 2014 conference. For those of you who missed it, video of the presentation is available, as are the slides from the presentations themselves. The event opened with an inspiring presentation from Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, who among other things spoke to the importance of having a clear mission. In the case of Khan Academy, that mission is all about giving a world-class education to anybody, anywhere, for free, and that anybody can—and should be given the opportunity to—learn anything. It was a powerful example of the impact communication can have when it’s authentically rooted in a strong belief in something that matters.

I had the opportunity to speak to ways that tech marketing often gets in its own way when it strays from this principle of authenticity, something I wrote about in my last blog post. There’s just no substitute for being in service of something bigger than yourself. And when that belief shines through with authentic storytelling, it’s more compelling. It attracts customers, talent, partners, valuation and public support.

Of course, there are so many traps we can fall into that pull us off our authentic centers. There’s the temptation to overhype leadership, be it market leadership, technology leadership, thought leadership or team leadership. There’s the temptation to put your own agenda ahead of your audience’s agenda and make your story all about you instead of them. There’s the temptation to dictate the story, rather than co-create it with your audience. All these pitfalls are such a natural part of the tech marketing landscape, they’re sometimes hard to see. In my presentation, I explored some practical tips for spotting these traps and ways to inject authenticity and meaning back into our communications.

But looking again at the example of the Khan Academy, Sal himself is a wonderful model for what happens when you’re serving a genuine purpose. He doesn’t worry about claiming market leadership—he simply talks about how many people his organization has educated and how many educational videos are available. He doesn’t brag about his great technology, he simply demonstrates how easy and intuitive the learning experience is and what problems are solved. He doesn't fall back on buzzwords in an attempt at thought leadership, he simply provides compelling example after compelling example of how he and his organization have had a real human impact. And as a team leader, he demonstrates overwhelming humility in the light of his accomplishments and instead focuses the spotlight on his team and their shared vision.

So I’d like to conclude this week’s XTC post with a simple thank-you to Sal Khan, not only for his inspiring work with Khan Academy—a resource my own children use daily—but also for how brilliantly he models what is authentic and impactful about leadership.

XTC (Examining the Change) is a weekly column in which B&O CEO Josh Reynolds examines the intersection of technology, disruption and storytelling.