Okay, it wasn't really that simple. I had been eyeing the Vitamix for years, and I knew that Costco regularly held "road shows" for the blender. After the last one, which I didn't have time to watch, I called to find out when they would be in town again and made a point of showing up at Costco to watch the demo.
If you don't know the Vitamix, it's a super-powerful blender with a 2-horsepower motor. It blends, but it also has enough power to heat your concoction to a soup or hot beverage, and it also can freeze your ingredients solid into ice cream or sorbet. It absolutely pulverizes nuts, grains, vegetables and fruits so that your smoothie is completely liquified. And I've wanted one forever. But first, I wanted to see the demo.
I was obviously impressed enough with the demo to finally buy my Vitamix; however, from a public speaking perspective, I was also impressed. I didn't catch the name of the young man doing the demo, so let's call him VitaMan. (See update at the bottom regarding the identity of VitaMan.)
1. The demo was relevant and effective.
If you're going to spend a lot of money on a product or service, it helps to see it in action. Testimonials are nice, but ultimately, does the product do what its marketing materials say it does?
VitaMan showed all the relevant aspects of the Vitamix's features. He made hot tortilla soup, he made fruit sorbet, he made pistachio ice cream, he made smoothies with whole apples and lots of spinach. He used the right recipes that both looked and tasted good to a general audience, and seemed easy to make. And, on top of that, he used vegetable broth in the soup and soy milk in the smoothie, so even vegans and vegetarians (like me and my husband, who are clearly a target market), could taste all the samples. Well done.
How can you demo your product or service more effectively during a presentation?
2. VitaMan was flexible as the audience ebbed and flowed.
In a demo setting in the middle of Costco, your audience doesn't stay static. They are passing by on their way from the seafood to the socks, and they may or may not stop (although free food samples are always a big draw). There is no beginning, middle or end, except when VitaMan finishes one recipe and starts another.
VitaMan effortlessly incorporated audience questions as he performed his demo. There was no waiting till the end, and he answered questions comfortably as he continued to explain each recipe he was making and the features of the blender.
At one point, we mentioned that we had missed out on the ice cream demo, so he offered to make another one. It was easy for him to choose which recipe to make on the spot, based on which audience members had just arrived and which ones had already had samples. He was paying attention the whole time.
How flexible are you about tweaking your presentation based on who's in the room and what they're interested in?
3. He knew his subject inside and out.
VitaMan bought his first Vitamix when he was 17. Now 24 years old, he both talked about and demonstrated the machine like an old pro. He stood with the back of the machine to him so the audience could see it from the front. He flipped switches and turned dials, barely looking at the machine, so he could maintain eye contact with his audience.
He's made these recipes so many times and talked about the Vitamix so many times and -- here's the key -- actually been USING the blender for so long, that he knows everything there is to know about it.
How well do you know your topic? How up-to-date are you on new developments and research?
4. He captivated the audience.
I would be curious to know how long an average audience member watches one of these demos, and how long on average a person stands there before they decide to buy. I think we were there for probably ten minutes, and there were several others in the crowd who were there as long as or longer than we were. VitaMan was able to take our attention away from the pool equipment, the giant bags of coffee, the towering piles of peaches, the shiny bikes and the añejo tequila long enough to convince us to buy.
And when I say "us," I don't just mean me and my husband. We watched several people pick up Vitamixes during the demo, including a postal worker on duty who needed to come back and get it after his shift. You might wonder if any of these people were plants, and believe me, I did. But the conversations we were having with others in the group were pretty sincere (and I recognized at least one purchasing couple as locals who talked about how they never use their juicer any more because it's such a mess to clean).
I wasn't just standing there for free samples; I was fascinated by how this machine works, its vast repertoire of recipes, its powerful motor, its easy cleanup, and yes, its potentially positive effect on my health if I can manage to get more veggies and fruits into my diet. The demo was credible and persuasive, and that's why people stood there for so long, watching.
How well do you keep the audience's attention and keep them from wandering to their e-mail and Twitter?
5. He never once sounded like a commercial.
VitaMan was there to sell Vitamixes. There's no question, that is his job. Yet, he obviously enjoys the product and his work so much that his demo never felt pushy or demanding. He was personable, light, had a good sense of humor, and his explanation of features or answers to questions flowed smoothly and organically. He was clearly having a good time.
We watched him prepare recipes, clean the blender, and start over several times. He demonstrated how the casing is sealed and nothing can get inside. He showed us the dull blades and the "tamper" that doesn't touch them when you push down your ingredients inside the container. And all of this while having a casual conversation and making smoothie and soup samples.
Do you sound like a commercial when talking about your product or service? Does your audience want to change the channel?
As presentations go, this was a highly effective and interesting one. Next time you have the opportunity to watch a product demo, take a few minutes to see what you can learn from a speaking (and marketing) pro!
Update: Some time after I wrote this post, I received the following e-mail from the National Sales Manager for Vitamix:
Thanks for your positive blog post.
In my role at Vitamix, I train and oversee all training of our demonstrators, so I’m enthused that you kindly promoted our product and demonstration.
I’d like to give recognition to this demonstrator. If possible, can you let me know the date and location of the Costco you were at?
That will enable me to fully appreciate him.
Thanks again, I hope your speaking business thrives.
I gave him the details he requested and later was told the demonstrator's name was Drew West. So here's a belated cheers to Drew! I hope he's gotten the recognition he deserves!
Here are a few more examples of sales presentations that do and don't work:
9 things you can learn from a home shopping show
Tea-ed off: Knowing when to leaf well enough alone
5 ways to spiff up your act, BBC America-style
Slide design inspired by IKEA