The goal was to schedule 3 rounds of calls and online meetings before Health 2.0, and to have a 3.5 minute presentation gift-wrapped and ready to go, with all presentation info (speaker bios, demo URLs, media, etc.) submitted by September 30th.
Ha. Ha I say!
Of course I had a beautiful Google Calendar set up and prepopulated, a tracking spreadsheet, and a highly idealized vision of how this would all go.
The reality was over 300 hours of calls, emails, panicked last minute changes, time zone errors, missed opportunities, miscommunications, and heartache as some companies put in work for presentations that didn't fit formatting requirements and had to go back to the drawing board.
But the reality was also amazing serendipitious moments of joy when a founder illuminated a product so skillfully I was ready to weep with gratitude. Moments when a personal health narrative was an integral part of a company's founding. Moments when the semantic search engines behind some next-gen social networks finally traded coin in common sense design.
This gig has been, without doubt, one of the most challenging I've ever undertaken.
It has also been a privilege the likes of which I'll probably never experience again - personalized front row tours with some of the most innovative HIT firms in the country? Straight from their executive teams? And I'm supposed to suggest potential improvements? What planet did I wake up on this morning? Who pimped my work life?
(Blogger's Note: That would be a big shout-out to Matthew Holt and Indu Subaiya, who handed me the sweetest assignment in the history of Health 2.0, except for the Great Surfboard Search Robin Smiley got, but more on that at the show...)
Seriously, after doing over 300 of these calls, some underlying patterns start to emerge.
First, you're there to help them practice, ask relevant questions, suggest 'wow' wording, and then end the call. Finite. It was tough for me to realize each practice wasn't a consulting gig.
You can't change a company, or a product, during demo practice. And that's not your job. Your job is to make sure that 3.5 minutes is as clear as they can make it. Start with the expectation "You have 3.5 minutes to NOT suck" and work up from there (sometimes slowly).
As we tried to pack 30 mins worth (average presentation time of a demoer 'before' we started our work) of demo into a masochistic 3.5 minute slot, some interesting things happened.
1. I've learned the value of brevity.
Shocking, concise, cut to the quick brevity.
We're not talking about a breath of fresh air here - we're talking about comments delivered with the gust of a glacial wind.
With one to three 15-30 minute phone calls and two to three (if we're lucky) online demo rehearsals, there's no time for mutual b^&-kissing and becoming best friends (leave that for the cocktail parties onsite).
I've also learned brevity is not my delivery duration vehicle of choice, which is why I was an English major not an engineer. And why some of you had hour-long calls. Sorry.
By the end round of demo practice (as in, it ended yesterday), I was delivering not 15 second elevator pitch examples, but TWO SECOND elevator pitch examples (ok, maybe 5, but as I said, I'm not so strong on brevity).
2. My hatred of the telephone as a communication tool is confirmed.
I can't get any feedback through the damn thing other than vocal intonation, which conveys even less than the words you choose to type in an email or Tweet.
I had to let suggestions drop into the void and then wait painfully for the presenter to respond. Had the reason for the suggestion come across? Did the importance of focusing on the issue telegraph through the wires?
Sometimes I just couldn't tell, and that's annoying as hell when you want things to be as tight as possible.
That said, webcam is creepy for demos, especially if I haven't met you in person beforehand. And every meeting software under the sun crashes and has its pitfalls. More on that later.
3. If you're a presenter, it is excruciatingly difficult to remove yourself from the lead role, but this is what you MUST do.
I am not making this up. Don't let ego force your product, cringing, from the stage. You're there to pump it up, not beat it to a bloody, submissive pulp.
The audience can tell when this happens, and it's as embarrassing as hearing an unhappy couple argue loudly and viciously in a crowded restaurant.
Audience members remember really good presenters like a great dance; we're following along without feeling led - the steps are just easy and smooth.
It takes a hell of a lot of work, and a prodigious talent, or both, to be a presentation impresario. But they are out there.
They're the ones you don't want to stop talking. They're the ones that choose words with a ruthlessness during the prep phase that belies their casual presentation during the final talk.
They're the ones who choose phrases that build consensus and convey commitment, layering potential so skillfully that after they finish, you're tempted to ask them to cosign a mortgage on your next house.
3. Presenters, past, present, and future - remember this....If anything, your demo is a duet, not a solo.
It really is all about the demo, the product.
As a presenter, you are a narrator, the conductor of a highly complex orchestra.
Be quiet. WALK SOFTLY. Let the band work its magic.
If you overnarrate, all we hear instead of sweet music is a lot of discordant noise.
4. Focus on the Big Picture.
Surprisingly, presenters, even REALLY good needed some prompting to elucidate meta issues.
I'm guessing it's a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, or being so intimately tied to the product that you forget newcomers need to grasp these things in under 4 minutes.
But I don't really know. Maybe no one had ever asked them these questions (and thus again I espouse the value of a user-centric design model).
To ALL PRESENTERS for Health 2.0 - your demos should include vital stats like:
- How does the user find you? (Google search, WOM, physician referral, etc.)
- Who pays vs. who uses? Are they the same or different (Ex. health social networking site where 'payers' are purchasers of ad space but users are consumers living with diabetes)
- Where do you live in the Health 2.0 ecosystem?
- What privacy/security safeguards are in place? Do you use Verisign, https signin, etc.?
- Do you allow users to participate anonymously? Why or why not?
- How much do you cost or are you free to users? (shocking how often this came up)
- Community strength? Users per month? User growth Y/Y? M/M? Not asking you to share the black box here, but for each general example you give me ("thousands of users last week") I will push you to illuminate this in quant fashion ("7,568 new registered users joined last week").
In between doing demos with presenters, I was on Twitter (as usual) keeping up with the world revolving outside Health 2.0 prep.
In sharing experiences, I'd make up (or slightly exaggerate) some things that occurred.
No presenters were harmed in the making of these tweets, as I didn't actually post any of them in real time during a demo, about a demoer with which I was practicing.
A few, however, are real examples from Health 2.0 companies that were doing something REALLY RIGHT during their demos (commendations). If you're at Health 2.0, listen for user 'Dana Scully' for instance.
I posted these on Twitter as "Demo Tips:" They were both cathartic and, I heard later, potentially useful.
Here's the whole list - enjoy.
And to any presenters reading this, first, thank you for your time, your effort, and your willingness to share yourselves and your companies. It will pay off in short order, and it's been my pleasure working with you.
And second, I wasn't talking about you in that bikini wax tweet. Probably.
See you at the show...and remember, YOU ARE READY!