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Does Your Demo Rock? How To Fix That

You've got only one shot to impress a customer or an investor. Here's how to make the most of it.

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I think most of the end-of-season demo days are officially over. Having sat through half a dozen demo days in several cities in the last couple of months, and watched more than 50 different pitches, I have a few suggestions for the teams while we’ve got a bit of a breather.

1. One size still doesn't fit all

Too many of the pitches were just too long. Early enthusiasm and energy turned into fatal fatigue. Not every company or business needs ten minutes to tell a compelling tale. Say your piece, keep the emotional level high, and then sit down. Elaboration after a point is just mental pollution.

A separate, but related, issue is the risk of leaving your “A” game in the rehearsal room. Too many of these entrepreneurs seem to have had too many rehearsals; too many coaches; and too many sleepless nights. Adrenaline will only take you so far, and some of the presenters just seemed pooped to me.

2. Templates are tiresome

Your story and your style need to be front and center, and everyone’s story is different. The type of pitch should depend completely on the specific message you’re trying to send and the type of investor that you’re targeting. Go with what makes sense for your story, not some set of boilerplate presentation slides where each team just fills in the blanks.

Maybe your team is terrific, and should be a major part of the pitch. But the tenth time the audience sees the infamous smiling team slide, it’s just tiresome. Put the bios in a booklet or just bag the whole thing if your team isn’t demonstrably a compelling competitive differentiator. You’ll have plenty of time to introduce the team down the round.

I’m also pretty sick of meeting “Bob,” the prototypical user or target customer, who has all the problems your product or service is going to solve. It’s a painful and tired trope, and it needs to be dumped from every demo as soon as possible.

3. Don't let your dress be a distraction

As a general rule, wearing your team’s t-shirt may be the safest bet. Dressing up or down or too distinctly is risky. The last thing you want is to have anyone looking at you rather than listening to you. Crazy clothes, hiked-up heels, and bushy beards all remove substance, attention and focus from your story. Make your statement some other time and place.

A fashion faux pas can start you off with the crowd wondering if you’re serious. Why would you want to start with that extra monkey on your back? This is a steep enough slope as it is. Starting out in a rut of your own making makes no sense. First impressions really matter when you’ve only got a few minutes to make your points and your best case. There are no “do-overs” on Demo Day. 

I feel the same way about humor. Jokes are really hard to set up and pull off and they’re risky. You just don’t want to take the chance that your gag or stunt will fall flat and the crowd will start feeling sorry for you rather than swayed by you. They might still buy you a beer during the break, but they’ll be a lot less likely to bet their bucks on your business if they think you’re a clown. And a bad one at that.

4. Case studies generally stink

Talking about your own results--user acquisition, revenue growth, major contracts, new strategic partners--moves your story forward and makes a lot of sense. But trying to explain the details of a case study, even one with impressive results, is just a waste of too much precious time. You’ve got to set up the case, introduce the client and their problem, explain the context and the actions, and show the success. And while you’re doing that, the audience is hearing all about the client’s name (not yours) and you’re talking about the client’s business (not yours). It’s just too easy for everyone to get lost in the weeds.

Just claim the results -- “We saved these guys millions” -- and move on. Details to follow. You can make the point that the product works without putting the audience to sleep.

5. Funders are fierce followers

I was amazed at how many companies said that they had raised X or Y dollars toward their goal, but didn’t take the opportunity to say who their investors were. If your backers are willing, it’s worth the time to tell us who they are. Brand name investors betting on your business sends a very clear message to the rest of the crowd that they should get on board. The bigger and faster the bandwagon, the better the fund-raising results.

You should never forget that investors don’t fear losing their money anywhere near as much as they fear being the only investor who does. Nobody wants to go it alone if they don’t have to. They want to know that, if things go bad, at least they’ll have company in their misery.

IMAGE: Shutterstock (modified)
Last updated: Sep 12, 2013

HOWARD A. TULLMAN is the CEO of 1871 – Where Digital Startups Get Their Start and the General Managing Partner of G2T3V, LLC and of Chicago High Tech Investment Partners. He is a member of the Chicago NEXT & Cultural Affairs Councils and the Illinois Innovation & Arts Councils; an adjunct professor at Kellogg; and an advisor to many start-ups. He is the former Chairman and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. Over the last 45 years, he has successfully founded more than a dozen high-tech companies. @tullman
@tullman




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