As a journalist who has attended a number of DEMO conferences, an event at which companies launch new technologies in six minute live demonstrations, I often find myself asked for some advice the night before the presenters take the stage. Tell me, a soon-to-be-presenter will say, what kinds of pitches get your attention, what turns you off.
At that point, it’s too late to make a sudden change in direction. And I don’t want to make someone nervous by inadvertently telling him that everything he's about to do is wrong. It may be wrong for me, but it could work. Maybe. And being nervous isn't going to help anyone. So I try to say something general and get off the subject quickly.
And truthfully, I can’t tell them what makes a six-minute demo great. Mostly, I guess, it’s about the technology itself—does it do more than take a tiny step forward, is it something I can see myself actually wanting, is it something I haven’t seen 10 times before? (And, by that third criteria, all great products are different and unpredictable.)
But there are a couple of things I do know that I like—and don’t like—in a Demo presentation.
—I like to know how much this thing is going to cost. Yes, yes, you have a free trial, free basic subscription, free something; but after that—what are you going to charge?
—I like props. I'll be seeing sixty-plus presentations in two days, some from companies with similar technologies; it gets hard to keep track of them all. At the most recent DemoSpring, one presenter kicked off by smashing a fax machine to bits with a baseball bat—all good, we’ve all wanted to do that. Having a woman do her presentation in handcuffs—that didn't really work for me but it was a noble attempt; it got attention, but I’m not so sure folks remembered much beyond the handcuffs.
—I don't want you to tell me that your social media/shopping/whatever site tosses a tiny percentage of its profits to nonprofits. The fact that you’re making the occasional charitable donation doesn’t make it a breakthrough technology. I don't care and the consumer won't either.
—I don't like hearing that your business model is a three-legged stool, a three-pronged fork, or three of anything. I know three is the magic number in presentations, but it doesn’t help you here. Telling me that you’re going to get revenue through advertising/premium subscribers/white label branding simply tells me have yet to figure out who really wants what you’re selling.
—And, finally, I don't mind if your demo has a few glitches. We know the network goes down, that your server back at home never had a glitch in 10 rehearsals. We do believe it is not your fault. And when the glitches happen, you’ll find everyone in the audience rooting for you to somehow get your message across in spite of what happened. Don’t panic, make an attempt at humor, and realize we’ll at least remember you, and will likely check your booth later to find out what we missed.
Photo: ABJK NewCo Inc. promises the end of the fax machine. Video below.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.