Can you relate to the following software demo situation? Jennifer, the sales engineer, is at the keyboard. She's on a roll. She's been setting the stage to show how her price matrix capability will eliminate costly errors. This is all-important to the prospect. She has the audience's full attention and is steadily moving them toward her objective. Suddenly Robert, the account executive, interrupts from the back of the room. "Jennifer, I think this would be a great time to show how the information you're working with updates the data warehouse and is immediately available for sales analysis purposes." Everybody shifts their attention from Jennifer and the all-important price matrix capability to Robert and the equally important data warehouse function. In an instant, the momentum Jennifer has been building dies.
And so it goes with teammate interruptions during most demonstrations. How many times do they happen during your demonstrations? It's as if we're wrestling for the attention of our audience. What impact does it have on your prospect? On the message you're delivering? On the professionalism you're trying to convey?
Does Jennifer have a right to be frustrated? Sure she does. She just had the rug pulled out from under her. She put a ton of work into preparing and organizing her demo. Now she has to shift gears, even though she was so close to wrapping up the price matrix stuff. Worse yet, she appears unprepared to the prospect because the sales rep couldn't resist jumping in.
Is Robert to blame? Not really. After all, he's the account executive and has ultimate responsibility for the deal. His understanding of the prospect is critical (after all, data warehousing is an important topic). We need him to provide focus during the demonstration. We want him to interject. It just needs to happen the right way, at the right time.
How Should It Be Handled
What's missing? All Jennifer and Robert need is an agreed upon procedure for teammate communication and coordination during their demonstration. And surprisingly, it can be incredibly easy.
Consider the following illustration. During a basketball game, which player has everyone's attention? The player who has the ball, right? Now, does it ever happen that a teammate without the ball finds that they're in a good position to score? Sure. What typically happens in that situation? Does that player run over to their teammate with the ball and rip it out of their hands? No. They
signal their teammate and wait for them to get in the right position to
pass the ball. At that point, everybody's attention shifts to the player that now has the ball. When does their attention shift back? Not until the ball gets passed again.
Shouldn't we do the same thing during a software demonstration? Absolutely. Robert's first task is to signal Jennifer that he has something to say? Then, he has to wait patiently for Jennifer to get to a logical transition point at which time she can pass him the ball.
Signal: What's the best way to signal your teammate during a demonstration? Should you raise your arm? Wave you're hand? Call out their name? No. A far more effective technique is to simply stand up and wait for your teammate to make eye contact, acknowledging they know you have a comment to make. First, it's much easier for your teammate to notice a big motion like someone rising out of a chair as apposed to a small motion like a hand waving. Second, if you start making obvious gestures, your audience will notice and immediately shift their attention away from the presenter.
Sometimes your teammate will be so intent on what they're doing, they won't notice you stand up. Assuming you're seated toward the back of the room (hint, hint), create some motion to make it easier for them to see you. Pace a little bit. If that doesn't get their attention, walk toward them until they make eye contact, then move to the back of the room and wait for the pass.
Here's an important consideration. This technique means members of your demonstration team can't congregate in the back of the room. Why? The presenter won't be able to distinguish between when a teammate has a comment to make and when they're just stretching their legs. Also, it's distracting to both the audience and the presenter when people stand in the back of the room. You can't control if your prospect does this, but your demonstration team never should.
Wait: When your teammate makes eye contact with you, that's your signal that they recognize you have a comment to make. However, they're still in control. They have the ball. You must respect that. Remain standing and wait for them to pass you the ball. This is important for a couple reasons:
They're probably setting the stage to show something important. Until they have closed the loop, it's going to be counterproductive to interrupt them.
Most presenters have transition points in their material to keep themselves organized. By signaling and waiting to make your comment, you're helping them remain organized and professional in the delivery of their material.
Pass: When the presenter finishes their thought process, they're going to pass you the ball. Two things need to take place to do that:
They must make a "Transition Statement" which informs the audience that you're taking control. This can be as simple as saying, "Robert, would you like to make a comment." When this happens, your audience will naturally shift their attention from the presenter to you.
The presenter needs to sit down. This insures that the audience's attention doesn't shift back to the presenter until you're finished with your comment. In other words, you have the ball until you pass it back. How do you do that? Simply reverse the process. When you're done with your comment, make a Transition Statement ("Jennifer, what's the next thing you have for us?"). Then sit back down.
As I've observed colleagues use this technique, I find a couple things particularly interesting.
It's very easy for an audience to focus their attention when only one person is standing. It's difficult for them when two or more are standing. Don't confuse your audience by putting the burden on them to figure out whom to pay attention to. If you have the ball, stand. If you don't have the ball, sit down.
It's surprising how many times I've seen somebody stand up to signal they have a comment, only to sit down before the ball is passed to them. Why? Because the presenter did in fact make the point they wanted to comment on. It just happened with a little different timing or sequence.
The Stand Up, Sit Down technique will also serve you well at other times during your demonstration. Here are a couple of examples:
A Question from the Audience: If you're participating in a demonstration, but aren't actively presenting, one of your responsibilities is to observe the audience for questions. Confused looks, frowns or an exchange of glances are all signs that someone has a question or comment, but for whatever reason is not sharing it (shy, doesn't want to look foolish, etc.). It's your job to bring the question to the attention of the presenter. How? Use the Stand Up, Sit Down technique:
Stand up to get the attention of the presenter.
When they pass you the ball, make a Transition Statement that brings the question to their attention ("Jennifer, I believe Andy had a question about the price matrix.")
Now, sit back down so the question is directed to the presenter, not you.
Why is it important to have the question directed to the presenter? First, since the question probably relates to the material they're covering, the presenter is more than likely the best person to address the question. Second, and most important, if you start answering too many questions, you'll undermine your teammate's credibility. This is particularly true if you're more experienced than the presenter. Unless you want to take over, have the question directed to the presenter. If they don't know the answer and want your help, there are ways of asking for it (see below).
Don't Put a Teammate on the Spot: Here's the scenario. You're Jennifer. You're demonstrating your price matrix capability. Somebody asks you a question about rebates. You have no idea how to answer their question. Luckily, Judy, a senior product manager is in the room because she's next up on the agenda. You look at her and ask, "Judy do you know the answer to this question?" Unfortunately, Judy is the product manager for the accounting applications, not pricing. She can't answer the question. She looks like she doesn't know anything. You look unprepared. Momentum is lost.
Here's a more effective way to handle the question:
Make eye contact with Judy. This signals her that you don't know the answer to the question and you need her help. (Adding a bit of a pained look can sometimes be helpful!) If she stands up, that signals she can answer the question. Without saying a word, sit down and let Judy answer the question.
If Judy doesn't stand up, you know she can't answer the question. Don't make the situation worse by putting her on the spot. Restate the question and get as much information as you can. Then acknowledge that you aren't prepared to answer the question right now. Indicate that during a break, you'll do some research, setup some data to show the capability, whatever is needed. Then, write down the question so the person who asked it can see it (flip chart, white board, etc.). This will assure them you'll get back to their question, allowing them to move on.
An Action Plan
It's painfully simple, isn't it? Stand up when you have something to say. Wait for your teammate to pass you the ball (Transition Statement). Sit down when you're not addressing the audience. The key is making sure your demonstration teammates understand how the technique is used. Here are a couple suggestions to help make that happen:
Call a 15-minute meeting of your entire demonstration team. Don't forget to include specialists who are often called upon to address unique situations even though they don't participate in many demonstrations. Examples include support, implementation, or other technical personnel that you bring in to answer functionality questions.
Explain the Stand Up, Sit Down procedure. Have copies of this overview available for those who are interested.
Role-play the three situations discussed above (a teammate who wants to make a comment, somebody in the audience who has a question and the proper way to get a teammate's help in answering a question).
Remind everybody that congregating in the back of the room is no longer allowed. If they're going to be in the room, they have to be sitting down if they're not addressing the audience.
The sooner you learn to stand up, sit down and not fight, fight, fight, the sooner your prospects will leave your demonstrations thinking, "That was a good demo. They really work well together. If that's how they demo, imagine how smooth the implementation will be."
Now, wouldn't that be nice
About The Author
Ross Jacobsen has been demonstrating software for over 20 years. As a partner with Demonstrating To Win!
LLC, Ross conducts training workshops and provides consulting and professional speaking services to technology companies around the world. To learn more about Demo2WIN's products and services, visit their website at