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Seven Ways to Beat the Demo Demons

By Jerry Weissman

When companies bet the farm on new products, their standard operating procedure is to throw an elaborate launch party for industry influencers and the press. These events are often staged with all the razzle-dazzle of a spectacular Las Vegas show, with all of it centered on a demonstration of the precious product. As anyone who has ever attended or participated in these events knows, the demo demons can strike suddenly, smiting the demonstration with a software crash, hardware jam, power outage, blown lamp, dead battery, mouse malfunction, pop-up screen, or sound system failure.

Pure common sense, anticipation, preparation, and redundancy will avoid or counteract most of the physical and logistical pitfalls, but there is still the vital matter of showmanship: How do you integrate all of the elements of your demo? How do you successfully combine its physical components, your voice and body language, and your all-important audience? The demon demons may even give you a free pass and let you proceed without crashing, but you still have to make the demo go smoothly. After all, you are the stand-in for your audience; if you can’t make your own product work easily, how can they?

Here are seven steps to take that will make your next demonstration a success.

1. Get out of the way: When the demo starts, you become subordinate to the demo and are no longer the focus of the presentation. Shift your position to the periphery, and make the demo the center of attention. Veteran actors get out of the way when children and dogs are involved. The demo in business is the equivalent of the cute kid or the adorable puppy on stage. Step aside and let your demo be the focus.

2. Become the voice-over narrator: Take a lesson from how well-made documentaries do their narratives. The narrator is unseen, but tells a clear story. Be the voice-over narrator for your demo and make your narrative thorough. Don’t be vague. Don’t ad lib. Be as precise as a synchronized soundtrack.

3. Say “you.” The Internet abounds with references to a Yale University study of the most persuasive words in the English language in which “you” is at the top of the list, ahead of “love” and “money.” Yet most demos, in their effort to appeal to the broadest possible customer base, are impersonal tutorials that sound canned, and therefore, detached from the audience. By incorporating the word “you” into your narrative, you involve your audience as if they are participants in the demo and, by implication, as buyers of the product you are demonstrating.

4. Take a lesson from Dell Computer: In their current advertising campaign to promote the customization of their products, their slogan is “We don’t make technology for just anyone. We make it for only one. You.” And then, to emphasize the message, Dell adds a tag, “Purely you.”

5. Make eye contact via the demo: Look at your own demo or at the projection screen showing your demo. Don’t try to engage with your audience’s eyes. They are focused on the demo or the screen, and if you face them they become conflicted about where to look. Take the same point of view as your audience. Watch the demo evolve as if you were an end user.

6. Pause for action: Allow the demo to speak for itself, especially when there is a lot is going on. Pause at such points and allow the action to run its course. Silence is golden and actions speak louder than words.

7. Use verbal navigation: Navigate your audience’s eyes with your words. Direct their eyes by describing what is happening in the demo. Reference colors, objects, position and direction. Reference top and bottom, center and sides. Reference left and right, too, but be sure that you make it clear which left or right. Don’t force your audience to do the navigation. A simple fail-safe is to orient yourself with same point of view as your audience.

8. Learn Sullivan’s Law: Sullivan’s Law is a corollary of Murphy’s Law which reads, “Anything that can go wrong will.” Sullivan’s Law reads “Murphy was an optimist.” Develop a Plan B for what you will do and say if the Demo Demons strike.

With careful preparation and planning, you can make your next demonstration a success!

Read other articles and learn more about Jerry Weissman.

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