How to demo your idea

Some of the best advice I ever read about presentations is that before you start, you need to truly understand why you are there to present in the first place. Is it to inform, motivate or inspire?

Each of these requires different approaches, different styles and work better or worse with different formats for delivery. The head space you use to build the presentation along with the energy, rhythm and focus of the presentation will be quite different between all three. Informing someone should be quite heavy on data and accurate in its delivery. Inspiring someone to make a change is more charged with emotion, and motivation is more oft reached with a middle ground between the two. A stable and rational basis of fact laced with the compelling emotional necessity for action.

In startup world, there are two much talked about presentations that everyone wants to be great at: the pitch and the demo. To pitch, most likely for funds, is where you need to bring the story of the startup to life for potential investors. To show them the unique qualities of the idea, the traction it has gained and how you and your team will turn that into a profitable business. A lot of informing, with a touch of motivation on top. You want them to write cheques after all!

In doing a demo the real motivation is to prove Product Market fit. What does that mean? Well, put simply it’s to find out if the people you want to use your idea actually think its great. To hear from them about whether it solves their problems, if it meets their needs in terms of user experience and interface and whether the overall package is appealing to them including the price of engaging with it (be that in terms of the data they give you or the money they exchange). Which one is that though? Is it informing? Motivating? Inspiring?

Demos are hard to get right and I have seen many of them in different countries. Here’s some top tips from my experience:

Be authentic - by that I mean be “you”. Let the audience see who you are as a person, and the journey you are on as a founder. Doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, let them in to your thought process and the emotional journey you are on. It’s exciting, it’s inspiring, it’s a the heart of why entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs. Don’t avoid being authentic and don’t avoid making connections with the people in the audience particularly if you are getting hard questions. Those are the ones you really want!

Show and (do a little bit of) Tell! - No matter what state your product or idea is at make sure that at least 80% of your time at a demo is showing it to people. Don’t waste time with slides about market segments or timelines of development or even pretty pictures of the team. SHOW THE PRODUCT! If its an app, plug in a dongle and project it. Do that from the start. Avoid preamble. Give out download codes and get people to try it there and then. If possible, also show insights from customers. These are golden. A nice 30 second video of your customer saying why they use your stuff can never be argued with! If your product or idea allows, give the demo audience a chance to interact with it and be integral to the overall experience. Do not worry about bugs. Do not worry about crashes. Do not worry about anything. Just let the experience happen.

Look for feedback and embrace it - the main reason you give a demo is to hear what people think and feel about your idea. So look for that feedback. Give time to that feedback. Embrace that feedback with a smile. Don’t panic, no matter what that feedback is. Make notes of it and go away to think about it. Don’t shout it down or counter heckle. Look particularly hard at the feedback you get from people that match your target demographic. This is from where the most important iterations will be derived.

Short and Sweet - A good demo is no more than 10 minutes. A great demo is no more than 5 minutes. Q & A can happen on top of that. A great demo of less than 5 minutes, might get 30+ minutes of Q&A on the evening both during and after the demo itself.

Be Social - Whatever your format, whatever the platform, get your conversation started at the demo. Get your # out there front and centre. Tell people where to share and where to follow. Make sure they all use the sharing info for your demo hosts too. This is a force multiplier for you. See if you can get the audience to answer a question, a survey or a poll for you or leave a comment about your demo for all to see. It’s all part of your story. It’s all part of spreading the message. In most audiences at a demo you can never be 100% certain who is there. Typically there will be other entrepreneurs and their friends, some press, investors, politicians, mentors, business angels, service providers and connectors of all sorts. Mavens, sales people and connectors abound. Where will their comments get shared? What serendipity or good fortune can you generate?

Remember just two things - In your head there are thousands of thoughts and ideas. A lot of these will flow through a demo, and letting that happen is part of the process. Before, during and after the demo remind yourself what are the two things you want your audience to remember? Do you have a single call to action you can leave them with? 50% of your audience will remember one thing you tell them. 25% will remember two. 5% will remember more than that. Throw a 100 things at them and you wont get much return over just giving them a few.

The best demos I ever saw where very interactive. They involved the entire audience in a video selfie or the building of a multi layered musical track. They left their audience with a legacy of experience, and sometimes a tangible outcome. In the case of the MP3 made at one demo, the audience literally could go home listening to it in the car. These great demos were also fun. I laughed with the teams and for a moment saw inside the dynamic of their relationships as well as the journey of the idea. Where I didn’t understand things their approach made me want to find out more.

I still remember the good demos months and years afterwards and why? Well, here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you about being awesome at giving demos....they enjoyed it and I did too!

Human energy is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. When you stand up and demo your idea with a smile people will enjoy the experience. That kind of positive energy is something everyone can embrace. It will pay back ten fold on the investment you make in getting up there :)



Stewart Noakes