During ISTE week I had the wonderful opportunity to hear a lightning round presentation from 9 startup edtech vendors, and also give one myself. It’s a challenge to deliver a 5 minute or shorter speech about a new product; one that doesn’t have a familiar context for the audience to cling to. It’s devilishly hard to explain a new idea, overcome incorrect assumptions, and inspire the audience to invest additional time in really hearing what your product is after only your brief introduction.  I created the following list based on what seemed to work best from my fellow cohorts.

  1. Start with the pain you remove. I had a few lines of this written into the middle of my 5 minute talk and based on the crowd reaction and head bobbing at that point (replacing vacant expressions for the first two minutes), I should have just started with it. Next time maybe I’ll just do Andy Rooney: “Ever have this happen? Our product solves that seamlessly and cheaply. I’ll be at booth 801.” Mic drop.
  2. Get inside the box. Unique is not good for short formats. If your product is so ahead of the pack that people can’t quickly picture an implementation, you will limit your customer base to mavericks and that’s a small group of dysfunctional buyers. Trust me, I know this audience well. They only want bleeding edge technology and change gears every year just to chase the next wave. The more stable education buyers are far more comfortable when they can put you in a box. Hop on in there by explaining your product as analogous to the next closest technology: “We are a new kind of x (similar thing) that takes you one step further.” Perfect. You are relatable because they know and like x, but would consider going just one step further.
  3. You are not the product. Founders I love you, but we’re selling product not people. If you have credentials worth mentioning in one sentence, do it, but don’t tell your audience WHY you built your product, or about yourself at all. Abraham Lincoln once said, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
  4. Stories (not about you, about your product) work. I’ve written about storytelling before as an effective sales strategy, so let me reiterate that a short, TRUE story about your product’s effectiveness is a good way to introduce it to an audience. I capitalized true because sales people are always making up and embellishing stories to the point where any one with common sense knows it didn’t happen that way. Authentic stories sound authentic to the audience. They put a real life case study in their mind’s eye, hopefully one that is common place such as a “struggling student” or “new teacher” experience so they can fill in the blank face from your story with someone they know.
  5. Avoid Jargon. What does “smart practice” mean? What does “intelligent design,” or “applied innovation,” or “learning acceleration” mean for that matter? All of these expressions can be found in the marketing of popular ed tech products but to a person in your audience they are vacant and meaningless expressions.  Contrary to the marketing department’s belief, made up or vague terms that sound like science are off-putting to your audience.
  6. K.I.S.S. Those initials were made famous by the ’92 Clinton Campaign. Keep it Simple Stupid. We are the “Stupid” not our prospects. This slogan reminds us not to get overly technical or give too many ideas. In my five minute speech I used the same one sentence description of my product three times and had the key phrase from it up on a slide. I actually had people visit my booth later and repeat it word for word. Bingo. If you’re trying to write such a sentence, mine goes something like this, “our product is designed to do three things: x, y and z.” Then I give a little detail about each of these three deliverables.
  7. So What? Be sure to answer the question so what? Not one of my 9 cohorts did this well. I pray that I did. The way I answered this question in my final minute was with a slide headed, “What Changes?” I bulleted the key deliverables our product yields and picked a few particularly interesting ones from the list to highlight.

If you want to hone your skills at writing a great 5 minute talk, watch – I am dead serious here – QVC for a few segments. Listen to how simple and how relatable these talks are. They certainly aren’t brief because of the format, but the technique of giving a use case for those sponge shoes is a thing to behold. You might even be tempted to make a purchase!

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