How to Demo your Product

January 9, 2009

I wrote this originally for folks who were doing demos at Headstart 2009. Cross posted from Headstart.

Headstart is a tremendous opportunity to connect with early users who can give you feedback and also buy. In order to make the most of this opportunity, its important to be ready with a very good demo. Also, the way of doing the demo differs when you’re in a presentation mode vs a stall talk mode. We’ve put together a few pointers below to help you with these. These are based on our own experiences of making demos and of being on the receiving end of hundreds of demos.

Before we get started, some links to great stuff on the web:

Guy Kawasaki

Jason Calacanis

Luc Richard

Irrespective of whether you’re doing a stall demo or on stage demo, these hold true
  1. NO slides, NO co intro: People will ask these stuff if the product hits the right notes for them. This includes co background, founder info etc.
  2. Just start with the best part: Best part is whatever looks the best or is the key feature. Don’t bother too much with login etc. You don’t have to completely reproduce all the steps that the user has to make. The faster you get to an “Aha” moment, the better it is. The idea is to hook the audience.
  3. Canned vs Live: Canned demo is absolutely fine. Keeps things predictable and under control. Canned demo essentially means a local copy of the web software or a movie of the software in use. Live demo has its advantage when you’re very confident of software’s capabilities; just make it interactive. If you’re on stage, use someone who’s recognized by the audience to be the lead user for the crowd. Can even be the announcer if he/she fits the bill for your average user. In a stall, it can be just about anyone. Do make sure that you do the things for the user instead of them doing it since they are unfamiliar with your system – keyboard, mouse etc
  4. Persistent questioner: On stage, the stage manager will usually pass them “so that others get a chance too”. In the case they don’t, it means that they think that the questions have a lot of merit. In such a case take the follow up question. At any point where there is discomfort, ask if it can be taken off line. If you feel that its getting too deep for a public forum, point it out. At the stall, see if others around are interested as well. If yes, engage. If no, take “off line” escape hatch.
  5. Stupid question: Others in audience too know its a stupid question. However, do provide a short polite answer and move on.
  6. Be enthusiastic: A cheery good morning/good afternoon is enough to make the audience come alive for you. Remember Munna Bhai 2 – “Good morning Mumbai”? Its simple and very effective. Similarly show energy throughout the demo through your body language.
  7. Practice, practice, practice: Catch someone from outside your team and do a rehearsal with them. Higher the no of iterations, the better prepared you are. Practice all steps – including exchange of business cards/stage entry
Stall demos: 
  1. Customize: Get the person’s card and see where the interest is coming from. Just ask them. Then modify the pitch accordingly by emphasizing or deemphasizing the features. Be ready to shorten to a few sentences if the visitor is not relevant. 
  2. Collect info: Ask a lot of questions when you meet someone from your target profile. See if you can sign them up as a user. Find what excites them and what’s a turn off. See if they can refer you to someone relevant.
  3. Build redundancy: If one person gets busy in post demo discussions, there should be someone else to take over and continue for the next visitor. Also be ready for simultaneous demos.
  4. Follow up using the cards collected. Be sure to respond to Unsubscribe requests.
Stage Demos:
  1. Stage roles: Only one person presents. Yes, you’ve two or more founders and all have made equal contributions but ONLY one presents. Change overs are discontinuities where you can loose your audience. There should be another person managing the system for the demo. The presenter needs to engage the audience while the other person needs to make sure that the screen is in sync with the talk. Q&A can be by the entire team if needed. For example, only CTO can answer the question.
  2. Double check the set up: Make sure that you do a dry run in the same order as the schedule and using the same equipment as would be used for the demo. If you loose time, it comes from your time.
  3. Feedback: Provide presenter’s email ID on a slide for feedback. People like that instead of “feedback @”

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