Next week 9 companies are taking the stage, er i-stage, to showcase their aspiring visions of future gadgetry. This is the third year for I-Stage, and I’m pleased as punch to participate as a judge (along with ReadWriteWeb’s Richard MacManus, TechCocktail’s Frank Gruber, and Best Buy’s Rick Rommel). This is not my first experience with the event, as I was supporting Boxee at the inaugural event two years ago. That experience plus my time at CES and my numerous times at the Under the Radar events has me putting up this post, with some final words of wisdom (?) to this year’s finalists. This list is not in any particular order.
- Practice! You have a week to go, if you are spending any less than an hour a day, you are not devoting enough time to the demo. If you think Steve Jobs “wings it,” try holding a MacBook on the tips of your fingers and keeping it perfectly level for more than a second. This Friday I’d spend as much as half of your day rehearsing, then keep it light over the weekend – think about how marathoners practice.
- Practice in front of an audience and/or camera. Every rehearsal should either have a live audience (peers, friends, employees, strangers, spouses, pets, whatever) or be in front of some form of video camera (we use Flips at our office). You’ll never take it seriously if you don’t feel there’s some form of audience, and it’ll help you find areas to improve. BTW, I’d think it goes without saying, but watch the videos after you are done!
- Lock things down. You should be playing with your “Real” demo right now, and avoid changing your codebase as much as possible. Further, if you feel you must continue to tweak, keep backup builds/demos ready so you can revert to stable versions. And bring those with you, just in case.
- Be very redundant. Need an HDMI cable? Bring two (or three). Have a local server? Have a second laptop with an identical build. You might be able to run out to Radio Shack the morning of, but you really don’t want to. This goes for mid-presentation as well – if you had planned to do something, and it just isn’t working out, be ready to swap out with a secondary version instead at a moment’s notice. You should probably practice that too.
- Make sure we understand your… (whichever are applicable, odds are most of them)
- Target Market
- Emphasize benefits. As an example, the technology behind SMS is uninteresting, whereas the benefit of being able to send short text-based messages to your contacts is huge. Focus on the way your technology & features benefit your target users, not the technology & features themselves.
- Prune your pitch. You only get 3 minutes, which is NOT much time! Your pitch should be fine-tuned, with literally every word mattering. Don’t show esoterics, don’t show fluff, and don’t try to wow us with “me-too” elements of your features (“look, it even tweets!”).
- Show off. Show us what makes you special, different, distinct. Show the steak and make it sizzle. Show the amazing features and the corresponding benefits. Show the vision. There’s a huge difference between “fluff” and “sizzle” – find it, and show us!
- Plan on reliable stuff. Power is reliable. Computers are pretty reliable. WiFi can be unreliable. Cell networks are unreliable. Prototypes are unreliable. Beta software is unreliable. Real-time is very unreliable. Waiting for Internet results for anything is highly unreliable. You should not have anything unreliable in your demo – as I said before, with only 3 minutes you don’t have much wiggle room if you are depending on a real-time Internet lookup of something over a 3G network with geo-tuned services.
- Entertain us. Now that your demo is all set, you’ve practiced, it’s reliable, your pitch is solid, etc, it’s time to add a little charm. Make a joke. Do something interactive with the audience. Show some color. Do something that takes your pitch beyond “just a demo”. At the very least, smile and make eye contact!
- Avoid cliches. Please, no references to jetpacks, flying cars, or laser guns. Seriously. And nothing about lists that go to eleven.
Good luck inventors and entrepreneurs! We’ll see you next week.
ps – one more tip: pack layers, its cold in San Francisco.