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How to create the perfect demo environment

July 26, 2021
Control what you can, let go of what you can’t, and set a tone that invites discussion.

The perfect demo doesn’t feel like a demo at all.
Software is a part of the conversation, but everyone already knows what we’re here to do, so let’s create an environment that feels less like a presentation, and more like a conversation amongst peers.   

How can you create the perfect demo environment? 

Eliminate distractions. 

Here are several steps you can take to ensure you’ve created the best demo environment possible:

  • Research your prospects
  • Clean your office
  • Find a story to tell
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Test run your tech
  • Roleplay the demo with your sales team
  • Record your demo (and watch it back)
  • Don’t use the word “demo”
  • Make dummy data as realistic as possible
  • Prepare for the worst (so you can bring your best)

1. Research your prospects

Think of a sales demo like hosting a party.

The most important element isn’t the food, the venue, or the drinks. It’s the guest list. 

Researching your prospects, — independently and through discovery — doesn’t just mean knowing the titles of the people on the call, but a bit about their personality, so you can structure the demo to appeal to the different personality types in the room.

Tools like Crystal analyze LinkedIn profiles to give you a sense of a prospect’s personality and how you might engage.

Even after your intensive research is done, do another sweep before the call begins. 

Michael Hanson, the founder and CEO at Growth Genie, suggests: 

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“Give yourself 10 minutes before the call to look at the LinkedIn profiles of the people attending the demo and the website of the company. This means you can tailor some of your demo in advance. For example, you could say "I noticed that you've just released your new product XYZ in the UK. How is the launch of it going in London?", and then later in the demo can mention how your tech can help support that UK growth based on their answer.”

You’ve probably been to a party where the host is flustered, nothing is ready on time, and as a result, conversation is stilted.

Knowing who is in the room and anticipating their needs, guides everything from the icebreakers and introductions, to the call structure, and how you follow-up.


2. Create a compelling backdrop

33 - 100 milliseconds, about the time it takes for a honey bee to flap its wings 20 times, is how long it takes for a first impression to be made.

Most modern sales demos are done with Zoom today, and because of that, their entire impression of is constrained to what is within the Zoom window.
This…


Makes a significantly different impression than this…


Same room, same person.
Different lighting, framing, staging, and audio quality.
See the difference?

And this result isn't complicated. This video by Cinematographer Larry Fong walks through step by step, from the first image to the last, using mostly things found around the house or can be bought inexpensively. 

Mor Assouline, VP of Sales at Okend.io, suggests you prepare like this:

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“I think when you're doing a demo, the presentation says a lot about how you represent yourself and your company, and I'm not just referring to the screen that you're sharing. So if you have video turned on during demos, consider getting a green screen so you can display a great background image. Buy one of those $20-$30 video production lights. Really makes the video look crisp. Download KRISP which is a noise cancellation software.”

A few more tips before we move on: 

  • Invest in a Blue Yeti, Blue Snowball, or lavalier mic to improve your audio quality.
  • Do vocal warm ups, and practice breath control to command the pacing of the demo.
  • Practice diction to ensure you’re speaking clearly on the call.

For more info on how to speak with confidence, check out this video analysis of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s speaking style. It breaks down how he’s able to make even mundane topics sound utterly fascinating. 

Finally, remember to relax.

Like a good host, you’re prepared for anything. Keeping cool under pressure reflects well on you and your company.  

3. Find the story

Avoid turning your demo into a run-down of all your software’s features. Instead, figure out how to tell the story of how it can solve the exact problems that your prospects are facing. 

It’s worth investing in learning how “Story Theory” works.

For a quick rundown, check out Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, which is one of many frameworks novelists can use to design their stories.

For now, remember this: 

Your prospect is the main character. The inciting incident (the conflict that starts the story) is the problem that led them to you. The rest of the story is how your product can interact with their business, building on each new element of the problem it solves until you reach the climax — the moment that your product resolves the issue. 

When building out this story, remember these five elements:

  1. Find the central message
  2. Embrace conflict
  3. Structure your story
  4. Use personal experience
  5. Narrow the scope

Use what you learn in your research to discover that conflict and create a throughline for the demonstration.

For example:

If you sell workflow management software to large companies, a major conflict for content teams is a lack of visibility to what other content teams are creating. The throughline or central message of your product story, then becomes how much time, money, and redundant work can be done by adopting your solution.
As you build your narrative, seed places into the story where you expect questions to come up. Then, use those questions to lead into the next part of your pitch. 

4. Ask open-ended questions

Listen closely to what your prospect is saying during the demo.
As Victoria Fleming, Director at Buzztastic Ltd, says: 


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“The hardest thing about any demo is to reign in your own enthusiasm and love for your product, and really LISTEN to what your prospect is saying - that way you can help THEM fall in love with your product - by showing them EXACTLY the solution to the problem they have - without getting carried away with all the clicky buttons!”

If you’ve prepared a story with a strong central message, it’ll be relatively easy for you to anticipate questions and weave them into your structure.

5. Test run your tech

Don’t forget the other pieces of tech.

If you’re using Zoom, set aside some time to get familiar with all its functions. Verify that your video conferencing software is using your good external microphone. 

To really knock Zoom presentations out of the park, bookmark Oli Gardner’s “The Ultimate Guide to Giving Virtual Presentations on Zoom.” 

It’s seventeen chapters long, and covers everything from presentation techniques to the best Zoom settings available. 

You want your tech to be an extension of yourself and as familiar as your home office. Your prospects sense this, and it will make the entire demo flow smoothly.


6. Record your rehearsal (and watch it back)

Even if you hate listening to yourself, this is the only real way to identify gaps in your storytelling and flaws with your structure.

When watching your playback look out for:

  • Breathing
  • Pacing
  • Rambling

Identify areas where you can set up questions your prospect can ask, and make the demo less of a presentation and more of a conversation.
Remember, the perfect demo environment is about setting the atmosphere for your prospect. Help them to feel comfortable asking questions so they can envision themselves using the software.

7. Don’t use the word “demo”

The worst thing you can do is remind your prospects that a demo is, by its very nature, fake.

Peter Cohan, founder and principal of The Second Derivative and author of the book Great Demo!, is a big proponent of keeping it real in your demo.

He says:

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“One of our objectives in a demo is to “suspend disbelief”… 

Accordingly, the more realistic your demo environment appears to the prospect, the stronger the connection and the better the outcome. 

Instead of referring to your software as a “demo,” keep it as close as possible to what the prospect would actually experience while using your product. 


8. Make “dummy data” as realistic as possible

Cohan advises against using tongue-in-cheek names like Brad Pitt for that reason. Persona-based names like “Marketing Manager Mary” also give you away. 

As Peter mentions in the quote above, if you’re pitching to a bank, make sure your dummy data looks like it belongs to a bank. If you’re pitching to a manufacturer, your data should line up.

Similarly, don’t log in to the demo as “admin” (a role that likely won’t belong to your prospects). Once you know who will be attending the demo, adjust the user’s role to match. 

Once again, your goal is to keep the demo as comfortable as possible for your prospects. Obviously fake dummy data tells your prospects that this product isn’t tailored to solve their problem, and that causes anxiety and suspicion.

By taking the time to prepare for each specific prospect, just as you would for individual guests at a party, you ensure that it’s easy for your prospects to see themselves in your solution.

9. Prepare for the worst (so you can bring your best)

Good news for the anxious among us! Running through everything that could possibly go wrong is an important element of preparation.

Of course, getting stuck in an anxious spiral isn’t helpful. But, identifying what elements within your control could go wrong — and how you can pivot if they do — is the final element to maintaining a perfect demo environment.

Take time to create a few fleshed-out backup plans for your worst-case scenario. If the what-if’s come to pass, you’ll know what to do.

Akshay Jain, Head of Solutions Engineering UK at Freshworks Inc., says: 


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“You can prepare a great demo environment, but there will always be Unknown Unknowns. A great solution engineer anticipates these in advance, thinks on their feet, and quickly adapts to the situation. This is how you turn a great demo environment into a perfect one!”

Preparing the perfect demo environment goes a long way towards rescuing a disaster situation. 

By creating a relaxed atmosphere and treating your prospects like guests in your home, you’ll eliminate the awkward silences that stem from an uncomfortable demo environment. Once you fix the issue, you can pick up the conversation as if it never dropped.

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