Ah, my first software demo–I remember it like it was yesterday (it was four years ago). Somewhere out there is a shell-shocked prospect wondering why on earth they even took my call.

If you’re in a client-facing role and looking to improve your demo and presentation skills, this blog post is for you.

For your amusement or horror, below is a list of some of the missteps I made during that call:

  • My voice shook from nerves and too much coffee.
  • I didn’t ask questions. Instead, I rambled on with details of no consequence and irrelevant tangents.
  • My mouse flew all over the screen for no apparent reason as I excitedly clicked into every last feature of the product.
  • I jumped to answer every question instead of trying to understand the use case, which invariably led to more questions.
  • I completely neglected to read my audience and adjust accordingly.
  • I made a very sleek and easy to use technology appear complicated and confusing.
  • I called out bugs in the demo instance on the 1-2 occasions that the product didn’t function properly.

So, it should come as no surprise that I confused and overwhelmed the prospect, and they never spoke to me again. Despite being friendly and energetic, I made every mistake in the book.

Four years and hundreds of product demos later, I am a laser-focused Solutions Consultant (or Sales Engineer at some organizations). My role allows me to focus on being a presenter and pain point gatherer, leaving the hunting and closing to the Account Executives.

It’s a role that revolves around two purposes: the first is to bring our product to life in the prospect’s world, and the second is to make it look easy. Because of this, I often say that a Solutions Consultant has the heart of a teacher. (Interestingly enough, many of my fellow SCs wanted to be teachers at one point.) There is immense satisfaction in connecting with someone on a personal level and educating them about how your product can solve their problems.

To help you bring your product to life and make it look easy, here are my top 10 secrets to delivering an amazing demo:

1. Exude Calm and Positive Energy

Focus on your audience, not on yourself. If you’re too nervous about how you come across to your prospects, you’ll forget your key points and may end up losing a deal simply because you didn’t do a good job covering how you can help them. Also, it’s likely that your audience will sense your negative energy and it’ll make them nervous as well, which makes it hard to have a productive conversation. I’ve seen it happen time and time again and it never ends well. This talk from the Stanford Technology Ventures Program offers some great practical advice on how to build your personal charisma:

2. Have a Clear Beginning, Middle, and End

This was my dad’s refrain when he edited my college papers. And more recently, our Executive Vice President shared this feedback with me on a demo I’d just completed for a group of executives. I now keep these steps front and center in every presentation:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Use this opportunity to direct the conversation. Tell them what you want to say and what they need to hear. This will make your audience comfortable since they’ll have clear expectations of where you’re headed.
  2. Tell them. This is when you build your business case for why your solution meets their needs. Don’t just rattle off different features. Speak to how you can help—how can your product or service can help them overcome their challenges?
  3. Tell them what you told them. Repeat your takeaways to drive the point home before you end your presentation.

3. Before You Tell Them, Ask Them

My manager and I were recently discussing my future as a Solutions Consultant. This specific piece of advice resonated with me: every SC should know their product well enough to go into a call with no prep, ask a few well-placed questions, and be able to deliver a relevant demonstration. The critical component here? Questions. There’s no better way to understand what your audience is looking for than to ask them.

4. Talk 20%, Listen 80%

I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve been on where the salesperson swears that they want to “keep it conversational,” but barely lets the prospect speak. These are two tactical things you can try on your next call to really hear what your prospects are saying:

  • When the person on the other end is done talking, slowly count to two before responding. I’ve found that if I just pause and don’t respond right away, the customer takes that as a sign that I’m listening intently and keeps talking. Test it on your friends first and you’ll see what I mean.
  • When you deliver your demo, pause early and often. In my early days at Marketo, I watched my fellow SCs employ the magic of a pause in their demos. At the end of each section, they would pause for several seconds–to the point where it was borderline uncomfortable–instead of asking for some kind of feedback. Again, it demonstrates through your actions that you care about keeping the call conversational, and it gives your conversational partner an easy way to participate.

5. When You Do Talk, Pretend You’re a News Anchor

Think of how news anchors speak: in easily digestible, repeatable sound bites. Celebrity news hosts are especially good at this, but you can watch for it on every single news program. When someone on CNN is explaining a foreign policy decision, they don’t go off on some obscure tangent. Rather, they don’t waste a single word, use plain English, and follow a very logical flow. I just gave you an excuse to watch TMZ to improve in your job—you’re welcome.

Pretending you’re a news anchor will also accomplish another important goal: keeping your demo laser-focused. Every click and every screen you show should have a purpose.

6. Take Your Hands Off the Keyboard

If you are not specifically clicking on something, take your hands off the keyboard and put them in your lap while you answer a question. This will help you avoid waving your mouse all over the screen and distracting your prospect. They will look wherever you point, so mind your gestures. Plus, who knows what you might accidentally click on?

7. Discover the QBQ–the Question Behind the Question

I was recently on an internal certification for one of our newer Solutions Consultants. Our manager asked her how many filters we have in a specific feature, and she handled it perfectly. Rather than scramble to answer, she paused, smiled, and asked him to explain his use case. Sure enough, he had no interest in a number, but wanted to see a specific scenario built out. The conversation took a completely different and far more productive path because it veered away from features/functions and towards benefits and addressing pain points.

8. Balance Likability with Excellent Product Knowledge

I firmly believe that people buy from people they like. They also buy from people who know what they’re talking about. It’s important to establish a positive relationship with your customer, but only after you’ve earned it by establishing your credibility. This means that if you don’t know something, admit it candidly. Then, earn their trust even more by following up promptly with the correct answer to their question.

9. Record Yourself

The best athletes watch their games and pick apart everything they could have done better. The best salespeople do the same. Use the camera on your computer or phone if you do any onsite presentations, or use a screen/voice capture product like Snagit if you conduct business virtually. This will help you identify your filler words and see how well you navigate your product.

10. Don’t Call the Baby Ugly

This one drives me crazy. If your demo instance is lacking some data, loads an odd screen or error message, or just takes a minute to pull up, don’t acknowledge it. Fill the space with conversation and don’t apologize for your tools. Most of the time, the customer doesn’t notice that there’s an issue. Worst-case scenario is that you can follow up after the call with a screenshot of what you wanted to show, which opens a door for another conversation with them.

Whether you’re just getting started in sales or looking to master your craft, I’d love to hear from you. Which of these tips resonated? Is there anything you’d add to the list?