Decoding Careers: “I am sorry, but your baby is ugly”

As I was discussing in the previous blog, the ability to demo your product is one of a fundamental skill a product manager needs to have. A demonstration of your product is the culmination of all the hard work a team has put in designing, architecting and developing a software product. No pressure, but a demo can make it or break it. Personally, it has been for years the most challenging experience as it always came down to be ready for it.

First of all, you need a stable, ready to use, environment for the show. Before the advent of cloud computing, demonstrations of software were done from local laptops to “VPN” back to some servers or even worse, from a development server where daily the development team uses for tests, perform updates, etc. Don’t do it. You need a separate, stable environment, ready to go, 24/5 available. And now with cloud software, a URL with a browser or a mobile device is just enough. You need to be worry free: in my experience, it increases the confidence and it shows.

Second, confidence is another key skill you need to master: when you demo a software product, I always look how confident and competent is the person. You can feel it: this person knows what he/she talking about and the demo shows it. Confidence gets lost when in the begin or in between you start to here sentences like, “wifi is slow today“, “got a new unstable build from development“, “hmm, let me refresh the entire browser“, or “let me switch to another browser here“. All no-go areas: either you do a demo or not. Who wants an unstable build from development anyway? Be prepared and check all the things you need; mostly before you are on, others have to present: that is the time you do the last routine check or raise issues that the demo won’t work. In that case, you have plan B, i.e. a video of the demo with a promise you will do a demo live when the connection is back, etc. If you are the first one, show up early and check everything before the show begins.

Third, the very first demo of a product will not last longer than 15 minutes. The first demo is a flyover of the product with the intention to convince the audience that this is a very good product. It’s more about why you built this product, its philosophy and blueprint than all the tiny little features. If you need to show all the details too, then divide your demo in different acts, like at the theater. Avoid deep dives, these are for the second round… since you want to be invited to that one. You own the flow: stick to the script or you are so confident that you can go out of the script and show off everything. Very powerful but also very dangerous.

Fourth, you should be ready for criticism too and don’t let it change your enthusiastic passion. Years ago, during one of my colleague’s demonstrations, someone from the audience interrupted him and told him very sarcastically: “I am sorry, but your baby is ugly!“. While it sounded a bad joke, this was a reality check. Demonstrations you win by user experience, for the purposes why you built your product and not per se by all functionalities you have. Not all products with all best functionalities win.

Finally, some professional tips to use or avoid: match always your screenshots in powerpoints with the real demo, this makes you genuine and authentic; if you demo mobile, turn off all notifications of other programs, nobody wants to see your family text messages coming in all the time; videos are powerful for the great marketing reach you can have, but it is not the real demo: a real demo is with someone who has a story behind the product; and check your HDMI connector of your computers: it is crazy these days ….

Massimo

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