Almost everyone breaks out in a cold sweat at the idea of doing a live product demo in front of prospects and customers; it can feel like you’re on a high wire without a net. The list of things that could potentially go wrong – from product malfunctions to unanticipated audience questions – can seem limitless. Fortunately, there’s an equally long list of things you can do to prepare for a product demo to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
To quell your public-speaking nerves, this article offers tips on how to present a demo of a product that checks all the boxes for your audience.
What Is a Product Demo?
A product demo can allow companies to introduce details about their products by letting prospects and customers see the goods firsthand. Also known as a sales demo, a product demo can make it possible for companies to present the features and benefits of their products, and highlight how those products deliver value.
There are three typical types of product demo: one-to-one live demos, product demo videos, and interactive product demos. Understanding the basics of each type can help you plan which to use most effectively.
- One-to-one live demo: In this type of demo, a company meets a customer, either face-to-face or online, to give them a real-time look at how the product works. In the case of a physical product, like a car, customers can sit in the vehicle or drive it to get a better sense of whether it suits their needs. With software, a company representative may demonstrate how the software is used and highlight key features. Consider planning to set aside considerable time and resources to conduct a live demo. Prospects and customers may also need to set aside time to attend.
- Product demo video: Product demo videos are similar to one-to-one demos, but they’re prerecorded rather than demonstrated live. They can then be made available online and distributed as necessary. Product demo videos can be preferable to other demo types, particularly during the early stages of the buying process, because they tend to be short, can be watched anytime and virtually anywhere, and don’t require setting up time-consuming meetings. Depending on the complexity of the product and the video’s production quality, demo videos can range from affordable to costly, but the investment is spent upfront.
- Interactive product demo: Interactive demos combine the best of one-to-one and video demos: They allow customers and prospects to learn about and test a product or service when and how they please. It’s the equivalent of a test drive for a car, but it can be done from a computer or mobile device at any time, from anywhere. Interactive demos can often be more affordable to create and usually require minimal upfront company resources to conduct.
How to Give a Successful Product Demo
Preparation is the key to a successful product demo. The following tips can help you prevent potential problems before, during, and after your demo.
The more you understand your audience, the easier it is to craft a compelling product demo.
Follow a Three-Act Structure
Whether you’re demonstrating your product one-to-one in real time – via video or in an interactive page – a well-planned structure is a key component in delivering an outstanding demo. It often helps to break your demo into three clearly defined parts: the intro, the actual demo, and the conclusion.
- Before the demo, briefly introduce yourself and your company. Try to set the context or background for the demo, but don’t waste time. You’ll likely have a short window to grab and maintain your audience’s attention, so try to keep it concise.
- During the demo, it’s generally best to start with the offering’s strongest components. Consider starting with the key deliverable, rather than progressively moving to the big reveal. This can provide an immediate “wow” factor that quickly hooks your audience.
Then, consider proceeding with a step-by-step demonstration of the product. To keep your audience focused, first try to describe each step, then execute it. Try to show the audience how your product solves their problems. What makes your product better than the competition’s? Consider rehearsing each step until you can recite it cold.
- After the demo, consider briefly reiterating what makes your product exceptional. Try to end with a call to action, such as how to order or download your product, where to get more information, or how prospects can continue the conversation.
Ditch the Bullets
If you use slides for your pre-demo and post-demo discussions, try to use the latest best practices for good slide design. The last thing you could want is for the audience to focus on poorly-built slides rather than your words. Consider avoiding dense text and bullet points that force the audience to read. Instead, try adding a visual that can support your message and deepen understanding.
Audiences can often be more likely to remember what they see, as opposed to what they hear. If you’re giving a live demo of your product, or your video includes a voiceover, try not to force them to choose between listening to you or reading what’s on the slide. If you do, they may tune you out. If you must use text, consider limiting it to one sentence per slide.
Conduct Pre-Demo Research
The more you understand your audience, the easier it can be to craft a compelling product demo. It may not hurt to ask your audience what they’re looking for as you plan your demo, to avoid false starts and to sharpen your focus on what the audience needs. If you can’t have a conversation before demo day, try doing some online research – consider checking your prospect’s website or social media accounts; perhaps a company executive publicly discussed needs and goals.
If you’re delivering a one-to-one demo, consider customizing it to home in on the audience rather than on your product’s bells and whistles. This can spell the difference between an ordinary demo and an outstanding one. If you’re going the video or interactive route, it’s important to try to make sure you’re in tune with your audience’s needs. For example, if you offer a B2B and a B2C version of your product, you’ll probably want separate demos for each, even if the products are similar. You may not want to alienate the average consumer with references to business jargon.
Stick to What’s Relevant
Try to avoid the impulse to demonstrate every product feature. At this point, you’re not selling a product, you’re demonstrating a solution for your audience. Try not to show features that have no value for them. Consider showing only the relevant features that are directly aligned with their needs. For example, you may not need to discuss software code – unless, of course, you’re presenting to a group of software engineers.
Even in the case of relevant features, it may not be necessary to show all of them. Focusing on too many features can result in lengthy, tedious demos that fail to drive home key messages. It’s a demo, not a training session.
Synchronize Your Script and Slides
As the presenter takes the audience through the product demo, few things can feel more awkward than silence. That’s why it’s critical to synchronize your discussion script with the progression of the demo – regardless of whether it’s a live or prerecorded demo.
If it takes 60 seconds to demonstrate a software feature, for example, try to prepare to fill that time with relevant comments while you’re clicking and waiting – mention use cases for the feature, perhaps, or begin to explain how it works. The same applies if something malfunctions during the demo. Try to continue to talk while you fix it. (More on this topic later.)
Show Your Passion
When delivering a demo, there can often be a tendency to get so absorbed in the technical details that you forget to show your passion. Yet, many angel investors and venture capitalists can place considerable importance on a presenter’s passion when making investment decisions.
Passion can be reflected in your enthusiasm, preparedness, and body language. Simply cranking up your energy and giving a more animated presentation can demonstrate passion, as can emotive language that paints a vivid picture or connects to the audience.
Outsmart Murphy’s Law
Even giant companies can encounter technical problems during a live product demo. The key is not to panic and go silent. If disaster strikes, try to continue with some appropriate chatter while you deal with the issue.
It can usually be easier to deal with problems if you’ve tried to anticipate what could go wrong. Try to make a doomsday list and create a plan that addresses each possible situation. In other words, bring a backup laptop, projector, video cables, adapters, power cords, extension cords, flash drives, and anything else you might need for your demo. If you’re presenting a physical product, consider bringing backup demo units.
You can also keep your anxiety at bay by videotaping your demo beforehand. Try to have the demo video ready should you find yourself unable to demonstrate certain features of your product live. Or, consider taking screenshots of your demo to have on hand as a backup. Although this won’t be as effective as a live demo, it can be infinitely better than walking away from a failed demo. As a last resort, prior to your demo, try to use a whiteboard to practice sketching diagrams you can fall back on if you need to replace the actual demo.
The Bottom Line
Well-executed product demos are one of the most effective ways to inform and educate prospects and clients about how your offering works. Compelling demos are an essential skill to acquire to help your company stand out from its competition. Training yourself and your team to deliver outstanding demos can help you engage potential clients and add considerable value to your company.
A version of this article was originally published on January 22, 2016.
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