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January 23, 2006

How to Be a Demo God

Demo 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. “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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

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Comments

You it is simple good fellows! Very good approach. All is correct.

I with you in many respects agree you are right!

If you're not taking questions then we could assume you're mapping/practicing every second of the presentation. But would recording a screencast/movie make it too dull or seem too "
magical "?

I guess that video games tend to use demo movies first and demo programs later. Maybe a movie implies that you have some features that work great, but overall the product isn't "ready." A demo program is probably more convincing and tangible.

Good post. I give demos all the time, and generally do these things. However, the Demo conference seems pretty cool

Great suggestions for demos; they all make sense and I'll be trying them out over the next few weeks.

A week to go and we're still working away. Rehearsals have gone well, but it is so hard to practice backups. We're also a young company which means some of the team don't have the man years working together to rely on when things get tough.

We're confident that we'll do a good job. I'm sure it will be fun regardless.

Cheers Guy. Email me if you want a pre-DEMO demo. Under embaro of course...

As technical director for DEMO'06, I think Guy has given some great practical advice for demonstrators.

Keep in mind what you want those seeing your DEMO to repeat to other people about what it is you do. Unfortunately, you won't have the opportunity to pitch to ever decision maker in their organization, so you have to decide what that "sound bite" will be and then BURN IT IN during your demo. If they can't articulate your value proposition in a simple way, then either you failed in communicating that value or it just doesn't exist in the first place.

#3 can't be stressed enough. Thumb drives are incredibly cheap and can be an incredible godsend when (not if) the presentation gods decide to create some mischief. Every hotel has a sundry shop and almost all of them sell thumb drives. Buy one and rest easy knowing you're prepared.

You need to go to better brothels!

can be that pattern translated into a "what a presentation of anything should be"?
for instance writing a blog or presenting an idea.
This article makes me think about it. as a summary Guy is trying to communicate a quite skeptical (or maybe not so much) public in order to sell it.
http://almadormida.blogspot.com
Dixie & bonhamled

You can't go too far on prep (#3 / #5). I remember a long night / morning preparing for a demo when we prepared *everything* for our CEO, who was giving the demo. After double and triple checking everything, we finally wrapped up, confident that absolutely nothing could go wrong.

Our demo involved a dial-up internet connection (remember those?), so we spent plenty of time making sure that the dial-up procedures worked, we had backup accounts, and so on. We packed phone cords, too.

As we're sitting around the next day wondering how the demo was going, we got a call from the CEO -- what do we do when the only phone jack in the room is digital?

This advice has always been true, but it's easier than ever to back up your backups (wireless access, Virtual Machines for servers, etc.) so make sure you cover yourself!

Great post.

Since I have to do such a demo in about two weeks, I still have enough time left to adjust it according to your advice. Thanks.

A demo is more than the sum of its parts. It is also a great story. There must be, weaved within the demo itself, something that goes to the heart of the experience of the demo, something about the presence and energy of the presenter, and more than anything, something that the audience can take away so that they can tell their friends.

I am never content with the ordinary...this Demo I must pass.....DemoFall, I'll be there as there are more of the WOW Factors!!! I hope it is not all about Web 2.0 .... so boring. I hope somebody discoveried a time flux capacitor.

Back when you were CEO of ACIUS you gave a class on how to do a great demo, and I was fortunate to be a student. What I learned that day, and the several demos I've watched you do over the years, I've applied many times, and somehow managed to get it right more times than not.

I'd add an item to Practice, Practice, Practice (an extension of your #4).

"End with an exclamation point"

I think a good example will be Steve Jobs presentation.

Remember "...One more thing..."

Actually, we won the demo god this year and the Inny (new award from the Tech Musuem) but it wasn't our demo it was our overall presence at DEMO. It just seemed that wherever there was a cluster of DEMO-goers , there too were those lime green tshirts and our hokey smiling faces. Whatever YackPack is, DEMO was a success because we had the whole package, not just a good product or a good demo--we were living and breathing our product every moment we were there.

#9 is very important. A noted physicist once said, "If you cannot explain your research to your grandmother, you do not fully understand it yourself."

Using technical language more than is necessary can not only lose your audience, it can give them the impression that you're not explaining your idea clearly because you can't--and in many cases, they'll be right.

GK, of all people, *you* should know better than link the 'But wait, there's more' to the Ginsu knife commercials instead of Jobs' keynotes... ;)

Otherwise, your demo tips are bang on...

Do you have any examples of exclamation endings? I'm not sure I understand the concept - you've shocked & awed, showed the how. Now how do you end it?

Wow...6 minutes? At this juncture in my presentations, I find myself trying to stretch and stretch what I have to say in order to fill the time alloted. I do believe having to cram a compelling demo into six minutes would be far more challenging. Sounds like an awesome event.

Interesting points...clearly influenced by The Steve.

I wonder about opinions on "live action" versus showing a "movie." I guess it depends on the product, but I could imagine that a VC isn't impressed by the demo'er hiding behind a screen running things with a keyboard & mouse. Also there is a lot greater probability of error/malfunction.

If you're not taking questions then we could assume you're mapping/practicing every second of the presentation. But would recording a screencast/movie make it too dull or seem too "magical"?

I guess that video games tend to use demo movies first and demo programs later. Maybe a movie implies that you have some features that work great, but overall the product isn't "ready." A demo program is probably more convincing and tangible.

And, just to throw it out there for the topic list, I'd like to hear more about the basics of VC. How do I know that I need VC? What do I owe the VCs in the short term? In the long term?

Good post. I give demos all the time, and generally do these things. However, the Demo conference seems pretty cool

A great one. Thank you.

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