After months or sometimes even years of buzz around a new product, a live demo can be the clincher for gaining public buy-in or consumer interest. Here’s the big moment; finally you’re ready to provide something tangible for your audience. This is especially true if your demo offers some kind of wow factor (and, as Elon Musk can tell you, if that wow factor works as planned).
Even if your product lacks a feature as newsworthy or exciting as “bulletproof” glass, when you’re in front of a live audience, you’re selling more than a new offering—you’re selling yourself, too.
This means, of course, that you want to be clear and compelling, engaging and relatable. Maybe even cool. We’re right there with you. So let us be the first to tell you, if no one else in your circle has already: Don’t dance.
Save Your Moves Like Jagger
Live demos come with the risk inherent in any major public speaking event, along with the high stakes tied to a big marketing push for your brand. Couple that with an audience that may be jaded and skeptical, and it’s easy to see why presenters struggle with the question of relatability and engagement.
It’s easy to understand why someone might think shaking their groove thing is a great way to loosen up that audience and get them to connect in a more personal way.
After all, it works for Ellen, right?
Yet as history will tell us, the same can’t be said for founders and CEOs demonstrating their products at live events. The instinct to elevate the energy in the room is a good one. But the reality is that live demo dancing (especially coupled with wild chanting and screaming) might induce more cringing than clapping.
Just ask Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft:
For better or worse, many would call this Ballmer’s most memorable event, and it certainly grabbed more than a few headlines. But there’s a tipping point to passion and enthusiasm that can alienate you from your audience (or end your run for political office), and it’s important to stay aware of that.
And while we might not call live demo dancing a trend, it’s still hanging on, as Elon Musk showed us a few weeks ago at an event in China.
Compared to Ballmer, this is pretty toned down. Still, is it funny and relatable? Or is the audience thinking, Wellllll, this is awkward?
For sure, we applaud anyone with the courage to think outside the box when it comes to keeping an audience interested and entertained during a live demo. We’d simply argue there are better ways to do it.
How to Connect with a Live Demo Audience
1. Tell a better story.
Even during a live demo, incorporating story elements can help you connect with the audience and keep a thread running through your presentation that holds interest.
Take a note from journalist and New York Times best-selling author Sebastian Junger, who knows how to craft a story from real-life events in a way that engages a crowd. Junger shares that the key to a really captivating tale is to map out a narrative arc. It’s that tale-around-the-campfire structure that really grabs someone’s attention and keeps them enthralled.
Watch Majora Carter’s TED talk below for an example of compelling storytelling in action.
2. Aim for authenticity.
Don’t get caught up in being too cool. Infectious enthusiasm for your product is hard to replicate anywhere, in any medium. But genuine enthusiasm and belief in your product can be imbued into both live demos and autodemos with the right language and emotion.
Be yourself—but if you’re hiding behind a veneer of sophistication, sarcasm, or sparkling wit, you’re doing your brand a disservice.
Instead, try to capture the genuine enthusiasm and energy of a true believer. Don’t artificially inflate that enthusiasm, since that can backfire, too. Simply aim for the sweet spot of authentic energy, positivity, and passion.
Here’s Simon Sinek getting it right:
3. Get your story on paper (or screen) first.
We’ll be the first to say that a well-crafted script is an indispensable part of the demo process. This is true even for live events, where your spokesperson can still give the demo an unrehearsed, from-the-heart vibe.
Start by getting your ideas down in a cogent, logical, and chronological order. Include notes on visuals and production values you’d like to incorporate so you can test out different approaches before committing to the version that best captures your brand and engages your target audience.
4. Control the funny.
By all means, incorporate humor if you’re skilled at being funny in front of a live audience. Delivering a great punchline is just the start of it; make sure you know when and how to hold for laughs or respond to a joke that falls flat without sounding belligerent or defensive (this is relatable in its own right).
Humor helps make the case, but ensure the attention is aimed at the product, not the “show.” You want your audience to pay attention to what you’re selling, not just how funny or entertaining you are when you’re trying to sell it.
5. Practice a lot.
As with any live presentation, practice is key. Rehearse your live demo many more times than you think you need to. A skilled presenter will be able to deliver a script multiple times in a fresh, organic way that doesn’t feel overly rehearsed or rote. Each rehearsal provides a new opportunity to uncover all the things that can go wrong and practice how you’ll respond to any unfortunate developments.
And trust us: things will go wrong. Nobody knew that better than Steve Jobs.
Your live demo should be engaging and entertaining, even memorable, but the stand-out moments should come from the way you connect with your audience as you tell the story of your product. Save those dance moves for somebody’s wedding.