How to Be a Demo God
From February 6th to 8th, executives from seventy companies will do a six-minute demo of their products to an audience of venture capitalists, analysts, and journalists. This event is called, logically, Demo. It's a great event--especially if you understand the dance that's going on: entrepreneurs acting like they don't need capital, and VCs acting like they don't need entrepreneurs. (This dance is akin to acting prudish in a brothel, but I digress...)
This posting is ostensibly for the seventy or so souls who will do the demos--everyone one of them aspiring to be labeled a demo god. I should probably throw in another seventy vice presidents of marketing. And seventy PR account execs. Let's call it three hundred or so people. But it's also for anyone who has to demo a product to raise capital, make a sale, garner press, or recruit an employee.
With no further delay, here is the path to demo-god-dom:
- Create something worth demoing. My first “duhism” for the week, and it's only Monday morning. If you want to be a demo god, create a great product to demo. If you create mediocrity, and you somehow slipped past the gatekeepers of Demo, you will be outed there. I know Demo is a great PR opportunity, but if you don't do a demo, only you'll know you have mediocrity. If you do the demo, the whole world will.
- Do it alone. A demo god works alone. You may think it will be interesting and hilarious if the two co-founders do the demo together. Plus, it will show the world how they're getting along so well. Do you know why Laurel and Hardy is so famous? It's because there has been so few successful duets. It's hard enough for one person to do a demo. Trying to get two people to do an interactive demo is four times harder. If you want to be a duet, go to a karaoke bar.
- Bring two of everything. There is a place for duplication: equipment. Expect everything to break the night before you're on stage, so bring two, maybe even three, computers, phones, thumb drives, whatever you'll use in your demo. There is zero slack for equipment failures at Demo other than the projector and audio (which are the responsibility of the Demo folks).
- Get organized in advance. You should never futz around in a demo--for example, looking for folders and files on your hard disk. You have weeks to prepare for these six minutes; you're absolutely clueless if you haven't set everything up in advance.
- Reduce the factors you can't control. Should you assume that you'll have Internet access during your demo? Yes, but have a back up anyway. Sure, the hotel has a T1 line, but several hundred people in the audience are accessing it. You can count your lucky stars that Verizon has EvDO service in Phoenix. Better yet, simulate Internet access to your server by using a local server.You don't have to show the real system. This, after all, the demo.
- Get to it. You only have six minutes, so within thirty seconds, stop jawboning and start demoing. Nobody cares about the genesis of your company or that you have a PhD in cognitive science from Stanford. They came to see a demo, not hear your life story. Believe me, if your demo is good, they'll hunt you down to get your whole story later. If your demo sucks, it won't matter if you've won a Nobel Prize.
- “Do the last thing first.” I stole this from my buddy Peter Cohan who is a demo maven; he teaches people how to do a great demo. What he means, and I second, is that you have about one minute to captivate your audience, so don't try building to a crescendo. Start with “shock and awe”--the absolute coolest stuff that your product can do. The goal is to blow people's minds.
- Then show the “how.” Once you've blown their minds, then you work backwards and show them the “how.” This is the knockout punch: not only is the “what” fantastic, but the “how” makes it possible for mere mortals to do this too. True or false: What's coming out of your mouth should impress the audience. The answer is False; what's happening on the screen should impress the audience, not what you're uttering.
- Cut the jargon. The Demo audience thinks that it is very sophisticated and tech savvy. It may well be, but you should cut the jargon nonetheless because jargon seldom impresses people. The ability to speak simply and succinctly is always the best way to go. You may have the world's greatest enterprise software product, but the consumer device partner of your dream venture capital firm is in the audience. If she can't understand your demo, she's not going to be telling her counterparts about it back in the office.
- Don't take any questions until the end. There are no questions during a demo at Demo because of the six minute limit. However, in other circumstances, you may be tempted to field questions as you go. Don't do it. It's too risky. You never know what you'll be asked--it could take you down a rat hole so deep that you'll never come back up. The upside of showing that you can answer any question in real-time is an ego trip that doesn't justify the downside of getting derailed.
- End with an exclamation point. You want to start on a high. You also want to end on a high. (If I had to choose, though, I'd start with a higher high than end with a higher high.) Just keep one more cool thing in your bag of tricks. Think of it as a great dessert at the end of a great meal. Scary but true: the goal is to end like the Ginsu knife commercial: “But wait, there's more...” And when you do end on this exclamation point, leave the screen alone. Give the audience plenty of time to let the exclamation point sink in. If they're interested, they look you up in the program, so don't end with a screen of contact information.
Written at: Atherton, California.