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It’s one thing to tell investors what your product does. “It has this benefit and that benefit and does this thing that’s never been done before!” But telling investors about what you’re offering means relying a lot—maybe too much—on their subjective imaginations. Showing them the product is where you get to bring them into the world you imagine.

Just as pitching verbally is a skill you’ll need outside of convincing investors to invest, you will demo your product to other people as well—potential hires, customers, reporters, the general public. Nailing your product demo is time well spent.

What Is a Product Demo?

The key to creating and presenting a good product demonstration is understanding what a demo is and isn’t:

  • A demo is a sales pitch. The entire focus of your demo should be, “How does my product address my customers’ need or pain point?” At Series A, the investor probably signed up for an account when they heard about your company, or you’ve given them an account and they’ve tested your product or service. However, at the early stages, you and your investors are expecting that the product you demo is not a final iteration. The product will change as your company grows. You’re not necessarily committing to the product you demo, but this is a chance to show your commitment to solving the problem you’ve identified and to show off the skills of your team.

    • You want your audience to walk away believing that your product—now or in the future, perhaps with the help of VC capital—is going to make people’s lives better, and, if there are competing products on the market, what makes (or will make) yours the one customers will choose. At some point, your demo should elicit a “wow.”
  • A demo is not a feature presentation. All products have features. All competitive products have features that the competition doesn’t. Your demo isn’t the time to present a laundry list—it’s a time to address audience need.

    • Great demos create trust between the presenter and audience by demonstrating the presenter’s understanding of the audience’s pain. Talking about features is only useful if done in service of demonstrating your product’s ability to solve a problem.
  • A demo is not a learning tool. Your demo isn’t intended to teach the audience how to use your product. It shouldn’t include any “how to” or step-by-step instructions.

When to Demo Your Product?

If you have a working product, you’ll want to demo it for investors. Founders might plan to conduct their demo after they’ve gone through the pitch deck, but in reality, the demo happens when the investor asks for it. If you’ve put mock-up images in your solution slides, an investor could ask if you have a live version to show them. At any point they can stop you and say, “Can we see it?”; “Wait, what is it?”; “Do you have an app?”; “Can I download it?”; “Let’s take a look!”

These prompts are very hard to shut down in a meeting without killing the vibe and coming off like you’re hiding something. If it’s not ready, you can always say, “It’s not ready,” or “We only have some mock-ups right now,” if that’s true.

If it’s important to you to keep the structure you’ve planned, you can try controlling the presentation by saying, “First we’d like to explain our thinking behind the solution and market, and then we’d like to demo what we’ve built so far.”

Presentation Tips

Much of our advice on creating and presenting successful product demos echoes the advice for presentations in general—there are also specific tips and strategies that will help you deliver a great product demo. We recommend that anyone building a product demo read “Your Product Demo Sucks Because It’s Focused on Your Product,” First Round’s interview with Monetate co-founder and author of Just F*ing Demo!, Rob Falcone.

Know your audience. You can’t explain how your product meets the audience’s needs without knowing what those are.

Remember, an investor pitch meeting isn’t the only time you’ll demo your product. A demo for an IT audience might focus on more technical aspects, while one for the purchasing team might focus on features that address the potential buyer’s specific pain points. For an investor audience, where a key question is likely, “How will this product give me a return on my investment?” the demo might target features that address areas where the competitive landscape is known to be lacking.

Keep it short. Common wisdom says to keep the demo to about two minutes in length. Not only does this prevent boredom, but it forces you to focus on the features that matter to your audience.

Keep it simple. No jargon, no overly technical terms, no buzzwords.

Show, don’t tell. The basic rule for every kind of presentation applies here. Don’t just tell me that your product will make my life better by providing a return on my investment—show me what it does that’s unique or better that will make customers line up to buy it.

Start and end strong. Your first goal for any presentation should be that the audience walks away remembering the beginning and the end. Start your demo with a punch, and end it with a bang. Robert Falcone advises founders to “start with outcomes” and spend the rest of the demo proving how your product makes those outcomes possible.

Focus on the script. A demo’s visual format lets you make an impact with eye-catching graphics and splashy animations. Even so, the key to a successful demo is the script. A demo is a sales pitch—and as in any pitch, the words are of paramount importance. If your demo doesn’t explain—in words—how your product addresses your audience’s needs, all the eye candy in the world won’t matter. On a related note, avoid the temptation to overstuff your demo with visual effects. This comes off as gimmicky.

Go big, then small. Start with a macro view of your product—the two or three features you think are most important to this audience, at a high level—and then zero in to a more detailed level of use cases and benefits. As you get input from your audience, put focus on the areas that resonate most with them.

Know your tools. There are a number of popular tools available that you can use to make and manage great-looking demos:

Know your options. Screencasts are alternatives to traditional demos that might work for some companies. If you’re still in the research stage, check out those options as well.

Make it interactive. When giving your demo, allow room for pauses, questions, and conversation. This gives the audience a chance to zero in on what they most want to know about your product, so you can adjust the demo narrative accordingly. Prepare some questions for your audience ahead of time to encourage participation.

Ask for what you want. If you’re ending your pitch with your demo, don’t leave things open-ended (“Any questions?”)—otherwise, you run the risk of leaving empty-handed. Close your pitch with the request or action item you want from your audience. This may not be as blunt as, “Are you ready to commit to an investment?” but you can grok what they’re thinking by asking, “What do you need to see, hear, or learn that will make you feel confident about this investment?”

Practice, practice, practice. Make sure you know your demo forward and backward, inside and out. Not only does this let you improvise in case of technical difficulty, it also lets you deal with unexpected audience input or questions.

If you get a question at the 30-second mark that isn’t addressed until the end of your demo, you can set the expectation that the answer is coming soon, or nimbly skip to that section to keep the flow going smoothly. Try not to say, “I’ll get to that.”

A good practice is to record your demos so you can review them later with an eye to improvement.

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