Tips for presenting multi-million dollar software

Man has it been a while since my last post! I’m sorry, our daughter’s been sick (although we think we’ve finally figured it out and she’s improving rapidly) and I’ve been busy overall. One of the things I’ve been busy with is sitting through software demonstrations. After 50+ hours of these, I think I’ve become a bit of an expert, so I thought I post a few thoughts here.

If you are someone who’s got to demonstrate a large complex software product to someone (or, frankly, anything really complex) here’s some things to keep in mind. Mind you, I’m talking all-day (10+ hours) demos here, where weâ??re deciding narrowing a small field of vendors to a single vendor.

  • You’re not here to be a comedian. Yes, humor is welcome, but it’s no replacement for content.
  • Don’t eat while presenting. Yep, we actually had someone do it, and continue to give their presentation while chewing candy. They brought the candy (see below) but it still doesn’t give a good impression.
  • If you are presenting as part of a team, make sure you are a team and not a collection of individuals sucked from the four corners of the earth. Talk to each other. Coordinate. Before presenting, please.
  • Bring appropriate equipment to run the demonstration. Yes, a laptop is easy to whisk through an airport, but if your product requires a client and two servers to run, then for God’s sake make sure that whatever setup you use is up to the task. We’ve had folks waiting a long time for things to run because “there’s a lot of stuff running on this one laptop.” Câ??mon, youâ??re presenting a product worth several thousand times the price of a laptop, surely you can afford to bring a small rack (think musicianâ??s equipment here) with a couple of cheap servers on it. Put all the presentations on one laptop so you can avoid juggling those as different people speak. Last but not least, go spend $60 on a remote control so youâ??re not scooting back across the room to change slides.
  • Use Power Point only when youâ??re presenting concepts that cannot be communicated by the software. If you use Power Point to show us screens or features, the only conclusion is that they donâ??t really exist.
  • When youâ??re asked to present something youâ??re not prepared for, just admit it and offer to handle it offline. Please donâ??t spend 15 minutes asking us to imagine screens, fields, or data.
  • You have an annoying laugh. We donâ??t want to hear it every time youâ??re nervous or make a mistake. Inside jokes you have with your colleagues should stay inside unless youâ??re going to tell us the background. Please donâ??t unless the juice is worth the squeeze. This isnâ??t to say we donâ??t want levity, we just want good levity.
  • Anyone not presenting should be at the back of the room, not at the front and in our field of view. If they need to work on their parts of the presentation or need to talk to each other they should be out of the room. The faces people make while writing/editing presentations are really amazing.
  • When your teammate has clipped the lapel mic to the wrong spot, and every move results in an overwhelming rustle of noise, stop them before the audience has to and fix the problem. Also, if we hand you a mic, wear it.
  • When asked a question, listen to the whole question, give your answer, and confirm that you answered it by asking the audience if theyâ??re satisfied. Nothing drove us nuts more than having to ask the same question several times because the presenter wasnâ??t listening, or answered a question not asked.
  • The only thing worse than not being able to demo a particular feature is to be seen hiding that fact.
  • Bring treats. One group brought donuts in the morning and chocolate in the afternoon. Not a big deal, but a nice touch. The later crews just seemed chintzy by comparison. With a 7-figure sale at stake, isnâ??t $50 worth of food cheap insurance?
  • Avoid meta-presenting. Other than a few comments about questions or the like, we donâ??t need elaborate explanations of or apologies for the way you present.
  • If you find yourself saying the word â??shouldâ??, as in â??I should haveâ?¦â?? or â??There should beâ?¦â?? youâ??re not well prepared. Thereâ??s nothing to do about it now except not to bring attention to it. Have a colleague count how many times itâ??s said as a benchmark for improvement.
  • Showing customer-specific data and buzzwords is risky. If you do it well, youâ??re a genius. If you show them in the wrong place or context and youâ??re a clown.

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