"Trucks have been the same for about 100 years," Elon Musk said as he took the stage last night to unveil a new Tesla pickup truck. On cue, the smoke machine cranked up and a futuristic looking truck rolled out on stage. It's called the Cybertruck, Tesla's first pickup truck that will go into production in 2021.
About eight minutes into the presentation, the demo goes wrong. While showing off the truck's "armored windows," an assistant on stage throws a large metal ball at the driver-side window. It shatters. Thinking that it might have been a fluke, he throws it again at the rear window. It shatters.
Clearly, the demo went wrong and made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
It's too bad because the rest of the presentation was extraordinary. This is what makes Elon Musk one of the more captivating communicators in business today. He takes risks and turns presentations into events where sometimes things might go wrong. It adds to the suspense--and to the fun.
Here's what made the rest of the Musk's presentation noteworthy.
The sledge-hammer demo.
The 'skin' or the exoskeleton of the truck is made from "ultra-hard stainless steel," Musk said. "We're going to show you just how hard." On cue, an assistant walked on stage carrying a sledge-hammer. First, he took three whacks at a regular pickup door. It bends and dents the door.
As the assistant walks over to the Cybertruck, Musk builds the suspense and puts on a show. "Hit it harder. Really wind up and nail it," he urges.
The assistant takes off his jacket. He's wearing a black t-shirt. He hits the Cybertruck even harder. It bounces off the door and doesn't leave a noticeable dent. The audience cheers.
But Musk isn't done.
The bullet-proof armor demo
"What else can we do?" he asks the audience.
"Can we shoot it?"
As the audience cheers its approval, Musk jokes that he can't really pull out a gun and shoot the car. But he does have a video. The audience sees slow-motion video of a 9mm bullet being shot at the metal door. It fails to pierce it.
The crowd cheers.
"What else can we do?" Musk asks again.
The shatter-proof glass demo
At this point, Musk turned to the glass. Beginning at about 6 minutes into the presentation, you'll find a terrific demo. An assistant drops a small metal ball onto normal automobile glass. It shatters immediately.
The glass was replaced with the Tesla armor glass. The ball is, once again, dropped from the same height and does nothing to the glass. The audience lets out a small cheer.
Musk builds the suspense.
"Why don't we do it from a bigger height?"
The assistant climbs a few rungs on the ladder. He drops the metal ball again and it bounces off the glass. The crowd's applause grows louder. Next, he climbs to the top of the ladder, right under the stage lights. He drops it again, the ball makes a loud noise as it hits the glass. Once again, the glass is undamaged. The crowd's applause and cheers are even louder.
It's shortly after this that the demo on the actual truck goes awry. In hindsight, they shouldn't have thrown an even larger metal ball at the glass. Musk explained that in rehearsal they threw everything at it--a wrench and even the kitchen sink, literally. It didn't break."We'll fix it in post-production," he joked.
The side-by-side demos
The next two videos Musk showed were excellent demonstrations of the power of the truck. In one video, the Cybertruck wins a tug-of-war with an F-150 pickup. In a second video, the Cybertruck wins a race against a Porsche.
Unfortunately, Musk had to deliver the rest of the presentation in front of the truck with the shattered glass.
Yes, the shattered glass made the headlines, but people will get over it. After all, the ball didn't penetrate the glass and a bullet didn't pierce the armor. It's extraordinary technology.
Don't make the mistake of avoiding shocking demos because they might not work exactly as planned. If you avoid taking risks on stage, you'll look like most other presenters--boring and forgettable. Of course, you can minimize the potential for a bad outcome by rehearsing the demo exactly how you'll present it.
I hope the failed demo doesn't deter Musk from taking more risks. He's a visionary and a showman--and a lot of fun to watch.