Demo tips from a seasoned pro

Demos are vital for any startup whether you are trying to raise money or close a sale. Collected below are the insights of a veteran of demos — Jason Calacanis.

For the past 10 days I’ve sat through 200 company demos for the TechCrunch50 conference. These demos are mostly done over the phone for 10 minutes using the phone and web conferencing software like WebEx or Adobe’s wonderful new “Connect” service.

After doing 2,500 minutes of demos (40 hours) this year and many more last year for the conference, I’ve learned a lot about what makes for a great demo and what makes for a horrible demo. Since demoing your idea is a key to your success as an entrepreneur, I thought I would share everything I know in a few simple bullet points.

These tips are applicable to presenting in front of an investor, a partner as well as a demo style conference. Of course, every situation is different so consider these loose guidelines.

Background: The TechCrunch50 conference is taking places on September 8-10th in San Francisco and you can find more information here: www.techcrunch50.com. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch.com and I started the event last year as a place where fifty startup companies could launch their products without having to pay a fee (i.e. the incumbent conference called DEMO charges $18,500 to launch a startup company–that’s really low/abusive in my book). Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Sequoia Capital and a bunch of other fine partners have joined us in hosting the event.

I have listed his tips below. If you want the full commentary, go to the article on Techcrunch where he expands on each tip.

1. Show your product within the first 60 seconds

2. The best products take less than five minutes to demo

3. Leave people wanting more.

4. Talk about what you’ve done, not what you’re going to do.

5. Understand your competitive landscape–current and historical.

6. Short answers are best.

7. PowerPoint bullet slides are death

8. How to use this new device called the phone.

9. How to handle questions you don’t know the answer to

10. Always confirm the time of your meeting/call, and always be 15 minutes early.

Jason went on with some more tips in Part Two. He set up Part Two before going into his additional tips.

Last week, I camped out at Sequoia Capital on Sand Hill Road and did rehearsals with most of the 50 companies that are presenting–in fact, launching–new products at the TechCrunch50 event next week. These 50 represent the top 5% of the companies that applied to our demo-style event. Truth be told, the top 150 companies were all qualified to be on stage–if only we could have a five day event with two tracks. -)

These are the best of the best, and most of them came into “first rehearsal” with a demo that I would rate a seven out of ten. (Yes, I’ve come up with a rating system for these presentations, but that’s another email).

Actor Ashton Kutcher did his rehearsal last week, and I have to say it was kind of ironic to be sitting there giving presenting advice to someone who’s been in, and created, a large number of movies and TV shows. As an actor, Ashton obviously has the ability to draw you in, but presenting a product in this format is a very, very specific skill. He picked it up quickly.

After coaching hundreds of folks over the past two years, I’ve developed 18 solid rules. You can see the first 10 rules over at TechCrunch, which reprinted the previous email with permission here. These extra eight are very detailed and speak to some deeper techniques for capturing people’s attention and transferring your enthusiasm for your product to them.

These eighteen rules are just a framework, and are based on demoing at a conference. However, the rules can apply, to various degrees, to presenting your product to investors, partners and potential employees.

11. Show Don’t Tell

12. Use inclusive words, live in the present

13. One driver, one navigator

14. How to handle technical issues

15. The Setup

16. Horrible ways to start your presentation:

17. Describe your product five times

18. Change up your style (i.e. shift your tone)

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