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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert

As an Innovation Evangelist for SAP, I often get asked "I'm interested in being a technology evangelist -- what should I do?" Here are some personal answers.

What is a Technology Evangelist?

There are lots of different types, but the basic notion is that an Evangelist is acknowledged expert in a subject who is paid to explain, teach, and inspire. Here's wikipedia's definition.

The role is similar to those of internal "technology gurus", really good presales experts, industry analysts, or paid speakers, and requires similar skills. The big difference is that Evangelists are externally facing and paid by a company that has a vested interest in the success of the industry or technology.

The term "Evangelist" may strike some as uncomfortably religious. However, the Greek word εύαγγέλιον (latinized to Evangelium), was originally the reward given to the messenger for good news (εϋ = "good", άαγγέλλω = "I bring a message"). So the way the term is used in the phrase "technology evangelist" is actually closer to the original sense than the religious "good news" that it was later associated with.

Other widely-used terms include Technology Advocate and Technology Champion.

What is Technology Evangelism?

It's about connecting people who have problems with the products, technology, and knowledge they need to succeed. In one sense, it could be considered part of the sales or marketing process, but it's the opposite of the common phrase "oh, that's just marketing." Innovation never fails because of technology. It's always about people, culture, and understanding. Evangelists can help guide the right choices in an increasingly complex world.

The core of evangelism is the three "C"s — Content (what you talk about), Communication (how you talk about it), and Community (who you talk to).

What does a Technology Evangelist do?

Personally, I present at around forty conferences each year in a few dozen different countries, and publish lots of commentaries on LinkedIn and other social platforms. I do strategy sessions with customers and regular sessions with press and analysts.

I started my career doing IT projects for companies such as Shell, then slowly moved to an evangelism role over the course of 20+ years working in a variety of roles (product marketing, sales training, competitive and marketing analysis, strategic initiatives, etc.). As time went by, I spent more and more of my time working with customers and doing presentations, until I was lucky enough for it to become my primary focus.

Today, most of my work comes from word of mouth. People contact me to do presentations or create thought leadership materials, and I prioritize the different requests until my calendar is full. With any spare time, I actively look for new and important topics where I think I can add value.

What skills do you need to be a Technology Evangelist?

Above all, you need to be passionate about what you do. It's like being a writer or an artist: you have to want to do it in your spare time. And, of course, you also have to be an expert in something. The good news is that there's a virtuous circle: the more time you spend working on an area, the more expertise and contacts you develop, the better you get known as an expert, which gets you invited to the kinds of sessions that allow you to deepen that expertise. 

You have to be authentic: you must truly want to help people be successful, not just sell them something. You have to be a trusted advisor, which means being transparent and upfront about any possible biases that you may have. It means telling the whole truth: nothing you say or write should be any less true if you were working for another organization.

You have to be able to communicate effectively, in the style that works for you and the audiences. Personally, I try to emulate the best documentaries: the audience is learning something but also enjoying the experience. Become an expert in analogies and story telling. Make people laugh.

You need to understand and adapt to your audience. You have to know, through having lived and breathed the same working environment, what is and isn't interesting to others. You should never give the same presentation twice because you will never have the same audience twice.

How do you become a Technology Evangelist?

By doing it. To be credible you need to have spent lots of time with people wrestling with real-world problems. Whatever work you are doing today, use it as an excuse and opportunity to work with people trying to innovate in their industries.

Follow other experts. Start blogging and tweeting. Whenever you find something you think is interesting, note it down and share it with others. Disagree with people and explain why you think differently. Spend time pondering what's going to happen next. Ask new questions, then do original research to find the answers and tell others what you have discovered. Be creative: build on others’ content, rather than recreating it. Improve your ideas by discussing them with everyone you meet.

How do I get paid to be a Technology Evangelist?

It’s hard. You have to be able to convince an employer that you have a significant impact on an industry or technology niche. Your sessions and presentations have to be good enough that you consistently get invited back the next time. The more time you spend with customers in an industry, and the more those customers find your contributions valuable, the easier it will be.

To become an evangelist, you will almost certainly have to start doing it "in your spare time", next to your "real job", and then try to get recognition and permission to do more of it.

And while it's obviously possible to have a big impact by posting on social platforms, that typically isn't enough. For whatever reason, face-to-face meetings are important part of getting recognition and permission to do more. If you have expertise and presentation skills, reach out to the organizers of customer meetings or marketing events or conferences and see if you can get speaking slots. If you do a good job, you can leverage that to get other opportunities. 

And finally, of course I’m biased, but I believe technology evangelism is an increasingly important role, and a very rewarding career for anybody who is self-driven, thrives on change, and wants to change the world.

Good luck!

Active Contributor

Great blog, and I have enjoyed all of your presentations.  I hope to see you at another conference soon.  I remember at one of your sessions you had a Voltaire quote and I asked you to say it in French and you complied.

Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert