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Geek Protip: Making Presentations to a General Audience


Presenting is nerve-wracking. There’s no doubt about it. But, don’t panic! There are ways to make it less so.

The key is to be adequately prepared and have a goal. If you know what you’re talking about and have a general idea of where this presentation will and should go, then everything else is the balloon-shaped icing on the red velvet & mint chocolate chip ice cream cake your friends always order for your birthday (which you begrudgingly accept and secretly love).

First and foremost, what is your goal and who are you presenting to?

Stop and think for a second. Do you want your audience to start an evaluation at the end of the presentation? Invest? Buy?

… *whistles and twiddles thumbs* …

Got a concrete goal? Great!

Knowing your goal will help steer the progression of your presentation and will in turn drive your audience to the call-to-action that you’d like them to take.

At ZeroTurnaround, I spend my days as a JRebel Pre-Sales Engineer, which is a fancy way of saying I give cool demos to awesome potential clients. So my job is to, obviously, help sell JRebel. Wild, I know!

But that isn’t necessarily my goal during the presentation. While it would be absolutely fantastic to get a signed quote at the end of every demo, that doesn’t usually happen (but it’s wicked sweet when it does).

Do you know your goal?

My goal is, ultimately, to help potential clients reduce their stress and be more productive by eliminating their restart and redeploy time with JRebel.

I do this by being clear and concise with my explanations of the tool, what it can do and how to easily configure it, answering their questions to the best of my ability (and getting back to them within an hour-ish if I didn’t have the answer to one of their questions off the top of my head), and, you know, actually demonstrating the tool.

I also want my audience to evaluate JRebel and get a true feeling of how it works. Hands-on experience is the ultimate teacher/motivation/sales tactic/what have you, and you can’t beat it. It’s always harder to give something up than it is to integrate something new in your life.

Now that you have your goal, think about your audience.

If you’re presenting to developers, focus your presentation on how your tool will make their lives easier. If you’re presenting to suits, steer the presentation towards how this tool will help their business by increasing productivity (or destroy planets, toast bread as you slice lightsaber-style, or whatever else) and therefore increase other things of a more monetary persuasion.

I usually present to developers because, you know, JRebel is a Java productivity tool, but that doesn’t mean I never get business folks on the other end of the call. Would you be ready if it does so happen that you present to an unusual audience? While you could pitch your widget the same way you always do, it might not necessarily have the same impact.

Let me give you an example.

My demo is pretty technical; not SUPER technical, but enough so that if you don’t really code in Java you won’t see how big of an impact JRebel will make on the development process by just seeing it work in the demo. It’s the difference between “Oh that’s cool…” and “OMG DO IT AGAIN”, which is also the difference between “Let me consult with blahblahblah and see if we want to evaluate” and “I NEED IT NOWandIwantthismanytriallicenses”.


So what’s the solution?
I, personally, have two pitches: one for developers, which is the usual demo and Q&A session, and a second for business folks. This second pitch grazes over the technical stuff and instead focuses on the business value of the product itself. It will save your devs this much time, it has these features, and will pay for itself in this amount of time etc. Normally there is at least on developer on the call, but if there isn’t I’m still prepared.

There are other suggestions I could toss upon you and some that I will toss upon you in future chapters, but before diving into the idiosyncrasies of presenting to and playing off of your audiences you need a good foundation. So remember:

Goal(s) + Audience awareness = Good foundation

What’s next?

In future posts, I hope to go a little bit deeper into the concept of presentation skills for geeks, including how to present to fellow developers, how to present to people coming from the business side, and how to generally make your already-good presentation into a GREAT one. Hopefully I can find the time in between presentations to get it done! ;)

If you have any comments, ideas or remarks, please put them into the comments section below, or tweet @Rebel_Labs.