Judging the Codie Awards, the software and content industry's Oscar Awards, last year was fun, but it was a lot of work.
The SIIA recommends that entrants provide self-running demos or CDs of demos to judges, however some judges (including myself) preferred a live demo. Be prepared for either.
-> Demos, Not Products or Sites, Let Me Down
While I was almost always impressed with the product or site, I was seldom impressed with the demo.
The best demos started with the problem the user has when he begins to interact with the product. The worst demos started with PowerPoint presentations quoting analysts telling me how big the industry was projected to become.
In some cases, I had to interrupt demos (or presentations) to tell them what it was I needed to know. It does not take a sexy product to win the Codies. AT&T made my finalist list and won for Best eBusiness Solution with an electronic maintenance system that let telephone customers diagnose problems with their telephone switches. What made it memorable was that the presenters showed me how their product solved a problem.
-> 15 Tips for Demo & Live Presentation Success
Follow my list below to make sure the judge in your category is nodding along, not nodding off, during your demo or presentation. Missing the mark in a canned demo is even more of a disaster because the judge can’t interrupt you with questions. And chances are you will never know what you did wrong.
(BTW: Many of these tips equally apply to doing presentations to potential customers. Feel free to share them with your sales team.)
Tip #1. Nominate yourself (even if you do not think you will win.)
Even if you do not win, the influential journalists and analysts who serve as judges will have spent 15-30 minutes with your demo.
If you impress them, they will probably cover you later in their own publications, or say complimentary things about you to other journalists or analysts seeking quotes on your viability.
The cost of a Codie nomination ranges between $250-$395 per product per category. When you compare that to the cost of getting out a single press release that the same journalists may ignore, it is quite a bargain.
Tip #2. Meet deadlines.
Judges are busy people and do not get paid to judge. Comply with the same SIIA rules that judges are supposed to be following. Contact them in time. Provide the mandated material. You can, of course, ask whether the judge would prefer to do a live demo, rather than the canned demo. Do not ask for extensions.
Tip #3. Familiarize the judges with your company prior to judging.
Make sure that judges have gotten at least one press release from your company about something important well before the deadline for contacting the judge arrives.
PR firms: find out who judged in your client's category last year and add them to your press list TODAY. During the judging last year, I asked more than one PR firm during the demo while his client was on the phone: Why I had never heard from them before. In one case, I had completed a chapter of a book on this exact technology less than three months earlier. Boy, was the PR firm embarrassed.
Tip #4. Practice the demo ahead of time.
Do not start by describing where each button will take you or what every feature of the product is. (This is an incredibly common mistake.) Your demo should focus on the USER of the site or product.
Start with "a visitor comes to our site for one of three reasons..."
Spell out who is using your product, and why, and then make the demo about HOW your product or site solves a specific problem. If necessary, create data ahead of time that the user would have in his account to make it look authentic.
Judges need to be convinced that your product or site solves a real problem, not just that it does something cool.
Tip #5. Practice with Web conferencing services prior to using them.
Practice the demo using whatever demonstration/conferencing software or service you are going to use. Have someone in your company pretend to be a judge by working remotely or from home.
Is possible, avoid using any conferencing software that requires attendees to accept a download. If you need to use software (such as WebEx) that allows you to take over the judge’s desktop, then test, test, test ahead of time so that presenters don’t sound like amateurs by asking "is it working?" constantly.
While conferencing software is not new, it still sometimes does not work. Have a backup plan. Schedule conferencing software with two vendors for the same time slot (and have your demo loaded at both in advance) so the minute you encounter any technical glitches, ask the judge to switch to the second vendor instantly.
Tip #6. Establish rapport.
Part of a good demo is rapport with the judge (or judges, if you have more than one on the phone at once). You do not know who is going to get along with whom. Have one woman and one man from your end on the phone during the demo. Early in the demo, let the person who has more rapport with the judge take over the demo.
Tip #7. Have your best speakers doing the talking.
Make sure anyone in on the call has good spoken English skills. Strong accents can be very distracting.
Tip #8. Lie to your company founder about the demo date.
Keep the founder out of the demo unless he or she is a celebrity that the judges will want to have say they met. Trust me on this one.
Tip #9. Do not put the judge on speakerphone.
Most speakerphones do not support full duplex, which means that when anyone on the speaker-side is talking, the judge cannot interrupt to ask questions. (Personally, I have hung up on interviewees when I couldn’t interrupt to ask questions for more than about 60 seconds.)
The judge wants to be able to jump right into the good stuff. He or she may have just seen a demo by your closest competitor and want to ask pointed questions about how you compare to that. When the clock is ticking and the judge can not interrupt, he or she is going to get frustrated and tune out.
Tip #10. Read up on your judges.
Read something by the judge before the demo. If the judge just wrote a column talking about the virtues of (for example) ASPs, and your first four slides are about the virtues of ASPs, then you’ve wasted time and you have insulted the judge. Check Amazon and Google for your judge’s writings. You might be able to anticipate questions based on what your judge has already written.
Tip #11. No PowerPoint slides.
Unless you need a diagram to show how your product or site fits into the landscape or where your product or site falls between existing, well-known products to solve a problem, skip the PowerPoint slides. Demonstrate the product by showing how it solves a problem. Be sure to set up the problem clearly, particularly if the judge is seeing a canned demo.
Tip #12. Respect the judge's time.
Do not send the judge a huge package to "read ahead of time." Also, do not send software that needs to be installed on his or her computer unless the category of software is desktop software.
Last year, I conducted about 30 interviews in one week for two different categories. Entrants had 30 minutes of my uninterrupted time. That was enough. Judges are not paid for their time. Work within the guidelines they establish.
Tip #13. Do not send NDAs.
Your software will have to be judged by SIIA membership if it makes the finals. NDAs make you look as if you never talk with the press. Forget them.
Tip #14. Listen to the judge’s questions.
With this long list of to-dos for the demo, you might be so focused on getting everything said that you fail to listen. The most important thing to tell the judge is the answer to his or her question. Lead the judge through the product, but listen to what he wants to learn more about. Be flexible enough to show him what he considers to be the interesting stuff.
Tip #15. No Flash Intro!
Actually, interactive Flash is okay, but do not send your judges to a secure Web site to sign in and see the demo, then expect them to sit through 90 seconds of flash intro or you’ll antagonize them even before the demo starts.
Follow these 15 guidelines and you will be way ahead of your competitors. Even if you do not make the finals, you will be remembered by the judges as having your act together, which will earn you the judges' time down the road when they receive a press release from you.
* Note: How to Enter Your Web Site, Company or Software for a Codie Award
The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) nominations forms are now available online for the Annual Codie Awards.