The Art of the Demo

In my career I have seen hundreds, perhaps even more than a thousand demos.  From the elevator demo, literally, in the elevator, on somebody’s iPhone, to the two hour, every mouse-click of the application, “I’m so proud” demo.  Honestly, I like demos.  I like them more than most other presentation content or style.  You learn a ton about a product, the company, and even about the people presenting the demo.

I have also written a few, designed quite a few and presented many demos – mostly in my time at Great Plains.  When I was at Great Plains we cooked up one particular demo that was presented to the largest live audience in history, at the time, and then went on to be deployed as a sales demo to thousands of Microsoft sales personnel.  This was before Microsoft acquired Great Plains when I was working at Great Plains running the tech platform activities.

But first, we need to categorize the types of demos that you may need to perform, just like the different types of presentations you may perform.

·         The Elevator Demo:  So easy, so portable, that you can do it in an elevator.

·         The DEMO Demo: 6 minutes, soup to nuts, you pitch the product, and the company.

·         The Show Case Demo:  Lights, camera, action – grab the ooh, the ah.

·         The Sales Demo:  It’s gotta close the deal.  But be careful, because it’s gotta work too.

·         The Acquisition Demo:  It’s about the company, but shown through the app.

Just like any presentation, a good demo is aimed at the audience, with the intent of eliciting some response from that audience, or a key member of that audience.  It is theatre and follows the same premise.  When you start the demo, people have to get what you are talking about, and really get it.  If you start off with some kind of complicated set-up, the audience will be lost before you even begin.  Just like a great song, you build up slowly, keep everybody comfortable, engaged, wondering, and then you get to the payload.  The core of what the product or service does.  That the audience gets it and can remember.  There may be, and usually are, many technical details in why the demo is even working, but don’t explain it.  Keep the audience wondering, but keep them believing.

Then there is the close, and in any demo, or any format, you need to close with something that is sticky, that resonates.  It may be glitzy, an animation, even gimmicky, but it has to fit, don’t go too far.  One of the most memorable demos was a company that graduated out of TechStars in Boulder in 2007.  That’s literally 100s of demos ago for me and I still remember it.  Search-to-Phone allowed a user to call one phone number, ask for a service, and that service would be broadcast to dozens of service providers.  So, in the demo, the CEO of Search-to-Phone, Carmin Turco, picks up his cell phone, dials the Search-to-Phone number, and asks for an Elvis impersonator.  The system sends out the inquiries, and connects Carmin with a service provider that can deliver.  Carmen negotiates the rate, on the phone, in front of the live audience, and closes the deal.  Carmen closes the phone and then you hear a guitar strumming outside and through the door walks an Elvis impersonator.

Search-to-Phone did a variety of deals and is private labeled in different web applications.  A great demo does not necessarily mean that your company will be the next Facebook, but it gets you noticed, and is worth all the time and effort.  Perhaps more so than all the effort you put into that killer PowerPoint deck.

My guidance on how to do each of the types of demos I described will be coming next.