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On the ground at Finovate: Making the case for increased engagement

While at Finovate this week, there were more than 70 seven-minute demos from companies challenging the current state of financial services and offering something new. From feature launches to the unveiling of entirely new companies, there was a lot to digest. But the biggest miss, in my opinion, was the lack of engagement during the demo portions. Yes, there was plenty of time for one-on-one discussions. However, if I’m going to sit through a demo with an audience of people who care enough to be there, it’s much more valuable to force the presenter to answer some questions. We’ve all flown into a city to take in a ton of information, so let’s get more value out of the presentations and offer a give-and-take conversation. Imagine that a bank asks a key question, a VC asks a question and a potential tech partner asks a question. Now you’ve opened up a dialogue and the minds of the people sitting in row after row of seats.

Of course, people leave these sessions with a lot of questions. Some will leave the demos and rush to the booths to talk to the companies they were most interested in. Others stay superficial and post silly tweets about the lack of finesse or slickness around a demo. Meanwhile, some of the burning questions that more than one person wanted to ask go unanswered in a public forum.

As a VC friend of mine points out, entrepreneurs are always so eager to show their demos and fall into the comfort of a script, which is essentially a monologue. It’s when they have to answer questions that fall outside of the script that they learn more about their audiences, and their target audiences get to benefit from hearing the answers right there and then, leading to more efficient engagement and smarter one-on-one discussions following the demo.

Let’s face it: No one likes expecting to learn something valuable at a session only to feel like they’re all of a sudden being subjected to a sales pitch. Demos often cause entrepreneurs to launch into sales mode. The only time I want to see a demo is when I can understand the product’s value proposition and how it will solve challenges for target clients. What is the challenge they face? How does your product or company go about solving it? More importantly, how much are people willing to pay for it?

Tweeting done right:

That said, some demos at Finovate were better than others at swiftly defining and solving a problem. Those that showed a slick GUI interface and didn’t get at why they exist and how they have cracked a tough nut didn’t win as many of us over. In direct contrast, it was very apparent that some demos are neither slick nor highly visual but reflected a product that solved a major challenge the audience cared about. This led me to believe that for those companies, the DEMO or DIE forum might not be the best fit. Smaller targeted group presentations would be much better. Bottom line: Not all companies can tell the most compelling story via a demo, so don’t!

All in all, Finovate is here to stay and I am glad for that. However, it can do with a refresh on the format.

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