Q&A: Meet...AntiConLX Global Speaker Sean Donnelly

thumbnail (2)Even though Sean is our fantastic Head of Product at LXA, we promise we're not biased. It's an objective opinion that he's a marketing Rockstar. 

An award-winning educator, Sean has spent his career in the management and delivery of high-level learning experiences. 

At Econsultancy, Sean led the origination, research and production of digital marketing learning resources in the form of best practice guides, research reports and course material.

Join Sean at this year's AntiConLX Global, where he'll be speaking on how the growth of Low Code & No Code can turn Marketers into Makers!


We chatted to Sean ahead of his session to get his tips, tricks and insights:

We want to hear about you, marketing legend. Give us a quick overview of what your company does and your roles and responsibilities there!

I'm Head of Product at LXA. About LXA...I'm an educator and so it's my job to think about how we can build learning best practices into our courses, events and resources.

What, in your opinion, makes a great AntiConLX Global presentation?

A great presentation puts the audience first. What I mean by that is that presenters should be an advocate for the people in their audience. That means following simple guidelines such as presenting one theme or idea per slide. This supports clarity. In practice, this means no more than one chart or one image per slide. Multiple charts or images on a slide can obscure the point and frustrate cognition. I like to recommend using the “3-second rule” which states that presentations are a glance media so messages on slides should be processed by the audience within 3 seconds. 

I like when presenters utilise progressive disclosure when they need to present something abstract or complicated. For example, by building and explaining diagrams via progressive disclosure, presenters can reduce cognitive load while also imbuing context, sequence and association. 

Also, slides should reinforce words and not repeat them. A great presentation will avoid what I call “triple delivery”. This is where the same text is on the screen, spoken aloud and printed on handouts. When this is done, auditory, reading and visual processing are all downgraded. Good decks are not designed to be read. If they need to be read, then it's not possible to listen to what the presenter has to say. This means that slides are not a place to condense the speaker's knowledge into bullet points. After all, they should not be a visual crutch for the presenter. In fact, well-designed slides contain very little text, use a large font, and have one image per slide and one key idea or theme per slide. 

Slides should support multi-sensory experiences. If decks are to be used as visual aids, it makes sense to use imagery and so presenters need to think carefully about how to transfer their ideas into engaging images. Imagery should be used to make the material easier to understand as opposed to decorating slides. Imagery can also help people recall information when it is delivered in a combination of pictures, oration and text.

Finally, getting a message out of one brain and into another is hard work. I've always thought that good presenters utilise the interdependence between their ideas, their slides and their delivery to maximise comprehension. And when it comes to delivery, the best presenters are the most relaxed. Generally, the most relaxed presenters are also the ones who have done the most preparation. It takes time to craft good slides. As a rule of thumb, it can take at the very least 30 hours to create a 30-slide deck. It can take another 3 hours to rehearse. 

So spend the time crafting slides, and rehearsing your delivery and then relax and have fun :)

What’s your biggest industry gripe? Don’t hold back!

As an educator, something that upsets me is when people say you don't need to study marketing to be successful. It's so closed minded as is the antithesis of a curious and competent professional. 

It's true that marketing is a profession that requires a multitude of skills and attitudes. And while some marketing professionals can have successful careers without attaining formal qualifications, that does not mean that it is not worth pursuing training and independent learning. I've worked in training and executive education for a long time and what I've observed is that for some senior marketers, pursuing a qualification is useful to shore up knowledge gaps and also to get formal recognition of their knowledge, skills and experience. At the end other of the scale, junior marketers pursue education to close gaps in their knowledge of the discipline. 

Whatever the reason for study, to have some kind of marketing related ‘qualification’ denotes capability, knowledge and skill. Over the years I've observed the following outcomes from with regard to the value of studying marketing:

Confidence: for junior marketers, a qualification is a useful start in working life that can provide confidence and frameworks to help them understand the scope of their role and the wider function of marketing within their organisation.

Career: the study of marketing can provide a breadth and depth of understanding which, in tandem with experience, can help accelerate one’s learning and career. If a marketer’s knowledge is narrow and the tactics they are pursuing do not achieve required results, they may not be equipped with the knowledge and frameworks to come up with a plan B. 

Competence: a qualification can expand the knowledge base and frames of reference for marketers to help them make decisions based on more than their experience. 

Credibility: depending on the organisation and stakeholders involved, marketers may be taken less seriously than their professionally qualified peers both within marketing and other departments. Qualifications add credibility. In theory, qualifications can act as a barrier to entry to other less credible people.

Commitment: qualifications and continuing professional development demonstrate a commitment to employers and clients that you are serious about offering a professional service and keeping skills up to date. 

What advice would you give for starting a career in the industry?

I would recommend to anybody that you expose yourself to as many opportunities for learthning as possible. That includes volunteering for projects. Seeking mentors. Attending conferences. Reading books and research papers. And of course, get trained!

We’ve all read about Mark Wahlberg’s insane 2:30am morning routine, filled with golf and cryo-chambers. What’s your personal morning routine?

My morning routine is a constant work in progress! But seeing as you asked these things are consistent: a cold shower followed by strong black coffee and breakfast with my lovely wife.

What up-and-coming trend or tech do you predict will take the industry by storm?

We're on the cusp of a whole host of new innovations around the convergence of human experiences online. This includes social experiences, gaming and potentially, AR and VR. These are all powered by the combinatorial effects of 5G, cloud computing, AI, the Internet of Things and of course access to data. While it's not possible to predict the future, I'm always mindful of the old saying, it's easy to overestimate the impact of a trend in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. Who could have foreseen the power of a 280-character tweet?

What was your first job, and how did it help you develop in your industry?

I was the postmaster of a big travel agency. When you collect and deliver the post in a big office, you get to know everybody. And you soon realise that while seniority is to be respected, it's often the most junior people that keep the office ticking over - the receptionist. The cleaning staff. The tea lady. If the CEO misses a day, everyone can get on with it. If the receptionist is off sick, things can really slow down. I learned to not just focus upwards when cultivating professional relationships. Be authentic. Transcend levels. Develop real and meaningful relationships.

Who's a public speaker you admire, and what makes them good at what they do?

I quite like Scott Galloway who has contributed to some of our LXA events. He's a born educator. And he's willing to admit not just errors of judgement but he's also willing to show real vulnerability at appropriate moments. If we could all be a little bit more vulnerable, we'd develop much deeper relationships with clients, colleagues and of course, friends.

If you could recommend one book, podcast, tv show, magazine, or piece of bathroom stall graffiti, what would it be?

The 100-Year Life, by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. The general gist is that as we live longer, we need to plan for a multi-staged life and a multi-staged career. The implication is that education can't be completely front-loaded into our first 20 years of life the way it used to be. Another implication is that age doesn't necessarily have to relate to the stage in one's career. This appeals to me. I love the idea of starting something completely new when I'm 60!

What is your favourite marketing campaign of all time?

As an Irish person, it's hard to look further than many of the great Guinness campaigns.

Can our audience expect any future projects on the horizon, personal or professional?

We've got amazing momentum here at LXA. Watch out for some great learning experiences in topics such as No Code & Low Code for Marketers and Growth Hacking for Marketers.