Why Every Product Demo Needs A Good Story

by Oscar Santolalla

Can you remember, from your own experience, a product demonstration in which the presenter told just the right story? I bet you can. Every product demo needs a good story. That’s the rule, not the exception. Technology is difficult to explain. Stories are powerful in connecting data, facts, and technology with real life. This is what makes your demo compelling and easier to understand. The best product demos have a good story behind them. If you can recall a demo, it has a good story.

You might now be thinking, "I need a good story. How do I find one?"

There are many ways. The story can come from the creators of the product, the founders of the company, real users, or even fictitious characters that are part of the product’s brand. If the main feature does not have a story that fits the demo, you must craft one yourself.

Types of stories used in product demos

If you find it difficult to come up with a story for your demo, don’t panic. You are not alone in this. To get you started, I am going to show you four types of stories:

  1. A story that is part of the product
    This example often shows itself in games. In Angry Birds, the pigs have stolen the bird eggs. The birds are on a mission to catapult themselves into the pigs’ structures to destroy them. This is a story of theft, sacrifice, and parents looking for revenge.
  2. The creator’s story
    Product inventors have great material to craft a story with. For example, Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein met while working for Facebook. Both faced the same challenge: being smart people who were wasting time in work email chains. So, they designed an internal tool for team collaboration, and it became massively adopted. They left the company with the mission to create a project management tool available for anybody in the world. That is how Asana was conceived.
  3. A real user’s story
    If you can transform a very special customer testimonial into a compelling story, it is powerful for both your presentations and your demos. Take Lydia Winters’ case. At the 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo, just before demo-ing Minecraft for Microsoft HoloLens, she told her own story about how the game changed both her own life, and the lives of thousands of people around the world.
  4. An allusion to famous fictional story
    This is the most difficult one, and it requires ton of creativity. But, the results can be amazing. In order to promote Macintosh, Steve Jobs suggested that his competitor, IBM, wanted to "dominate” and become an oppressive “Big Brother”, referring to George Orwell’s 1984. "Apple is the only hope."

Where can I use my main message and story?

You have a story, but you are not sure when during the demo to insert it. Let us recall from my book Create and Deliver a Product Demo that there are a few main sections of a presentation. In chronological order:

  1. The introduction
    You must tell the story as soon as you start. You will gain your customer’s attention quickly and build the terrain for an easy to follow demo. What about telling your story as the inventor of the product?
  2. Setting the context of the demo
    At this point you’re shortly explaining the scope of the demo, just before the real action. Use a story to make this explanation more concrete, let them imagine your world. What about telling a story of a real user?
  3. During the demo script
    Find several moments in which you use the same story to make every step, every screen, every click, more concrete.  
  4. The "WOW" moment
    If possible, illustrate, emphasize the story. Connect the story with the most impactful moment of the demo.
  5. Reiterating the message at the end
    The demo is over. Now wrap up and connect the story with what’s just been showed. 

As you can see, there are multiple sections in the demo where you can choose to put your story. Taking your time to do this right can be extremely powerful and beneficial.

Some examples of product demos that made history

  1. Volvo Dynamic Steering
    Martial arts actor Jean-Claude Van Damme is famous for his amazing splits. But, a split between two trucks moving in reverse was a stunt that nobody had seen him do before. In one of their presentations, Volvo Dynamic Steering featured a cameo by Van Damme, having him to “the most epic of splits.”
  2. Tesla Powerwall
    Fossil fuels are the main source that generates energy today, but they cause CO2 concentration to continuously grow, which is a problem.  “We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the Sun," remarked Elon Musk. Tesla’s energy solution for homes, the Powerwall (this product is separate from their cars,) provides a potential solution that people can map the story of help the environment's future onto.
  3. Cisco Live 2015 Keynote
    Using a CityPass mobile app with Cisco services in the background, Jim Grubb does everything needed to get John Chambers’ Senior Pass. Once John gets the CityPass from the mobile phone, the clerk desk says, “Fine. Then what I am supposed to do?" This insinuates how the mobile app, with the assistance of Cisco, is making things faster and easier for customers, no longer requiring them to go up to a desk to get help. It is an excellent example of how you can create an engaging real-life, relatable scenario while presenting the demo.

No matter the type of demo—a mobile application, complex enterprise software, a hardware product—a good story will have a tremendous impact. Even the most complex product can be demonstrated with ease if you use the right story.

So, take a pen, and start writing your story!

About the Author

Oscar Santolalla is a communication expert whose mission is to help technology companies present better, inspire people, and sell more. With over a decade of experience in the technology arena, he regularly writes for international blogs and gives talks and workshops worldwide. He works as a sales engineer at Ubisecure and has previously spent years in product management and sales roles in the tech industry. Since 2014, Oscar has been hosting the public speaking podcast Time to Shine, for which he has interviewed more than 100 communication professionals. He lives in Helsinki, Finland.

This article was contributed by Oscar Santolalla, author of Create and Deliver a Killer Product Demo.