The Power of Demonstrations

According to Stephen E. Ambrose, author of Undaunted Courage, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark “were advance men and traveling salesmen, in short, representing American business and the American people.” As representatives of American commerce, the captains sought to impress upon the native tribes the superior weaponry, merchandize, and products that would be made available if the tribes would submit to the terms of their “new father,” Thomas Jefferson.
As a means of defense, and to demonstrate the advanced capabilities of American weaponry, the captains equipped the expedition with the finest military equipment available, including a bow swivel gun. This small cannon could shoot buckshot, chains, and nails with amazing power and accuracy.
As the expedition proceeded up the Missouri river, they would visit various tribes and attempt to establish political, diplomatic, and trade relationships with the tribal chiefs. After a short council, the captains would put on a traveling medical show. It started with a close-order drill by uniformed troops marching under the colors of the republic.
After the drill, the captains would display colorful blankets, a magnifying glass, and mirrors—items never seen before by the Indians. Then came the cannon. On Captain Lewis’ signal, a detail would fire three shots from the bow swivel gun. When the smoke cleared and the Indians recovered from their astonishment at the first cannon they had ever seen or heard, the captains would distribute gifts to the chiefs that included knives, needles, razors, scissors, beads, tomahawks, and more.
Like Lewis and Clark, highly successful presenters use live demonstrations to illustrate their benefits “with a bang.” They demonstrate rather than articulate their core message and include content that validates the benefits of the proposed product or service. For example, skilled technical presenters visually demonstrate how the proposed technology addresses identified needs and problems. Successful phone system salespeople conduct live demonstrations to validate product claims and capabilities. Experienced medical device representatives demonstrate the utility of the proposed device.
A pharmaceutical salesperson who sells sleeping pills once related a humorous experience that illustrates the power of “proof.” Midway through a presentation to a group of physicians, one of the attendees fell asleep and began snoring. The pharmaceutical salesperson stopped the presentation and woke the sleeping physician. Without hesitation, the physician stood up and said, “This drug has some real promise!”
In order to persuade buyers to make a purchase, they must first be convinced of the value of the proposed product or service. Like a court of law, conviction requires proof. Buyers want hard evidence to confirm and substantiate claimed product or service benefits.
Years ago a friend of mine sold high quality computer and networking wires and cables. Because of the quality of his cables, his prices were higher than his competitors. Because of the extra expense involved, some of his clients periodically drop his product. When one of his larger clients discontinued using his product, he decided enough was enough and arranged a meeting to demonstrate the value of his wires and cables. After admitting that his product was more expensive, he stated to his client that it was important to compare apples to apples. He then held up one of his competitor’s wires and put a lighter underneath it. The casing around the wire began to melt and in a few seconds was on fire. His audience was astounded. He then held the lighter under his wire and reminded them that his wiring was fireproof. He concluded his presentation by asking a simple question: “Ladies and gentlemen, which wire do you want in your walls and computers?” His client cancelled the order from his competitor.
A presenter selling safety equipment might display a pair of shattered safety glasses and state, “These glasses not only saved a person’s vision, they also saved a manufacturer like you a multi-million dollar lawsuit.”
I recently watched a TED Talk in which Bill Gates discussed the epidemic spread of malaria through mosquitoes in third world countries. He stated to the audience that it wasn’t fair that only poor people suffer from malaria and then opened a glass jar full of mosquitoes. When the mosquitos began flying around the room, you could visibly see the audience start to laugh uncomfortably. Of course, the mosquitos weren’t infected with malaria. But for those few uncomfortable seconds, they might as well have been. Talk about demonstrating your point “with a bang!”