This is something I learned a long time ago from the folks at Corporate Visions. Often we get really tough questions that can trip us up during a demo or presentation. By using a technique known as “Re-framing” (it comes from NLP) you can take the edge off of tough questions and often turn them in your favor. The core of the concept is to carefully consider the point of view of the question before you answer it. Then, during that pause, you can make sure to frame your response in a way that better addresses the question.
For example, let’s say you get the following question,”I did not see any way to extend your application using Java. Can you use Java to extend your application?”. You could answer this question with a straight technical response (“Yes, we provide several Java APIs as well as Web Services…”) or you could take it as an opportunity to reframe the question. By first pausing for a moment to think about your response and then asking a clarifying question such as,”Can you give me an example of how you might want to use Java to extend our application?”) you can make sure you are using the right frame-of-reference in your response. API’s and Integration may not be the answer they are looking for. Perhaps they are a Java junkie and just want to know their skills will be of use. Perhaps they have been told your application is Java dependent and prefer a .NET approach. But if you don’t clarify the question you won’t know their frame-of-reference.
After you ask for clarification you need to decide how you will frame your response. If the original question sounded technical (“Java?”) but really was emotional (“Java vs. .NET”) then you need to frame your response accordingly. You can turn potential pitfalls into benefits as long as you understand where the prospect is coming from. Stepping outside of your gut reaction to the question (“Oh no, not that question!”) and making sure you fully understand the prospects frame of reference can make all the difference.
One of my signatures in product demonstrations is to start with a “30 second demo”. In most cases this is a demonstration of a key feature of the software, such as a simple configuration, that I do right at the start of my presentation. There are a lot of good reasons to start a presentation in this way.
When I say, “the start of my presentation”, I really mean at the very beginning, even before I introduce myself. Studies have shown that people are most focused at the start and end of an activity, including a presentation. The first few minutes of a presentation are critical, and often wasted on introductions of both individuals and companies. To take advantage of this phenomena, the first words out of my mouth once I am introduced are:
“Hi, before I get started, I wanted to show you something quickly”
Then I dive right into the application and show a 30-second demo of one key feature that I want to highlight. Immediately after that, without pausing to allow for questions:
“My name is Dave Sohigian, and that is just one quick example of the power of our applications. We’ll refer back to what you just saw in that demo as we go through these topics…”
Here is an example (actually about 45 seconds) showing how to add a plugin to WordPress:
Where you go from here is up to you, but the point is to get the product in front of the prospect as early as possible. In the example above I could refer back to this quick “demo” whenever there were gaps in WordPress functionality that required a plugin (“you already saw how easy it would be to add a plugin…”).
The 30-second demo accomplishes many things:
Shows them product while their attention is very high at the start of the presentation
Gives them comfort that they will see your product before the end of the demonstration
Many people that attend a demo are itching to see how the product performs. Although it is very useful to give them a context for your demonstration and you need to build your credibility with an effective introduction, there will be people in the audience getting impatient right from the start. “Would you just do the demo?” you can almost hear them saying during the obligatory company introduction and list of key features. By doing a demo, even a ridiculously short one, you can put these people at ease so that they are more likely to hear your initial message.
Ensures that everyone sees the product, at least a little.
Often people come and go during a demonstration, but most try to at least make it to the beginning. By doing a quick and effective demo you can ensure that everyone will have a chance to see something powerful about the application.
Avoids starting at the beginning This post from Kathy Sierra at Passionate Users outlines how you should start “after chapter one” in your presentation, and doing a quick demo does just that. You get to the compelling stuff first and add a bit of mystery about where you are going right from the start.
So instead of making your audience squirm in their seats while they “wait” through your introduction and setup slides, why not just give them a quick taste of what is to come. Try it in your next demo!
I like to deliver live (face-to-face) demonstrations of software. Being able to look into peoples eyes and read body language is extremely useful in a presentation or demo. I also enjoy online demonstrations because they don’t require travel and can be set up quickly and easily. But one thing I have never enjoyed is the concurrent live/online demonstration. Most of the time these employ some online presenting software like Webex or GotoMeeting as well as a speakerphone. Sometimes they only involve a speakerphone, which is arguably even worse. The problem with meetings like this is that they split your attention between the people in the room and the people who are remote. Most often the result is a poor presentation for both parties.
My first suggestion for these sorts of demos is don’t do them! If at all possible try to schedule separate meetings for the online and live versions of the demo. It may require a little extra time but if the prospect is willing it is worth the effort. But if you are forced to conduct a split demo, there are a few suggestions I can offer that might help it not turn into a train wreck.
Find out exactly who will be remote and who will be live. Determine where you should direct which portions of your presentation based on the nature of the audience. For example if the technical people are on the phone and the business people are in the room, then you should focus your attention appropriately depending on your material.
Find out where the decision-makers are located. If your live audience is just the folks from the local office and the remote group are the people who will regularly use and implement your software, then you need to find a way to really give that remote group what they are looking for. In instances like this it might be worth treating the demo as if it were entirely online.
Don’t demo to the speakerphone. Nothing is more annoying than a presenter talking into the spreakerphone when there are people in the room. Make sure to position the speakerphone as close to the presenter as possible and as far away from the projector (or other noisy equipment) as you can.
Pause often for questions. If you have a group on a speakerphone they may have burning questions that they are uncomfortable asking without being able to raise their hand. By pausing regularly you can make sure that any issues they have are addressed.
Ask the remote group for feedback during any breaks. This may seem awkward, but I often see breaks as the most important time during a demo to do selling. By getting more casual comments from the prospect during a break you can redirect your material or speed of presentation based on what you hear. One way to approach this before a break is to say “We’re going to break in 3 minutes, but I have a question or two for those of you on the phone that I would like to ask at the start of the break”. What’s the best question to ask? How about, “What do you think so far?” followed by “Is there anything you saw from our competition that you would like to see addressed?”
Don’t apologize for using visual aids. Just because remote audience members may not be able to see your white board and flip chart drawings does not mean you should avoid them entirely. If you are going to use visual aids, you should do so with commitment, and not focus much on whether the remote group “gets it” right away. You can offer to take photos of the visuals which you can send onto the remote group if they are interested.
The Dry Run. I have yet to meet a Sales Engineer who really enjoys them. The idea is that you practice your demo and presentation in front of an audience of your peers before you do the real thing. They are both time-consuming and often embarrassing. It’s hard enough to prepare for a demonstration without the added pressure of being criticized by your peers. And since you often need to do them days before the actual demo, they require you to prepare well ahead of time. And to get an entire sales team together for a dry run can be expensive if they are geographically distributed.
In 7 years as a Sales Engineer I cannot think of a single dry run that went particularly well. Often the participants are not ready completely ready to present or the material they have prepared misses the mark. I have seen presenters stumble through a dry run and watched the morale of the sales team drop. You can sometimes hear the audience thinking,”This is terrible. There is no way we are winning this deal if we demo like that!”
But that pain and discomfort is exactly the reason that you should do dry runs as often as possible. By making sure that the entire team (even at an added cost) has a chance to try out their material and get feedback is invaluable. There are a few rules you should follow to make dry runs as productive and pain-free as possible:
Set them up at least 2 days before the demonstration. Otherwise you won’t have time to change your material if the team decides that something is wrong. A dry run the night before the demo does not accomplish much (except to make everyone more nervous because their dry run sucked).
Require at least one team member (probably the sales rep) to attend the entire dry run for consistency.
Find a good space to conduct the dry run with a setup that mimics what you will have in the actual presentation. This includes projectors, white boards, flip charts, online meeting (i.e. Webex) and speakerphones as required. Using a “real-world” setup will ensure you will catch problems with your setup before the actual demo.
Bring plenty of snacks and drinks for presenters to enjoy. Anything to make a dry run more enjoyable is worth doing.
Give honest feedback in front of the group, but save anything that would really bite for a 1:1 discussion. People are uncomfortable in front of their peers, so try to go easy on them in front of the group. Whenever possible try to direct your comments at the product or the speaking material rather than at the person. I like to give feedback following this rule of thumb: give three positive pieces of feedback for each negative. People tend to focus on the negative, so you need to tip the scales in the other direction to keep confidence up.
Have audience members take notes on presentation style and content, but only discuss the items that need explanation when debriefing. You may have a long list of little things that the presenter should change, but rattling them off will just confuse the presenter. Tell them just a couple during the feedback session and then give them your notes afterwords for them to study further.
Let the presenters get through their presentations without questions, unless you feel that you absolutely need to make a point. If you see the presenter falls into a competitive trap you might ask a pointed question to make them realize their mistake. But most of the time you should save your questions for the end so that the presenter can get comfortable with the pace of the presentation.
Ask some typical competitive questions as well as one or two really screwball ones at the end. Seeing how well a presenter can reframe a question is important, but you also need to give them a softball or two to warm up with.
Depending on the culture of your company, you may want some sort of “grading sheet” for the audience to fill out. Some groups like to leave feedback fairly free-form, but if you want to add structure you could create a sheet that includes things like “eye contact”, “posture”, “question handling” and gives the audience a chance to grade. This can add some pressure but can also be useful to get a (somewhat) objective view for the presenter.
As I already mentioned I have never seen a dry run during which the presenters did a great job. But I have seen many demo’s where we had great presentations because of a lousy dry run. It’s a great way to harness the intelligence of the entire sales team and get the bugs out at the same time. Sales teams that consistently dry run have consistently great demos.
Concise listing of some useful PowerPoint shortcuts:
PowerPoint has a bunch of shortcut keys you can use while presenting in slideshow mode. A few of my favorites:
B blacks out the screen and W turns the screen white. Hit the key again to go back to your slides. I find this useful for hiding slides during breaks in the middle of a presentation.
Type a number then hit Enter to jump to a particular slide. For example, typing 5 and Enter jumps to slide number 5. Or, if you’re not so secretive, hit Ctrl-S to display a dialog that lets you jump to any slide.
Ctrl-A makes the cursor visible so you can use the mouse to point to something.
Hold both mouse buttons down for 2 seconds and you’ll jump back to the first slide.
Hit F1 while you’re in slideshow to see a more complete list.