We’ve been talking a lot about showmanship at Four Kitchens lately. Anyone who’s watched Mad Men knows how important it is to have a good pitch when you’re selling work. However, in many ways a product demo is just as important as a pitch. The Sales team goes out and gets work, but an excited client is more likely to become a long-term partner if they’re engaged along the process.

I recently gave a presentation on how we Web Chefs can add a bit of pizzaz to any demo, presentation, training session, etc. It’s all about telling an engaging story, no matter what the content.

#1: The High Concept

Every good presentation is like a story pitch. You start with your overarching concept so people know what they’re getting. Just like every movie sets up the big conflict in the first twenty minutes, you should let your audience know about the challenges you’re helping them overcome. (Protip: Numbered lists give your audience a sense of place within your presentation.)

It’s also important to let your audience know why they should listen to you. As a former film executive and current comic book writer, I’ve developed pitches for many films, TV shows, comics, and graphic novels, such as Marvel Adventures Hulk, World of Warcraft, Monsters, Inc., Cowboys & Aliens, and more.

#2: Know your audience

Just like you probably shouldn’t pitch Robo Giraffe vs. Mecha Shark to the producers of 12 Years a Slave, you don’t want to get too technical if you’re demoing a feature to non-technical stakeholders. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too vague if you’re talking to a room full of developers at a Drupalcon training. When addressing a room full of strangers, it’s a good idea to ask a few questions so you can gauge their knowledge of the subject matter.

#3: Enthusiasm is THE BEST!

Enthusiasm is awesome, but don’t take it too far. Don’t be a used car salesman who’s too slick for his own good. Just show the audience that you’re excited about what you’re presenting. Speak up and e-nun-ci-ate. You don’t want to have a quiet voice that relays a lack of enthusiasm. When you speak with confidence, your audience gains confidence in you.

Also, don’tspeaktooquickly. Take a breath and give your audience a chance to soak in your presentation.

#4: Be visual!

Cowboys and Aliens

Don’t use slides that are full of text. You don’t want the audience reading over your shoulder instead of listening to you. And never, never, never-ever put up a block of text and then read it to your audience. You can use the text to remind you of your talking points but there’s nothing more boring than listening to someone else read something you can read for yourself. Instead, use visuals. Let the pictures tell the story for you.

A picture of a cowboy riding hell bent for leather and firing up at a spaceship sold the Cowboys & Aliens pitch almost immediately.

An image of Native Americans with energy weapons served as a reminder to talk about how Native Americans in the movie would use every bit of alien technology just like with the buffalo.

Animated gifs can be a lot of fun. However, don’t keep them on the screen too long, or you may find your audience watching the gif instead of listening to you.

Cat Shaq

Okay, seriously, if you’re anything like me you need to scroll down to keep from being mesmerized by the Shaq cat.

#5: Practice makes perfect

Practice. Practice. Practice. This is obvious if you’re giving a talk at a conference, but even a client demo is a chance to get the client excited about your work. When you’re testing your story and running through the “how to demo” steps, you can practice your pitch to go with it.

You might even find a practice audience. A nontechnical colleague can give great insight if you want to make sure it’s gettable for your client. A family member might do the same. Practicing will help you stay focused on the story you’re telling or the problem you’re trying to solve. Remember: the better you know your content, the more informal you can seem.

#6 (of 5): Less is more

If you have a page in which to write a pitch but can do it in a paragraph, that’s always better.
Make a strong impression then get out before you ruin it. Once the client says, “yes,” move on to the next thing.

Demos: Every user story has a story

Even when you’re just demoing a feature, you can tell an engaging story around it – like how you came up with your solution and the cool factor for users. I’m not technical, so for an example, I’ll stick to what I know.

I’m demoing User story SW-1138: As Director of Imperial Websites, I want my site to not explode every time we have a spike in traffic so that our users can go about their business.

Desctruction of Alderaan

My first approach was to change the way data got sucked in like a tractor beam…

Tractor beam

But that approach came up empty.

Vader kills Obi Wan

So I came up with a new way to attack the problem. I got down in the trenches with your code to look for vulnerable spots.

Wings in the trench

I finally figured out that the targeting computer was using too much bandwidth, so I forced a shut down.

Luke uses the force

That got rid of the problem.

And finally…

  • Finish with a quick summary.
  • Start with the big idea.
  • Keep your audience in mind.
  • Show that you’re excited about the content.
  • Use lots of images.
  • Practice. Then practice again.
  • Less is always more.
  • You can build a narrative around anything, even a whiney farm boy who just wants a vacation.

Cowboys & Aliens is a registered trademark of Universal Studios and DreamWorks
Star Wars is a registered trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. They’re owned by Disney.
I have no idea who owns the rights to that Shaq cat gif. I can’t stop staring at it…