The DEMO conference, held each year in Silicon Valley, has been home to many successful product launches over the last decade. I was honored to be in attendance this last week in Santa Clara and it did not disappoint. For those who aren’t familiar with DEMO, it’s an event where scores of startups have 6 minutes to present their product on stage. At the end, a few awards are given to winners voted by a panel of investors and journalists. The trip was actually the winning prize from the SURF Incubator pitch competition we won in June. Before I go any further I want to publicly thank SURF Incubator for the opportunity and I hope we represented you well.
Although we didn’t present or pitch on stage I definitely had a great time. Here’s Ray Kurzweil speaking on what he see’s as the future of technology. Things are about the get crazy cool and I’m very glad I was sitting there that day!
The event – one I won’t forget for a number of reasons – was notable, tiresome, and educational. We spoke with a number of other startups and were shocked at how strong our pitch has become, even to other entrepreneurs. It’s pretty cool to see others grasping your concept and actually wanting to use it themselves and integrate within their offering. The trip in itself was very travel intensive, which takes its toll on you mentally and physically. We spent way too many hours on public transportation, that’s for sure. But the biggest thing that stuck with me was how much you can learn by just observing people. As I closely watched the presenters, I noticed a few things that I feel are not covered enough in the media, lessons us “early stage” founders desperately need. I realized by following a few simple principles any founder can successfully demo their product and impress an audience.
The truth is, as an attendee watching all the DEMO’s you get quite restless and bored. This is natural when you are indoors seeing 75 companies parading across the stage throughout the two-day event. As a presenter, you must understand people are drawn into passionate communicators and distaste anything boring or monotone. I watched most of the presentations during the event, and I was struck with how many presenters lacked expressive passion for their concept and cause. They might have had some really cool tech but I wouldn’t have know it by how little they expressed their excitement. Maybe they were nervous or something, but for whatever reason they did not positively influence me on what they were trying to DEMO.
To me, as an attendee, if the presenter did not elicit belief and passion as they spoke about their product, I tuned out. It became background noise and monotone distraction to me and my iphone. You think I am alone? Occasionally I would glance around to the crowd only to see most attendees face lit up with some sort of device in front of them. This is something all presenters should not overlook. Today, you need to give people a reason NOT to grab their phone and play with it. The best presenters were passionate in the right way, and helped me become passionate about their concept, albeit even for just a few minutes. It’s notable to mention EVERY award winner passed my passion test.
In addition to passion, presenters must employ a great deal of poise when on stage in front of hundreds of people. This is challenging yet probably the most important aspect of public speaking. Face it, people are very superficial and if a presenter doesn’t come across comfortable, collected and confident the audience will immediately judge negatively.
The presenters that most impressed me were the ones that came across the most comfortable, confident and collected. In a word, they were very poised onstage. They told me, through their non-verbal cues, “I am the expert on this subject at the moment one the one you should be listening to. Our market leading product is one you definitely need to check out.”
Unfortunately, a few of the presenters actually froze on stage and forgot what they were going to say. This is not a good outcome, especially when being onstage in front of investors and media could result in great fortunes for you and your company. The result, for me as an attendee, was I didn’t really understand what they were doing (in addition to feeling really uncomfortable). The result for them, probably very little investment leads. Whatever it takes, speakers must get prepared!
Great product demo’s lead the audience on a journey of discovery into insights and personally useful information. If not, it’s a waste of six minutes of a person’s time and attention (yes, this is what we all are thinking). The successful demos all encorporated concepts or illustrations that instantly became relevant to me and others in the room. One of the startups, StressFriend, has released an app plus wristwatch called Bandu that monitors your current level of stress and displays it in real time on the smartphone app. Not only that, it maps my stress areas on an interactive map so I can see where I am stressed and where I’m calm. It’s awesome, and something our society really needs so we can all just chill out! During their demo, they actually had a drill sergeant come out from behind the stage, yelling and screaming in the face of one of their team members in the audience. On the big screen, they showed his stress levels changing in real time. Indeed, they were one of the award winners. The relevance here is obvious; we all are stressed, we all hate raging people and we all felt it at that moment. They brought it home! You gotta believe very few people in the room were messing around on their phone or tablet during their presentation.
Winning pitch competitions can be the difference between gaining media attention and millions of investment dollars… or not. It doesn’t have to be that difficult, you just need to follow a few major principles. First be a passionate communicator so the audience feels you and your cause. Second, be confident and have poise on stage in front of the crowd. Lastly, no matter your product you need to present a story in which everyone can relate. These three simple things will go a long way to help with your next demo and hopefully launch your startup successfully.