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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 that of an industry analyst and requires many of the same skills. The big difference is that Evangelists are typically 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 other words, it’s “just” part of marketing — but it’s the opposite of the common phrase “oh, that’s just marketing.”

Evangelism is about authentic content, communication, and community, and it’s a key part of the “new marketing” in an era of social transparency.

What does a Technology Evangelist do?

Personally, I present at around forty conferences each year in a few dozen different countries, publish more than a hundred blog posts, and send out thousands of tweets and other social comments. 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 became an Evangelist (mainly around analytics, big data, and the social enterprise) slowly 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 it became 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. You also have to be an expert, but it’s easier to devote the time needed to become an expert when you care deeply about your subject.

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 a competitor.

You have to be able to communicate effectively, in the style that works best for you. Personally, I try to emulate the Discovery Channel, which engages and entertains audiences at the same time as teaching them something. 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 presentations have to be good enough that you get invited back the next time. The more time you spend with customers in that industry, and the more those customers find your contributions valuable, the easier it will be.

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

Good luck!

[This post originally appeared on my Business Analytics blog. You may want to follow me on Twitter]

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13 Comments

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  1. Jeffrey Word

    Amen Brother.  I do more books than blogs, but roughly the same amount of speeches.  I’d say the most critical and impossible-to-fake skill is: Communication.  Passion and Authenticity are crucial, but without superb communication skills nobody will ever know you’ve got them.  Evangelism requires a superior ability to communicate technical concepts (both written and orally) to small and large audiences so they can understand easily and get excited about it. 

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  2. Noel Hollis

    This is really an awesome post. I’ve always kind of wondered how I get to be an ‘evangelist’ because the job seemed like it made a big difference while also being fun.

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  3. K S

    Is that you addressing to the crowd by any chance?

    Surely, you have persuaded me to strive to be one with your blog – i mean technology evangelist here.

    Thanks for sharing,

    KS

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  4. Marilyn Pratt

    Hi Timo,

    I LOVE your added wisdom about the roots of the word evangelist.  I’ve shied away from using it as you know, for the very reason that for some it evokes “bible beating” images and yes being a messenger rewarded for good news (or the reward itself, bringing news to people and by those acts helping them), that idea resonates better for me.

    Love your simple and clear message around the skills and how to become….

    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.

    Excellent excellent content for anyone wanting to understand what a Tech Evangelist is or how to become one.

    Of late, I’m beginning to explore what it means to share the “less than good news”.  I’d love your input into an event and theme I am presently evolving.  Sharing and learning from failure and the candor around failing forward.

    Would love to have your cooperation in my upcoming events at SAPTecheds.

    Marilyn

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  5. Jay Sanchez

    awesome post.  I figure becoming a “Technology Evangelist” isn’t the type where you apply for like a regular work.  But it’s something that you become.  It’s what you do and how you contribute that will convince a business that you have something very good to offer and that it’s worth paying for your time.

    This is what I aspire to do.  Whether I get paid for it, which would be nice, or not.  I’ll do it just because it’s fun and I get to meet people who wants to innovate.

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  6. Annie Chan

    Thanks Timo, for giving an insight and valuable how-to info on your journey. I have to say it is quite inspiring and I am attracted by what you are doing although I don’t know what it is call previously. Yes, it is definitely something one develops to be rather than seeks a job that holds that title. Trust from others play a big part.

    I believe many people do play this role invisibly in their company in a smaller and informal scale among their peers. If a company detects and empower such talents in their workplace, am sure they could bring values to the business.

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    1. Jay Sanchez

      This is the key I think, company detects and empower such talents in their workplace, am sure they could bring values to the business“….by doing this, a company is empowering their employees to be innovative and the company benefits from it.

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  7. Yason Gooding

    Awesome article! I would add that being a technology evangelist also means people need to know who you are.  How does that happen? Aside from blogging and tweeting, start adding to the knowledge base of your technology by publishing whitepapers and articles on the subject area.  Get your name out there.  Have your articles placed in those publications that go out to the masses. This also seems to legitimize you as a technology evangelist in a rather short period of time, especially if you’re solving a known problem or fix.

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  8. Kiran Nimmagadda

    Dear Timo,

    Good definition and understanding of a ‘Technology Evangelist’.

    As per my understanding, ‘Technology Evagelist is the one who can explain each and everything to common man with real examples’

    Regards

    Kiran N

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