This tech CEO refuses to prepare for big speeches and insists on 'freestyling' the whole thing on stage -- here's why he says it's so effective

ApttusApttus CEO Kirk Krappe
  • Apttus CEO Kirk Krappe has a unique approach to giving keynote addresses: he doesn’t tell most of his staff what he’s going to say.
  • In a keynote address least Tuesday, Krappe gave a 25 minute speech which started with Charles Darwin and ended with a new product announcement.
  • Krappe likes to keep both his staff and audience on their toes because he thinks it keeps them more engaged.

When Apttus cofounder and CEO Kirk Krappe hopped on stage to give the keynote for the company’s conference last week, few people on his staff knew what to expect.

Without a teleprompter or a memorized script, Krappe free-formed 25 minutes of historical anecdotes in a winding journey that he described as “so far off the grid that they have to listen to it.”

“It makes Neil and Alex very nervous,” Krappe joked about his communications team.

Krappe, who cofounded the company in 2006, tries to tell as few people as possible what he’s going to say in his keynotes, including the one he gave at Apttus’ user conference Accelerate last week in San Francisco.

“Man has always been interested in understanding the evolution of man. When we look at what’s taken place in this world, it’s been really quite incredible,” Krappe said in his opening remarks. “But the evolution has resulted in all sort of inexplicable things, some of which I am going to share with you today.”

Apttus renderingApttusThis rendering shows the slides Krappe used to prompt his keynote at Apttus Accelerate on May 15.

Krappe, standing in front of three ceiling-tall illustrations, improvised nearly every word he said. With only visual queues, he took the audience on a journey that started with Charles Darwin and ended with “middle office management” – the market segment that Apttus’ quote-to-cash software aims to address.

The lesson of a Turkish archaeological site

The keynote concluded when Krappe revealed a new product, the Apttus Omni, an artificial intelligence platform that helps salespeople do their jobs more efficiently. Krappe called it the only middle-office platform on the market.

Of course, product announcements during keynotes are par for the course. Omni may truly be a revolutionary product, but it’s hard to get audiences to engage with such ideas without capturing their attention.

“When we were a smaller company, I wanted employees to be surprised,” Krappe, whose company now has 1,350 employees, said of his methodology.

Now, it’s rare for Krappe to give a talk, even internally, that doesn’t include some historical anecdotes inspired by the moral or message of whatever idea he is trying to get across. Krappe picks up most of his history lessons from reading or watching the Smithsonian Channel when he can’t sleep at night.

In keynotes like the one given last week, that journey involves a few twists and turns. After talking about Darwin, Krappe dived into the stone age, then took another major twist to the story of Göbekli Tepe, an archaeological site in Turkey which predates even the wheel. Archaeologists believe the site shows a level of complexity previously understood to come much later in the human timeline.

“There were many take aways from this story, but for me as a leader, my biggest take away was really, these are extraordinary people, and extraordinary people can do amazing things with shockingly little,” Krappe said in his keynote.

But what does this have to do with Apttus and its users?

“Our lives are not too dissimilar from the people of Göbekli Tep,” Krappe said in the keynote. “We also have severe constraints in almost everything we want to do. And when I think of the enterprise application landscape, our world, we are highly constrained – limited budgets, not enough time, thousands of applications.”

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