David D’Souza of Moprise and I were down at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco last week, demoing Moprise’s latest application, Coaxion, for several hundred VCs, press and technology enthusiasts. Demoing the product over 100 times that day, I started to think about the ingredients of a good product demo. I also watched one of the masters, Steve Jobs, demo products over the years: ranging from his introduction of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 to his introduction of the iPad in 2010. Looking at Job’s demos, and thinking about the ones I’ve done over the years, it seems to me that there are seven key ingredients to a great demo:
- Start off with a “hook” – If you look at Steve Jobs introduction of the iPad 1, he describes it as “More intimate than a laptop, more capable than a smartphone”. We started off our demo of Coaxion by describing it as “Flipboard for the Enterprise”. This, by the way, is what is known as a “high concept pitch“. It’s like something you know (Flipboard), but different in a way that makes sense (for the enterprise, rather than for consumers). Or it’s like one product that you know meets other product that you know. This technique, borrowed from the movie industry, is very effective in communicating what your company does in a single sentence.
- Explain a problem and show how your product solves it, elegantly – after our “hook”, we described a scenario involving a salesman, who wanted access to all his documents on the iPad, offline or online, and we showed how easy and elegant it was to retrieve those documents and make them available offline.
- Put the product in a bigger context – Jobs is the master of this. For example, when he introduced the iPhone, he didn’t just say, “hey look, here’s a nice feature and here’s another nice feature”. What he said was “we’re re-inventing the phone” and then proceeded to demonstrate exactly what he meant by that phrase.
- Reinforce by repetition – in his introduction of the iPad, count how many times Steve Jobs said “It’s just that simple.”
- Leave out the jargon and the tech talk – watch this video if you’re ever tempted to use jargon in a demo. It’s a spoof, and an accurate one.
- When something goes wrong (and it will), ignore it or make a joke – Coaxion was still unstable when we demoed it at TechCrunch, and almost every demo we would have a failure. Since I had told people up front that this was work in progress, I just joked that the failure showed that this was real software, and not a fake demo. Watch Steve Jobs handle a loss of connectivity when he introduced the iPhone 4.
- Close with a call to action – this will vary depending on whether the demo is to a large audience from a stage, or a more intimate sales call. In any case, don’t forget the purpose of the demo – you want to move people to action. Don’t forget to be explicit about the action that they should take, whether it is to download the product or sign up to learn more.