How can you tell the difference between hype and reality? This was the question the President of a Business Unit asked me in front of the corporation’s entire leadership team. Answering this question was a matter of professional and credibility risk. After all Gartner knows a lot about hype. Gartner has been known to foment hype. Gartner is famous for having a cycle about it, etc.

The answer, one that has stood me in good stead is simple. Listen to what the speaker is talking about. If they concentrate on telling you WHAT something is, chances are its hype. If they focus on HOW you apply technology to business, then you are talking about reality.

WHAT = HYPE

Speakers concentrating on HYPE follow a fairly consistent pattern. They tend to be very focused on the following:

• Supplying a definition, the more grounded in semantics the greater the hype
• Contrasting their definition with others, the more pejorative the comparison the greater the hype
• Locking things together in a singe simple diagram, the more circular or three-dimensional the bigger the hype.
• Answering questions with further definitions and descriptions, the more the speaker tries to correct you, expresses one way to think about it the more the hype.
• Speakers hate wasted space, aka silence, so when they have little substantive to say they will fall back on definition and description. They assume that by showing the audience the depth of their knowledge about WHAT something is, that the audience will ascribe expertise and connect the dots on their own.

Definitions are important, but they cannot be the lone focus of a session. When the speaker centers the entire conversation on definition then definition and description is the only thing people talk about. This is a form of intellectual bullying as no one wants to appear ignorant so only the brave speak up. When they do ask, a reiteration of the definition often takes the form of a subtle slap on the wrist. It is another way of talking down to the audience.

HOW = REALITY

Speakers who talk about how something is used, how it achieves a goal, offers multiple examples from different industries speaks in terms of reality. Speakers who do more than say it depends when ask a question, follow up a question with clarification and then respond in that context speak of reality. Speakers who name names, cite examples, give metrics, share business benefit levels demonstrate not only their knowledge but more importantly give the audience anchor points to build understanding and generate new ideas.

A simple rule for making an important distinction

We all have to separate hype from reality as a speaker and as the audience. Given the blizzard of you know what going on in the marketplace the distinction between the two is hard to make but even more important. So listen to speakers and notice that when they describe what something is versus how it is applied. Hype and reality exist in the space between the two.

Recent columns by Mark McDonald

Mark McDonald is a group vice president and head of research for Gartner Executive Programs. He also writes a blog on the Gartner Blog Network.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN News. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.