How to Human: A Live Demo

I stood in the room next to the big ballroom. Just me. Preparing myself. Deep breaths. My arms and legs spread out like a five-foot standing starfish.

I was about to give a presentation to a large group of business people. For me, this wasn’t just any business presentation to any large group of business people. I was part of a start up and we had just launched a type of mobile banking app. I had competed for and won the opportunity to present our new money movement product to an audience of two hundred leaders from the top fifty banks in the US.

Of course, I also knew that to get any buzz at all for our new product, I would absolutely have to show the money moving in real time from an account in one bank to a real account in another bank in real time; in other words, I would have to do a live demo. I was well aware of the #1 axiom of software sales: Never Do a Live Demo.

I practiced every word, every gesture, every click over and over. In my Vegas hotel room, I ran through the eight-minute demo for hours.

I went down to the designated ballroom on the conference level of the hotel where I was to soon present. There was the stage, the screen, the chairs in long rows and columns, waiting for the audience to file in. I was looking for a private place near the big ballroom to prep and saw the door connecting to a smaller ballroom next door. Yes! The adjoining room was empty. 

Once inside the smaller ballroom, I put my computer down on a eight-top table and did the thing: arms flung out, feet spread wide apart. Making myself as big as possible. I had read that this was an excellent way to prepare yourself for a challenge. Okay, it feels goofy to do it, but I knew from experience it helped, oddly. How many times had I ducked into a bathroom stall before an interview to spend a minute or two in this wide-open position of strength: The Power Pose.

And while I stood there in the only empty and private spot near the ballroom where my future was waiting, a group of food service guys from the hotel staff entered the room and started laying out coffee service at the front of the room. Curious, they all looked over at me, a fairly curious sight. “Um,” I said. “I’m about to give a presentation in that room over there and I am pretty nervous. So, I came in here to make myself big. It’s supposed to make you more confident. Making yourself physically big that is.” One of the guys had a mustache. He responded, “Of course. No problem!”

They laid out cups and dishes and coffee pots. I stood there a few feet away with my arms and legs splayed.

An hour or so later, in front of all the bankers, the money did move perfectly and instantly from the account in my bank to my friend’s bank account. I’d done it.

As the next presenter took the stage, I walked down the stairs of the dais and down the aisle, past all the bankers, hardly believing it was over. I just wanted to stand at the back of the room and decompress. As I got to the back of the room the guy with the mustache, the lead of the food service team, was waiting for me.

“You did it!” he said as he grasped my shoulders. He gave me a huge smile and an equally big hug.

In the remaining days of the conference, we ran into each other multiple times, always exchanging warm smiles and sporting thumbs up.

With all the hundreds of people at the conference and all the hotel staff around him, he didn’t look without seeing.  He saw what I was feeling. Maybe I might have thought he was weird for coming to support me; he took the risk. He said to himself, I will go do this thing. He showed up, for a person he did not even know and might never see again. 

It was a small gesture, a kindness. And yet in its own way, infinite. As if the world really is full of incognito angels looking for the opportunity to do a live demo to show us how to human.

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