Demo Night Tips

by Scott Austin February 04, 2015

Demo Night Tips

One of the fun parts of the startup community is demo night.  As a startup founder, I'm always trying to get a slot on a demo night to show off what we're doing and increase our awareness in the community.  When you are lucky enough to present at a demo night, we all want to do as well as we can and make the best impression.  I've watched and participated in a large number of Demo Nights.  My high level advice is the following three rules:
  1. Focus on your product
  2. Manage your time well
  3. Prepare for problems

Here's some more detailed Do's and Don'ts for Demo Night.

Demo Do's

  • Focus on your product.
  • Know your product inside and out.  Someone may ask a tough question.
  • Demo on working code.
  • Be prepared for things to go wrong.  Murphy's Law will be proven true during your demo.  Be prepared by thinking ahead to what you will do if your computer doesn't communicate with the projector, you find offensive user content on your site, the internet goes down or is slow or any other scenario you can think of.  The best presenters smoothly continue their demo as things go wrong all around them.  Many times they do it with humor or without the audience even noticing.
  • Stick to your time.  Nothing ruins a great demo as easily as the MC having to force the speaker to end their talk.  It just looks unorganized and unprofessional.
  • Show up early and test out the internet, AV, etc.
  • Be careful with humor.  Humor is great for a demo and helps you to connect with the audience and keep them engaged.  Steer clear of humor that may offend some people or can be misunderstood.
  • Know your audience and use language they will understand.

Demo Don'ts

  • Don't blame poor product performance on the facility's internet.  Many places have poor connectivity including the homes and offices of your desired customers.  Your product should be able to work under that scenario.
  • Don't wait for problems to be resolved.  You've usually got a short time window, say 5 to 7 minutes, to present.  If something goes bad, say the microphone doesn't work anymore, keep your demo going with whatever workaround you can think of.
  • Don't read a script, even if you have memorized it.  You should know your product well enough that you can present it without having to memorize it word for word.  You should have a script for what you'll show, but not a script for every word.  This way, you'll be able to adjust the demo as needed for the audience or overcome any curveballs that Murphy's Law throws at you.
  • Don't have multiple presenters.  If you've only got a few minutes, don't waste some of those precious moments with hand-offs between multiple presenters.
  • Don't confuse Demo Night for Pitch Night.  Another startup staple is Pitch Night.  That's where we go and talk about the problem, market size, our solution, business model, our team, etc.  But demos should be about products not all of the other items covered in a pitch.
  • Don't show slides -- show your product.
Hope this helps.
Scott Austin
Scott Austin