Storytelling is a powerful communication device. It goes back millennia to our hunter-gatherer days when we used to share over a campfire and entertain each other. How can we draw on these insights and use them in product demos?
To answer this question, we have to remember that products are not just bundles of features. They solve real problems for real people. They make peoples’ lives easier. But who are these people and what are their problems? There is a story that can be told for every experience.
To showcase how to use storytelling in product demos, I’ll take you through an example of a hypothetical company that uses a story to show the effectiveness of its employee boarding product targeted at remote startups.
Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution – more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. – Lisa Cron
Creating a Product Demo
Before getting into the details of telling a story, you must first identify the goal of the product demo. Is the goal to close a sale, onboard a new customer, or raise investment? Understanding the goal and the audience will help you to identify what parts of the story you want to tell.
Next, identify the amount of time you have to tell the story. Do people want you to get to the point or do they have enough time to be given an extensive understanding of how the product works? This will also define what parts of the problem you need to explain.
Understanding the audience’s context and biggest problems will help you define the flow of the story and explain the unique features that resolve that issue.
The Characters of Your Product Demo
Since we are building products to be used by real people, it’s important to build up the characters that every story must have. Every character has their own set of needs and wants. Wants are what they desire and their needs are what they realize are more important later down the line.
In the example of an ‘Employee Onboarding’ app, let’s look at the characters in this story:
- Reena – an employee who has just joined a new company, Hooli
- Nikhil – a Hiring Manager
- Maria – a HR Head
- David – the founder of the company
What Is the Narrative?
A narrative or story is a sequence of events over time. Going deeper, there’s usually a three-act structure in a good story – the beginning, the middle, and the end.
For example, “Once upon a time, there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”
How do you fit this structure into a product demo? Talk through a case study with a contextual setting and without solely utilizing demos, user interfaces, and workflows.
Let’s start with our example:
I’ll take you through our employee onboarding platform – both mobile and web – by showcasing the journey of the new employee Reena, and her interactions with other team members like David and Maria.
The beginning section sets the context. It starts by narrating a normal day in the life of the user. It ends when an incident or the conflict rises:
It’s Reena’s first day at her job at Hooli. As this is only her second job since graduating from college, she is a bit nervous about the new workplace. Her previous experience was at a smaller company where she had regular interactions with the founder. Now she’s part of a much bigger and fast-growing company at Hooli.
Since this is a fast-growing company, there isn’t much process and she is clueless about what is to be done on the first day.
In the middle section, you dwell more on the conflict, explaining what the problem is. It’s at this stage that you hint that your demo product could solve the issue:
Since she has joined the team remotely, Reena hasn’t had face-time with any of her team members. The company has dumped a bunch of documents on her to read through without any guidance. This leaves a bad impression on her mind and she has struggled to find any team cohesion with other team members.
Research shows organizations that have a standardized onboarding process experience 62% greater new hire productivity, along with 50% greater new hire retention. In addition, employees who have a bad onboarding experience leave the company sooner than others who have a good onboarding experience.
Once you’ve explained the problem and its severity, move on to explaining how your product will solve the problem:
Now let’s see what would have happened to Reena if Hooli used our onboarding platform…
Few days before the joining date, the employee onboarding platform sent personalized emails to Reena. On the day of the joining, there is a set checklist that is followed – linking buddy assignee, learning resources, expectations doc, setting up an automated meeting with her manager Nikhil, and sharing an onboarding podcast by the founder of the company, David.
If these are not configured by any chance, the leadership is informed automatically. This ensures that Reena’s onboarding is seamless.
To end your demo, talk about how your product impacts all the characters in the story. To do this, add data that showcases the quantitative benefits of using your product:
As a result of using Hooli, Reena had a great onboarding and has quickly become one of the most productive members of the organization becoming fully productive in 25 days against the previous average of 45 days. She has developed deeper connections with the rest of the team meeting 20 team members for casual conversations. The previous average was 5. There are fewer conflicts within the team and the collective output of the company has improved significantly.
Things to Remember
Firstly, your story needs to be believable. You don’t want your audience to wonder at the plausibility of the narrative. Once you’ve written the first draft of the script, you’ll have to practice the demo in front of others to identify the engaging parts and use this feedback to improve the flow of the demo.
Introducing a narrative and characters can help bring out empathy in the customer. They can envision how the product will be used by real people in a case study. Showcasing a storytelling example can also be part of a recorded video or screen recording.
Stories are more memorable at painting a picture in the minds of your customers. Much better than simply listing a collection of features. Explaining your product as a combination of story and facts will make it stick out more in the face of competition.