How to crush a hardware demo (even if you aren’t Chuck Norris)
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Cool stuff like a humanoid robot were presented at TechNode's Asia Hardware Competition. Photo credit: Laura Rosbrow-Telem / Geektime

Cool stuff like a humanoid robot were presented at TechNode's Asia Hardware Competition. Photo credit: Laura Rosbrow-Telem / Geektime

Floor the media and win at CES

This post is by Benjamin Joffe and Duncan Turner, who are partners at HAX, the world’s largest and most active hardware accelerator. This post is also by Allison Aitken, Jackson Wightman and Borjana Slipicevic, who are partners at Proper Propaganda, a PR firm that helps technology companies get noticed.

It’s a heady time for hardware.

A torrent of capital is being invested in Internet of Things startups, development costs have decreased, and new business models have emerged to make hardware more attractive. Media of all stripes continue to spill significant (digital) ink covering the “Hardware Renaissance” and gushing over the hottest gadgets.

While coverage of tech hardware is deep and wide ranging, the glut of cool devices journalists have to profile has made it tougher than ever for companies to impress media.

Moreover, a variety of vaporware and crowdfunding horror stories have made outlets wary about what they cover. Today, media want to see proof about the claims companies make, and live demos are a key element for filling in the confidence gap.

This means when the chance to demo hardware for media arises, it needs to be hit out of the park.

As investors, startup accelerator mentors, and PR professionals, we counsel hundreds of companies a year on how to demo their hardware for media. Below, we outline key things to do before, during and after you demo technology for members of the fourth estate.

Phase 1 – pre demo

You (or your PR firm) has targeted media carefully, crafted a great pitch and secured a demo in a place that will allow you to have one hundred percent of a journalist’s attention. Congrats! Now what?

Research. Do your homework on the media in attendance: Are they specialists or generalists? What’s the prevailing tone of their coverage? Learn about and avoid any specific pet peeves that precipitate bad reviews.

Thinking differently about media relations research can go a long way. Recently a portfolio company and client of ours, Vigo Technologies, launched a Kickstarter campaign for their Vue smart glasses. One of the key media targeting variables was whether or not journalists wore glasses. This approach netted great results and is testament to going beyond only looking at someone’s beat or previous work.

Set parameters and expectations. Before the meeting, it’s important to give media some description about what will happen. You want to give away some information, while keeping certain ‘wow’ elements secret. Providing context is especially important if you’re only demoing certain features of a product or prototype.

Contrary to popular belief, limited feature demos with media can be quite effective. Last year, a client and portfolio company of ours, called Revols, received a high volume of favorable coverage for their earphones, despite being unable to demo any audio. The resulting media buzz helped them raise $2.5 million on Kickstarter. The point is to be clear about what those in attendance will see.

A demo is theater. Script and rehearse in advance. Like a Shakespearean play with its peak in act three and denouement in act five, a demo requires careful scripting to impress. Think of the interaction as theater. From the moment it begins until the moment you leave the building, your people and your product are on stage. Be sure you have a clear idea of the start, wow moment and ending for the meeting.

It goes without saying that demos, like plays, need to be well rehearsed in advance. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Phase 2 – the demo  

While careful scripting and prep go a long way, demos of tech for media benefit from additional safeguards:

Arrive early. Time pressure is a central hallmark of journalism. Don’t waste people’s precious time by being late for your meeting. Getting there early gives you time to set up.

Have two people present. It’s wise to send two company reps to a demo: one to do the talking, and the other to show off the hardware. This produces a more relaxed atmosphere, and allows for possible troubleshooting and damage control.

Bring video backup. Videos do great online and can also act as an insurance policy for a demo. In the event your prototype does not work, a video showing it in action can come in handy. While this option won’t completely save the day, it’s better than nothing.

The right amount of time and information. Remember what we said about journalists’ relationship with time? Ideally the ‘wow’ moment in your demo can be created in forty-five to sixty minutes. We suggest demoing tech at the start of the meeting and saving the lion’s share of time for questions.

Part of keeping to this time frame involves spokespeople delivering succinct disciplined answers. When you’re answering questions, make sure you stick to three main messages. Trying to communicate more than three tends to sow confusion. Vary your phrasing to avoid coming across as robotic.

Leaving a sample behind. Increasingly top tier tech media want to test prototypes over several days. There are several considerations to weigh:

  • Size: This doesn’t work with some products (i.e. bigger industrial equipment which might have safety concerns)
  • Cost: Creating extra prototypes specifically for media can be quite costly. Most journalists will understand if you can’t afford it yet, or simply that you don’t have spares.
  • Works when you aren’t around: Leave a sample only if you are 100% confident it will work well unassisted.

Post demo

Follow up. After you’ve left a demo, regardless of how it went, send the media in attendance a thank you email. A short missive is fine. This goes a long way. 

The views expressed are of the author.

Geektime invites global tech and startup professionals to share their opinions and expertise with our readers. If you would like to share your point of view, please contact us at [email protected]

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  • Research. Do your homework on the media in attendance: Are they specialists or generalists? What’s the prevailing tone of their coverage? Learn about and avoid any specific pet peeves that precipitate bad reviews.