At the Abbi Agency’s space in a SoHo startup incubator, I have the good fortune of attending product demonstrations on a regular basis. Whether it’s the newest app, canned wine, vegan-friendly “bulletproof” coffee or augmented-reality apps that project three-dimensional objects onto real-life surfaces, I’ve seen lots.
In my opinion, for most startups–and for companies iterating new business in general–product demonstrations are of critical importance to distributing information about a brand to targeted communities. That said, not all demonstrations are made equally. Some perform well, and do what they’re meant to do. Others flop. Why?
When I attend these demonstrations, I pay close attention to what people are doing, saying and, based on their body language, thinking. I wonder: is this presentation legitimately engaging? Did anyone–including the presenters–derive value from this experience? Are people only here for the free pizza?
Never one to leave questions like these unanswered, I’ve made it a point to follow up with presenters and audience members to get a sense of what can be done to make sure that product demos mean more than free pizza and a midday diversion.
Based on what I’ve learned, here are my five keys to transform your product demonstrations into dynamic, value generating, idea-sharing, sales closing machines.
1. PREPARE FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION
“Sorry guys. Not sure what’s going on with the projector. Technology must be in a mood today,” often says a presenter who didn’t make sure that their computer or other device was unquestionably compatible before showing up for the presentation they’ve known about for weeks.
Too often, people in sales or events operate on the premise that their only role in giving a product demonstration is to say their piece and charm their prospects into further interaction with the brand. This belief downplays the notion that they are responsible for a demonstration’s success–or failure–from start to finish.
Prior to giving public demonstration of your good or service, demonstrators should be fully competent and aware of the conditions they’ll be working under. If they’ll be projecting information onto a larger screen from a device, this means knowing how the technical components are supposed to work and making sure that they do ahead of time. This also means that, by the time the demonstration is underway, all pertinent files are in the appropriate place and preferably open. The last thing clients need to see is a desktop riddled with nonessential information.
This advice doesn’t apply solely to those working with technology, either. Product demonstrators who aren’t relying on technology should hold themselves equally responsible for knowing the layout of the space in which they’ll be presenting, understanding how long they’ll speak, budgeting time for audience interaction and making sure that all presentation components are properly in place before showtime.
2. REHEARSE FOR COMPETENCE, CONFIDENCE
A popular John F. Kennedy quote tells us that “the time to fix a leaky roof is when the sun is shining”. I tend to agree with this notion, though I’ve always looked at it a little bit differently.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always rephrased Kennedy’s quote to say: “The time to fix a leaky roof is decidedly not while it is raining.”
When people are presenting on the behalf of a brand, that’s when it is raining, and what choices were made before that point will significantly impact whether that rain merely waters the seeds that produce the fruits of your labor, or creates a flood on your property that may require cleanup and will certainly look like a disaster.
If all of this reads as a little bit dramatic, that’s because it’s meant to. Product demonstrations are more than an event-based marketing opportunity–they’re also theatre! For that reason, it is of critical importance that demonstrators rehearse their pitch, delivery, tone and timing well before they’re standing before an audience that may make or break a sale.
Rehearsing a product demonstration might seem a little silly–unless, of course, you’ve experienced the feeling of sheer embarrassment after flubbing one.
Not only is rehearsal helpful in mastering the content-to-timing ratio that causes so many presenters to rush through their words, but also, it’s great for reducing presentation anxiety. A demonstration that comes off as poised, confident and well-timed will succeed in converting leads to sales over a demonstration that is riddled with nervous energy, clumsy delivery and awkward silences every time. This is why you should never “just wing it”. Preparation is key.
3. INTEGRATE INTERACTIVITY
Truly successful product demonstrations are as memorable as they informative. That’s why it is important for demonstrators to remember their audience as they disseminate information about their products.
By the time they attend your presentation, many of the people you’ll be demonstrating your product to will have attended a veritable litany of monologues backed by PowerPoint presentations—and there will be no quicker way to diminish excitement about your presentation than to do the same thing.
For that reason, speakers presenting on the behalf of a brand should break out of the slides-and-speech paradigm in favor of a more interactive presentation model. Encourage audience engagement by asking relevant, pointed questions—not flaccid floaters, but real lines of inquiry that ignite the audience’s imagination and make them feel invested in the conversation.
Where possible, presenters can take the interactive components of their demonstrations even further by adding hands-on components.
Rather than simply asking members of the audience to watch their product in action, brands can tap into the tactile senses of their audience members by allowing them to interact with their offerings physically. Software developers might ask audience members to download and “play” with the features of an app, while food and beverage vendors might offer samples as they explain the story behind their brand
Cognitive scientist Art Markman argues over at The Harvard Business Review that the goal of most presentations is to “change the audience in some way”, and more specifically, to change their “explicit memory”–information that can be recalled later.
Markman claims that one of the best ways to impact your audience’s explicit memory of a presentation is to make them work for it by giving your audience an opportunity think and act for themselves–in the context that you’ve built for them. Most people who have studied any subject can attest to the efficacy of this technique. When we take responsibility for the information we interact with, it tends to stay with us.
4. PROVIDE STRUCTURED, MEANINGFUL TAKEAWAYS
Markman’s cognitive approach is about more than work; it’s also about telling useful stories. When I’m talking about stories, I don’t necessarily mean the pithy (and awesome) anecdotes–though those are certainly useful. Instead, I’m talking narrative sequencing and connection-building in the minds of your audience.
Markman believes that the most important “given” information–the information that you don’t make the audience work for–should come at the beginning and end of the presentation. It is at those points that the memory is most easily recalled. This, of course, leaves the “middle” chunk of your presentation in an awkward place–but there’s plenty can you do to address memory deficits in your demos.
Markman suggests that we are best served by building connections to information that is already stored in the minds of our audience. This idea is well-supported by an idea pioneered by Steven Hayes at the University of Nevada, called Relational Frame Theory, which argues that a critical building block of human language and “higher knowledge” is our ability to “relate”, or to create links between thoughts, words, sensations and memories.
To take advantage of how human memory works, brand presenters should do at least three things. First, they should identify with great specificity what they key takeaways from their presentation are. Next, they should position the most critical among those elements toward the beginning and end of their presentations. Finally, presenters should be open to the relational cues they pick up on in conversation with their audience.
An awareness of what audience members do, what their assumptions are and how they talk about those assumptions are all useful in creating links between what your brand is sharing and what audience members will take home at the end of the day.
Remember: your product demonstration should be at least as much about your audience as it is about you.
5. COLLECT DATA & FOLLOW UP
Brands should know their audience at least as well as their audience knows them. For that reason, it is imperative that you use product demonstrations as an opportunity to collect data about the people that show up to learn about your offerings.
At the very least, presenters should try to secure contact information from their audience in order to follow up with prospects who might be interested in dealing with them further.
This can be done using any number of tools at various junctures. Some might choose to collect this information prior to the demo through a web-based, digital RSVP solution like Eventbrite. Others may prefer to collect contact information on-site, the old-fashioned way: with pen-and-paper on a sign-in sheet. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with either method.
Beyond gathering contact information, brands can build more value into their product demonstrations by integrating questionnaires that help them to understand the demography, sentiments, needs and other characteristics of their attendees.
The questionnaire might ask: “How useful was this presentation to you? What is the likelihood that you will make a purchase? If you aren’t interested in making a purchase, why not?”
Collecting data via will help you to consider process improvements in future iterations of your demonstration campaign and sales strategy. Collecting contact information will help you to initiate the all-important next step in making a sale–asking to meet with a decision maker or working to close a deal while your offer is still top-of-mind. No matter how you cut it, there’s value to be derived at this stage. Whether or not you collect that value is a matter of personal choice.
Product demonstrations and other events-based outreach can be daunting, but with a strong plan and strategic preparation that iterates before, during, and after the show, anyone can turn a tough sell into a valuable experience for everyone involved.
Are you interested in building killer product demonstrations, lunch & learns or other marketing events? The Abbi Agency, home to the biggest international canned beer festival among many other wonderful events, can help you out. Contact us and we’ll be thrilled to chat with you.
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