The journey to becoming a DEMOgod™
People frequently say to me, “You’re a DEMOgod? Come on. Who are you kidding?” Actually, becoming a DEMOgod is one of the most difficult tasks you will ever encounter in the high tech world. Just being invited to “participate” in the DEMO or DEMOmobile conference is an honor. Being asked to be a “demonstrator” is even a bigger honor. Why?
Because the Executive Producer, Chris Shipley is the main person standing between you and the most coveted opportunity to announce your new product to the world. She is the one who will provide you with an audience of top tier TV, Press, analysts, venture capitalists, and top-level executives from the Global 2000 companies and she is very, very selective.
Chris is a true technology luminary who continues to prove she understands business, knows the big and influential players, and has a knack for uncovering emerging products and services that are poised to change the technology industry. If a company is selected to participate at these shows, Chris, in essence, is predicting that your product or service will make a significant impact in the coming year following the conference.
Chris is personally responsible for culling through hundreds of products from companies all around the world to select the best of the best, making your time at the conference worth every penny. She has established a reputation in the industry for identifying and presenting the products most likely to have a considerable impact on the marketplace and market trends in the coming years. And, her track record is pretty good with companies like Palm, Handspring, Mercado Technologies, IBM, 3Com, TiVo, OracleMobile, AvantGo, Salesforce.com, BeVocal, Extensity, Neomar, Digital Ink, Google and dozens of others. For a complete list, visit http://www.demo.com.
For over a decade, DEMO and DEMOmobile have attracted the best and brightest minds in the industry. The attendee list is a “Who’s Who” in technology and features the industry’s leading venture backers, technologists, executives, journalists, and analysts.
It’s as if IDG Executive Forums is pre-selecting companies that have the best-of-the-best products. There is one caveat to consider in order to participate at these trade shows. You must announce a new product. If the press have already heard or seen your product, you cannot be part of these trade shows.
So, when our public relations agency came to us with this opportunity, we did not have to look far because we were already toying with several new ideas and had a few working prototypes. They set up the appointment and we met with Chris.
Chris sat us down at the table and said, “OK. What do you have?” I showed her our new application for expense reports and timesheets that people could access on their mobile phones. In the year 2000, the hope was that people would use their mobile phone for accessing the Internet and any practical application was of interest to her. She was very intrigued by our application, but did not show the kind of enthusiasm we had hoped for.
The one key ingredient to our application was that it focused on the enterprise space. We found out later on that she was just about to make a decision on which companies would be included in the show that had mobile applications for the enterprise user.
Anyway, while Chris was talking to us, she mentioned several other technologies that were bubbling up with huge excitement. One technology was automated speech recognition (ASR). When she mentioned ASR, I told her we had a prototype of the expense report and travel planning software using ASR. Chris came out of her chair and said she wanted to "hear" it right away.
The product demo I gave to Chris (in the less than 2 minutes) changed our chances of being invited to the show. We could see that she was excited and overjoyed to find an enterprise application using voice recognition. ASR was a hot topic for her and we had a product in a class of its own. Other companies using ASR were offering voice access to information such as weather, directions, stock quotes, traffic, airlines, and headline news, but no one had a business application like ours.
We left the meeting with the hope that we would at least be invited as a participant. On the Friday that we met Chris, she told us that she had interviewed over 400 companies and would be making the final selection in the next week. And, during that selection process, only 37 companies would be chosen.
All of us at the company were on pins and needles during the wait because we all agreed that this was the opportunity of a lifetime in a high tech company. This was not a trade show that you could simply sign up for an exhibitor booth. If you were not invited, there was no way you could get in!
Finally, our PR firm called to congratulate us for being selected as a participant. We were elated and popped a bottle of champagne to begin our journey to DEMOmobile in Pasadena, California.
All 37 participants in the trade show are given a booth to display their products. But, our thoughts were now focused on being selected to be a demonstrator. If you were chosen to be a demonstrator, you would be given the opportunity to go on stage and demo your product to the entire audience. The only glitch was that the demonstrators would not be selected for another week.
Here's how the process works...
In order to be selected as a demonstrator, we had to demo our final product to Chris again. Afterwards, she would make the final selections. You can imagine that she only wanted people on stage with products that outshine all others she had seen.
In the end, our mobile phone and voice recognition products earned us a place on stage as a demonstrator. This was the ultimate opportunity. However, demonstrators are given exactly five minutes to demo their product to the general audience. Imagine having only five minutes to demo your product to 1,200 people.
Chris was dead serious too. You were told by the A/V crew that after those five minutes passed, you had a grace period of maybe 15 seconds. If you ran over 30 seconds, the music and lights would come up. Following that, your mic would go silent and Chris would walk you off the stage.
Also, another one of the strict guidelines as a demonstrator was that you could not use any PowerPoint slides. None. This was a show about products and the producers did not allow the use of any visuals. You were there to demonstrate your product. The time on stage was to be used showing your product, not telling the audience who you are. People could drop by your booth or read about you in the program for more information about your company.
We spent nearly three weeks scripting the demo and continually fine tuning it to be sure that we would make the most impact in those brief five minutes. I was determined to finish in less than five minutes, but it would be a stretch. My biggest self imposed challenge was that I was determined to have the screen change within the first 10 seconds. This would require some tightly scripted choreography.
I usually rehearse a demo three or four times for normal business demos. For this occasion, I ran, at least, 50 practice sessions. I stopped counting after reaching 50.
Finally, we had it down to a 4 minutes 30 seconds demo, repeatedly. We were ready and could hardly wait for our chance to present on stage. Our time to present was the first speaker on Friday, the third day of the conference that was devoted to enterprise applications.
The pressure builds...
As you can probably imagine, I did not get much sleep on Thursday night. I think I practiced the demo at least 10 more times during the wee hours of the morning. I finally reached REM sleep at about 4:00 in the morning. It must have been enough sleep because when I awoke, I felt like I had had a good nights sleep. It probably had something to do with all of the preparation time leading up to the conference.
It was almost show time. I was getting a mic attached to my lapel when it finally hit me. There were 1,200 people in the audience and they were all poised and ready for the demonstrators to begin. I can remember almost passing out from the excitement, but I held it together.
It was nearly time to go on stage. Chris was at the podium announcing the beginning of the third day. The stage crew came to me and told me it was time for me to get on the stairs to go out on stage. The Rocky theme song was playing loudly in my mind as my heart began to race with nervous excitement. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I wondered if anyone else could hear it or if the mic would pick up on the sound. Thankfully, it didn’t.
I walked out on stage and to my amazement, I could not see one face in the audience. The lights were so bright that I could barely see the edge of the stage. And, since I was not one to stand behind a podium, I had to be careful not to fall off the stage. I quickly navigated around to be sure that I was safe and could present the product effectively.
This was the most exciting moment in my career. It was a peak experience that I will remember forever. The demo and presentation went great and with no real problems. Well, there was one little problem with the voice recognition, but the audience was very understanding. In fact, the blunder with the voice recognition became the brunt of a joke that made the entire audience laugh for over 15 seconds. It was unplanned and perfect timing. People love to laugh. It eased the tension and allowed me to gain a special rapport with the audience. In general, people love to see how you recover during a demo. It makes you more real and believable.
When I finished the demo and looked down at the huge clock in front of the stage, it read 4:57. We finished with 3 seconds to spare. Since the venue did not allow for questions, I remained for the thunderous applause and walked off of the stage. It was over. I was elated and relieved that it went so well.
My support team congratulated me and told me how well it went from their point of view. They were in the audience and were able to see the reactions of people. They said it was a winner and I should be happy with the performance. I was.
Now it was time to wait for the DEMOgod Awards to be issued. It took the producers almost two weeks to make the announcement, but we were ultimately selected as one of the three pre-IPO companies to receive the award out of the 37 demonstrators. We were all very excited about the results of the hard work. Being a DEMOgod was the icing on the cake. The actual opportunity to demo our products on stage was the best experience of my career and I will never forget how much work and fun it was.
The DEMOgod™ Award
- Have a “new” unannounced product that you feel will make a significant impact on our lives. This can even be a new extension of an existing product so long as it is being announced as a new product.
- Contact DEMO at http://www.demo.com and submit your product for the show.
- Get prepared to give a riveting five-minute demo to Chris or one of her staff. This is the make or break point in the process. And, unless you can meet with her in person in San Mateo, California, get ready to do your demo online. Also, I suggest you get a coach from the the outside to review and help formulate a compelling demo. If you get someone from outside your company to help, they will not be afraid to tell you what will work and won't work. Of course, I suggest you use The Demo Coach, a.k.a. me.
- Assuming you have been selected to be a demonstrator, it’s time to gather the great minds in your company to brainstorm the best approach to demonstrating your product. Select the top three benefits of your product and plan to demo the powerful and exciting features that fit into those benefits. Use stories and real-world examples while you demo your product.
- Don’t make the same mistake that several other demonstrators have made in the past. Do not stand up there and talk for two or three minutes before your demo starts. Some people made a gross error by replacing their PowerPoint slides with several minutes of talking. You are there to demo your product, not give a speech. One demonstrator actually spent almost three minutes talking about the same screen. Keep it moving and keep it exciting (especially if you want people to remember you with good feelings in mind).
- Practice. Practice. Practice. And, practice again. Practice until you dream about the five minutes that you have on stage. Practice until the demo becomes second nature and flows without thinking. And, once you think you have it down cold, practice a few more times. I think we had nearly 50 practice sessions. It wasn’t until the 30th practice session that we were able to consistently complete the demo in just less than five minutes.
- Prepare for the worst. What if you demo breaks as soon as you walk onto the stage? What will you do? You must think about alternatives. So, beforehand, check the connections. Check the speeds. Check the coverage. Check everything. Write yourself a checklist so that you can concentrate on doing a great demo. This is your only chance. There are no retakes or second chances. If you have a problem in your demo, you still only have five minutes. Therefore, be sure and think of at least one back up plan if the original demo does not work. Two backup plans would be better. And remember, PowerPoint is not an option.
- Record one or two pieces of music that get you motivated to do your best. I use the Rocky theme song anytime I need to get motivated. When the movie came out in the summer of 1976, I saw the it twelve times. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I actually watched the movie three times back-to-back, on the same day. The music and movie are so ingrained in my brain that I don’t even need my MP3 player anymore to listen to it. Use your inspirational music as often as possible to get you motivated to do your best. Play the music just before you walk out on stage, in your head, of course.
- Go out on stage and have fun. Smile, take a few deep breaths as you walk out on stage, and look out over the bright lights at the audience who is anxiously awaiting your demo. Demo your product and get the audience excited and inspired to visit your booth. Give it your best shot.
- Finish in just under five minutes. Don’t even think of going over. If you have to be escorted off of the stage, you have lost any chance for an award. A positive feeling in the audience can turn negative in a heartbeat. Remember, finish in five minutes or less!
- Celebrate with your team. It has been a huge effort to get to this point and you deserve to take a moment and lock this in as one of your peak experiences in life. Cherish the experience and anchor the feelings. You’ll be calling on this one many times in your future.
- Get a copy of your demo from the video crew. The taping is broken up into morning and afternoon sessions on each day of the conference. Your tape can be duplicated on the spot so that you have a souvenir to take with you to show your company, friends, and relatives. Add it to your portfolio of accomplishments. Congratulations.
- If everything went well or better than expected, you are now in line for your DEMOgod Award. Now, it’s up to the producers to decide if your demo deserves that award. I hope so.