If you’re explaining features, you’re doing it wrong

tech-presentation-explaining-featuresDelivering Technology Presentations

Today a work colleague and I had lunch, talking about technology presentations. The context was the new products we were designing for tablets, but it took us back to some recent product demonstrations we'd seen.

Now, I've written about delivering technology presentations already, so I don't want to cover that again. But there's a single point I want to focus in on today, because it's at the heart of technology marketing, technology presentations and even new product development (and design).

The Big Meeting

There we were – you've likely been in a boardroom like this – big long table with people all around it. They were “the users” for the most part. Sure, there was a decision maker or two in the room. But the decision makers had brought in the users specifically to see the demo.

In any demo like this, you know they're looking to see if your product will solve their current pain (brought on by whatever product they're currently using). Preparing for this kind of demo (at least well) means knowing their specific pains – or you'll be blindsided.

When Engineers Present

So our partner goes up to present their product (we were working with another vendor to provide a “total” solution). And they do what many engineer do. They put on a training, rather than a pitch. They explain the features, one by one.

Now, you have to hear it, for real, to experience the pain. Because this wasn't in 1992 when people didn't know about data grids. This was a couple years ago – you know, the Internet age.

Speak the next lines out loud – just so you hear them. Do it slowly and in a monotone way, with a bit of fear in your voice.

“So you see these column headers are underlined. That means they're links and you can click them to re-sort the rows of this grid by this data here. And if you want to change the sort order, you can click the link again.”


“This drop down is a filter. That means it will filter the data grid below, and only show you rows that have this particular column's value – which you can type in this text box, next to the filter.”

Kill. Me. Now.

Now, to be honest, not everyone is that bad. But I've sat in more presentations like that than I care to remember.

Explaining Features

There are three problems when it comes to explaining features during a technology presentation. They're the same issues when you're showing people a beta version of your product, and when you're writing marketing material.

1. When you explain features, your focus is wrong.

When you explain features, your focus is on “how” to do something. You're explaining how something works and the logical assumption is that you're answering the biggest question they have. It's a “see, if I can do it, so can you” mentality. But is that what they really were asking?

Was your audience wondering if you were a big fat liar who would show them vaporware? If so, then you've succeeded. But more often than not, the point of your presentation isn't to prove that your product exists. It's to solve a pain that exists. And in this kind of “feature-driven” presentation, you've missed the mark.

2. When you explain features, your faith is wrong.

When you explain features, even though you should be presenting benefits, you are working under the assumption that a smart audience can make the leap from feature to benefit. After all, you can. So why can't they?

But, my friend, your faith is misplaced. Just because it makes sense in your head – because you've been thinking about it for weeks or months – doesn't mean they'll walk over that semantic bridge in the 45 minutes you have.

3. When you explain features, your finale will be wrong.

When you focus on features, the last challenge you have will be how you create your last challenge. It should be a call to action. You should end with a charge. But instead, you (and now your audience) have been is a very different dialogue.

You've not been telling a story with a main point. You've been training. So the logical result will be that your end will be, “Does this make sense?” or “Does anyone have any questions?” and those aren't calls to action. You walk away assuming silence is good. They walk away tired, potentially frustrated and without any motivation to choose or follow you.

Benefits & Calls to Action

At lunch today we laughed over that horrible demonstration a few years ago. But we also remembered the one we did just a few months ago – where my team demonstrated a new product we're building for my co-workers clients.

We had spent a lot of time talking to people like them. We knew their pain. We knew their language – the words of their pains. And we knew what would solve it.

So our presentation focused on a new product, with a new design, that had been created with the explicit focus to deliver targeted benefits and pain remediation. That's a big phrase for saying, “You have those pains? Let's see if these benefits would soothe them.”

And the result was a call to action to invite them to participate in an early adopter testing program where we had 100% acceptance.

So my challenge to you is to stop explaining features.

Change your focus, faith and finale. And see if you don't see more wins!