The 1st 7 Seconds Rule for Demonstrations

by TedV

Part of an ongoing series explaining how and why to capture your prospects’ attention immediately with any type of marketing or sales message you offer.

In today’s ultra hectic business atmosphere you must immediately cause prospects to relate to you with the first sentences of any form of sales or marketing message – regardless of your sales cycle length – if you ever want prospects to buy. This is the very essence of Relevance Marketing – talking about your prospect’s goals, objectives, and problems, and not about your offerings.

The Relevant Demonstration

Whether you are demonstrating to a large crowd or just a few people, you need to capture their attention fast. True, they have agreed to sit through your demo and you will probably have a minute or two, maybe more, to really grab their attention, but it is best to start out right away totally captivating them. People commit after brilliant demos.

When I was a regional sales representative with Quark, Inc. I performed numerous demonstrations on a weekly basis. Quark is the publisher of the page layout software, QuarkXPress. At that time PageMaker was the big leader in what was then more commonly called, desktop publishing. QuarkXPress, along with Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator programs, and the graphic capabilities of the Apple Macintosh, were the products that caused a monumental and radical shift in advertising, marketing, and printing that is still shaping those industries today.

PageMaker was the first big name in page layout much like Lotus 1-2-3 was the first popular digital spreadsheet and WordPerfect was the first ubiquitous word processing program.

I was one of nine Quark representatives covering the US mostly through an excellent Macintosh dealer network, and our job was to show every business graphic department in the nation why QuarkXPress was better. Here are the major issues we had to overcome with our demos:

• PageMaker was the BIG name in page layout with huge market share
• There was no single drop dead killer feature or benefit in QuarkXPress
• There were a lot of specific features and benefits proving it was better
• QuarkXPress was easy to use but extremely full featured
• Therefore PageMaker was simpler to use
• Most graphic designers already had PageMaker and knew how to use it
• Printed pieces off the printing press showed our biggest advantage
• Management was most concerned with print quality
• Actual designers were not as concerned with print issues

Demonstrating to a Small Group

The smart Macintosh dealer – those who were selling solutions and therefore a lot of product – knew that they would gain many advantages with the more important companies in their sales areas if they took us Quark reps in to demonstrate QuarkXPress. So I would go to a major city for a few days or a week and the dealers would take me to visit the biggest prospective companies they could find.

I would typically talk to and demo to 3 to 8 people at a time. I would average 3 to 4 presentations a day. This was a great “laboratory” to experiment on specific demonstration techniques, clever word phrasings, and subtle attempts at humor to improve the over all flow of my demos.

I had demonstration example files for a magazine and a brochure. Using my software I could explained creating almost anything the prospects produced in their graphics departments by mapping their projects to one of these two demo types.

Therefore, right after introductions, I immediately asked questions about what they did.

This way I was talking with them about their two most important concerns – 1) what they had to accomplish and 2) what problems they faced doing so. We were immediately talking about them!

Me, the Techxpert – I knew from experts at Quark the main problems our software solved, but I earned the reputation as a technical expert on these problems because my prospects educated me on issues they specifically faced. Every company I visited had experienced the typical problems, but each industry had different priorities for these issues and additional concerns unique to their niche.

I then started asking questions to graphics departments in my territory where they used QuarkXPress as well as questioning those who did not use my product.

The Actual Demo Wording

Altogether too many demos are NOT about the prospects viewing themselves succeeding with the displayed product or service. You usually see one of two demo methods:

1) – “My product can do this, then it does this, that, and the other. Then you can either go this way or that. If you go this way this happens, and if you go that way….”

2) – “Today I am going to show you this, then this, then this, then this, and then that. First I do this. Watch me as I ______. Now I’ll do this. Oh, let me show you….”

Now the second example is better than the first, but it is still too demonstrator-centric as opposed to demo-viewer-centric. Here’s how I showed QuarkXPress in action as my demo viewers and I designed a page together. I said something like:

“Since you create a load of brochures, how about we build one together right now. Do you create many 4 page documents? Okay, here’s how we set that up. What are the typical page margins you use?

“Do you usually put product titles at the top or the bottom of the front page? Okay, we’ll put it there. Now, let’s import a picture. QuarkXPress puts pictures in a box on your page so here are the different box shapes available. Pick one. We just click Import and there you go.

“Oh, and do you remember the problems you told me about with low-res/hi-res swap out? Well QuarkXPress swaps out low resolution placeholders for the high resolution ones automatically. Collect For Output makes it no problem.”

In 129 words I:

- Asked participants 4 different questions
- Let them make 5 choices in how the demo went
- Showed them 9 ways the program did things
- Explained 3 significant improvements over our competitor
- Relieved one MAJOR problem they faced every day

And through it all, those seeing the demo and I did it together. Of course I had the mouse and keyboard under my control the whole time. I actually did the work. But by using words like “how do you” and “then we do it this way” they were subconsciously doing it with me, and by me asking questions they were actively participating in the process.

At 8 or 9 people it becomes difficult to ask so many questions. At 12 or 13 it was just about impossible. If I was in a specific company’s meeting room with more than 8 or 9 people I’d ask the group if I could basically talk to the 3 or 4 right near me, and then anyone else could comment or ask questions about what we’d missed.

Smaller demonstrations are a great venue to practice and gain confidence before talking to larger groups.

Demonstrating to a Large Crowd

Two or three times a quarter a dealer would have a big show in my territory and I was asked to demo to the crowd. Attendees usually numbered between 30 and 120. One dealer once put me in front of over 250 people in a hotel conference room.

Also, three or four times a year Quark would have a large booth at a tradeshow like MacWorld, GraphExpo, or the Newspaper Association of America Conference. Quark would rent a booth big enough to seat about 30 people and the crowds would end up with 60 or more packed in the area and blocking the aisles.

On the hour and half hour a new demo would start that lasted 20 minutes. Time was closely guarded and we were slaves to the timer facing the demonstrator from the back of the show booth.

My Large Crowd Demo

My QuarkXPress demonstration for big audiences covered the same substance as my small group demos, but not in the same execution. I couldn’t meet everyone ahead of time and catch their names, nor could I ask them a number of specific questions about their individual and business needs.

In a single company visit I’d usually have at least 30 minutes to demo and quite often I had an hour, if not more. I could tailor everything to their goals, objectives, and problems.

In large diverse groups I had to hit on the most common problems that most attendees would face and try to relate whatever I did specifically to all possible viewers in as few words as possible. At exactly 20 minutes my boss got antsy, and at 21 minutes she cut off the sound system.

And yet, I could always create crowd participation almost instantly.

Here’s how I’d start:

“Hi, I’m Ted with Quark. That’s enough about me; let’s hear about you. How many of you are from right here in (the city we were in)? Now, how many of you are from another continent?”

In 7 seconds or less I’d made them chuckle and in another 7 seconds or so I’d asked a question that caused all to answer in their minds and respond accordingly – and most people chuckled again.

“Now, how many of you use QuarkXPress? All of us here at Quark thank you. To all of you current users today we will look at a number of new capabilities we are announcing. Those of you who do not currently use our program, all of us users join in welcoming you to look at a few of the many reasons we love it.

“In the next few minutes we are going to layout the first few pages of a magazine. Most of the magazines you read are 8-1/2 inches by 11 inches, correct? So we’ll make our magazine that size as well.

“We’ll put the title here on the front cover. Call it out; do you prefer a serif or sans serif font for the title? Okay, let’s use Garamond Bold.

“Here’s how you will place the front cover image. How many of you find you have issues with image bleed on your printed pages? Ah, now I know those of you who don’t use QuarkXPress.

“Show of hands, how many of you are plagued by color trapping issues? Don’t feel bad, thousands of graphic designers and printers consider this a major concern. Let’s look at how QuarkXPress eliminates most if not all of your problems.

Throughout the rest of the demonstration I asked both rhetorical questions and quick questions the audience could actually shout out in a word or two. I kept at the humor whenever possible.

I quickly moved through as many features and benefits as possible, creating as much “Wow! Look at that!” as I could.

All the time I keep subconscious participation going using the words “you” and “we” and all the accompanying verbiage to support the idea of us building the page together as I did the actual work.

I encouraged conscious participation with my rhetorical and actual questions, and by talking about issues and solutions all present dealt with daily.

How You Sound in Your Demo

Public speaking to this day is still one of the most prevalent fears in society. If you are the demonstrator you have to get over it. The best way to improve your speaking skills is to start speaking. Join Toastmasters. Take the Dale Carnegie Course. Read books on speech giving. Make yourself do it. I promise it doesn’t hurt.

And if you give demonstrations I feel the following is your duty:

• Not only do you owe any one you demo to great information
• You also owe them information in a way they will want to pay attention
• You must spice your speaking with changes in inflection and tone
• You have to avoid a monotone
• You must allow your demo viewers to see themselves doing what you do, and in their minds they are all exciting experts at doing what they do – never dull or boring

Start off as a demonstrator by copying as much as you can of the style and verbiage of the best demonstrators in your company.

Smaller demonstrations are a great venue to practice your own speaking styles, techniques, and humor. Remember, you are always the expert in your demonstration.

Humor and Other Factors

Those few of you who know me in real life know I enjoy public speaking. I tell very few actual jokes if any, but find plenty of natural humor in most things and love relating one-liners, subject-specific quips, and pertinent punch lines throughout my speaking.

Bill, one of my compatriots in selling at Quark, was the exact opposite of me in most ways. He was not shy and fearful of speaking, but when we all took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test at a sales meeting, Bill was at the top left of the top left quadrant and I was at the bottom right of the bottom right quadrant.

Both Bill and I were considered among the best of the demonstrators even though our personal techniques were very different. He was subtle and droll; I was boisterous and comedic. Bill mastered careful inflection and I just raised and lowered my speaking tones without really changing my volume much at all. Bill would step back and confide in you. I would lean forward and let you in on a secret.


Find yourself in speaking and in your demos, and make it so your audience can eagerly listen and easily follow along.

Demonstrations can make or break the swift movement to a positive purchasing decision. No one has ever told me “No” because I made the demo more pertinent to their situation. People love to buy what they can relate to and see themselves succeeding with. Relevance Marketing in a demonstration takes prospects where you want them to go.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

bruce December 16, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Hi Ted

I randomly came across this article, The 1st 7 Seconds Rule for Demonstrations, and I wanted to say that I think the article is great! It is an easy read, informative, entertaining.

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