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DemoCamp Montréal 1: Debriefing

  • 7th Mar, 2007 at 5:25 AM

DemoCamp Montréal 1
Originally uploaded by sfllaw.

It's been a week since DemoCamp Montréal 1. We held it last Tuesday at the SAT, which had generously donated a venue for this event. I arrived three minutes early, knocking on the door while juggling the supplies I had bought. A few power bars, some name tags, and various pieces of paper.

I entered, drew a few signs, and left the "Hello / Bonjour" stickers by the door. Then I ran around for a while until I realized that there was really nothing to do. Those SAT people were really efficient.

I pulled out the camera that diluvienne lent me and fired off a few test shots. Not being used to this camera in low light, I think things were a little overexposed. But a little photo-editing brought out the details, so I'm pretty pleased.

Originally uploaded by sfllaw.

There were five demonstrations, lasting less than fifteen minutes each. The presenters took a few questions and then got shooed off the stage for the next bunch of people. John Kopanas did an excellent job playing MC, which helped things along smoothly. I spent some of the time talking to people, taking photographs, and heckling.

In the end, we had a big group of people just meeting other people. A sizable number went with John to Le Sainte-Elizabeth for some post-conference drinking. It was getting late, so a bunch of us broke off from the splintering islands of conversation and headed for dinner. All and all, I'm very happy with the results.

Reports about the event are all over the Internet now: Montreal Tech Watch, Evan Prodromou, YashLabs (parts 1 and 2), Silicon Island, Growwwing (parts 1 and 2), and Midnight poutine.

I'm going to put on my organizer hat now and talk about the things that didn't go so well. This is not to say that I'm think we did poorly, but there is room for improvement. It was the first DemoCamp we had with only people from in town, so it seems to be pretty representative of the crowd we'd draw.

First off, the biggest complaint among people was that the presentations weren't very interesting. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but it's not that far off the mark. Technical people don't get a lot of practise at public speaking and I think we need to address this.

One of the first things I'm going to propose is to contact speakers before their talk and offer them tips on how to give a good demonstration. You know, stuff like "get to the good stuff quickly", "engage your audience", and "speak to their interests". Not having slides is one way of preventing people from losing the audience. But also showing something that your audience finds sexy is a good technique.

Many of the presentations were pitched as if they were technologies looking for funding. Although there were a couple of investors in the crowd, the vast majority of attendees were technologists, artists, and people interested in seeing cool stuff. There's no way you can please everyone, but getting people excited about what you're demonstrating is a good start. And even if you are pitching a technology for investment, isn't it good to be able to get people interested in your product?

One last thing, before I forget, is that sexism is probably not a good idea. One of the presentations showed a potential advertisement that was in questionable taste. When a woman in the crowd brought up the fact that it could be rather alienating, the discussion did not go to addressing the faults of the ad, but rather into humour. Although jokes can diffuse a tense situation, in this case it seemed to make things quite worse.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on DemoCamp and how to get you to attend, or to return to another event. Please feel free to comment in this entry or to e-mail me privately.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
7th Mar, 2007 12:39 (UTC)
Just wanted to note that kino_kid, cpirate and I went to Le Sainte-Elizebeth but only one other person from the event showed up. That was a bit of a disappointment.
7th Mar, 2007 20:38 (UTC)
Oh dear. I suppose people were more interested in talking than they were drinking.

We'll probably not do such a thing next time.
(Deleted comment)
7th Mar, 2007 20:38 (UTC)
That would be most appreciated!
8th Mar, 2007 02:15 (UTC)
A DemoCamp presentation on how to give demos would be very fitting.
8th Mar, 2007 20:25 (UTC)
I should think so. Perhaps I can get someone to do one?
7th Mar, 2007 13:27 (UTC)
I'm bummed I had to miss this because of my crazy deadlines this week. Looks like my friend Evan was there, darn! Is there going to be another one?
7th Mar, 2007 16:49 (UTC)
Yup, next one is in a month or so.
7th Mar, 2007 17:02 (UTC)
Our DemoCamp has a loose no-Powerpoint policy, and so far I think it's a good idea.
7th Mar, 2007 20:39 (UTC)
Yeah, we didn't have slides either. But that seems to be insufficient.
7th Mar, 2007 21:44 (UTC)
why, oh why, is lacking slides thought to be a feature?

i think the point boku was trying to make was that they've been using a LOOSE no-powerpoint policy, and that it was working well. (correct me if i'm wrong)

8th Mar, 2007 00:51 (UTC)
I think it can be seen as a feature because it discourages people from the standard read-off-the-slides trap. In fact, we still had that problem this time, although people had a tough time keeping up.

I'm not stuck on the policy against slides, but fifteen minutes isn't enough time to give a compelling demo and launch into a rich backstory.
7th Mar, 2007 17:18 (UTC)
I need to find the email for that "ilovetoplay" guy. Because his ad made me go from "hey, this is perfect for me, I'm going to sign up for this" to "i'm not going to sign up for this even though I need it, just to spite you, because it's sexist bullshit."
7th Mar, 2007 20:48 (UTC)
You may want to leave a constructive comment in his weblog.
7th Mar, 2007 17:20 (UTC)
OK - so one problem you've identified is that people thought the presentations were not very interesting.

What's the solution? Well, that depends. Let's break down a presentation into its core constituents:

1) Content (what the presentation is about)
2) Delivery (how it is presented)

I would argue that we can't do anything about 1) given that democamp uses a first-come first-served sign up process. We're going to get what we're going to get. Sometimes we'll scrape the bottom, sometimes we'll get the cream. The best we can do is encourage people to be somewhat scrupulous in the self-selection process. i.e. only sign up to present if you feel you have something that will knock people's socks off (I'm sure there are plenty of such project around).

With respect to 2) I think providing some kind of training, as you suggest, is probably useful - though in my experience the usefulness of such training is limited. The only way to get better is through practice. I would further suggest that after every 15 minute session there be a feedback session where the public offers constructive feedback to the presenters, to help them improve. We use to do this at the consulting company I worked at, after our Friday morning training sessions and it's an effective way to improve. Of course, it can be a little bit daunting to put yourself under the knife like that - well, so be it! democamp should not be for the weak hearted!

Further, I fundamentally disagree with your statement that "[n]ot having slides is one way of preventing people from losing the audience." Quite the opposite, having a few slides to guide your audience through the presentation could be a VERY effective technique to help maintain their interest, and understand where the presentation is driving. I don't understand this *aversion* to slides in the tech community; I find it someone maniacal and irrational (surprising for such a logically minded group of people).
I am trying to encourage people to consider allowing a few slides. I've updated the democampmontreal2 wikis to reflect this. I've also elaborated on this topic at my blog here: http://web1979.wordpress.com/2007/03/06/democamps-fatal-flaw/

Finally, I think you're being too harsh on the advertisement thing. Sure it was a little provacative - but it certainly wasn't offensive. That someone in the audience was offended by the ad is unfortunate, but that speaks more to their hypersensitivity than to an inherent problem with the presentation. This, after all, is Montreal. We're supposed to be a little bit more chill about this kind of stuff than the rest of North America, no?

Mat Balez
7th Mar, 2007 17:50 (UTC)
Hey Mat,

I disagree.

The ilovetoplay ad will alienate a portion of this guy's target market. Why? Because I'm smack dab in his target market, and the ad convinced me not to join this service. I'm a girl who has just moved back to Montreal, who loves to workout, dance and try out new activities, so I'm always looking for new workout buddies and dance partners. But I'm not going to sign up for a service that offends me by objectifying me, and I'm not going to give money/support to a project that seems to believe that all geeks are male, wink, wink, nod, nod.

You want to get women to sign up for a site like this. One -- to get more people and two -- as dating sites, chat lines and ladies's nights will attest, guys will go where the women are. So I think it's of paramount importance for ilovetoplay to have ads that make women want to join instead of offending them.

Unless it's a service really aimed at gay men. In which case, they'd be better off with a hot boy in the ad anyways. :-P
7th Mar, 2007 17:56 (UTC)
Yeah, I guess it's hard for me (as a man) to pontificate on the inoffensiveness of the ad... some were evidently offended.

His calculation has to be an optimization between the perceived increase in men he can lure with the sexually provocative ad vs. the women he alienates from the service. It could be that the balance is positive for him. (That is, of course, if you completely discount the social cost of objectification.)

7th Mar, 2007 18:53 (UTC)
Even if you found it exciting rather than offensive, it wouldn't matter: you'd be excited for the wrong thing! The ad makes it look like a fuck-buddy hookup site, not a sport-team hookup site. If there's one thing that annoys a web user more than goatse, it's not being able to figure out what the hell a website is.

(I'm reminded of the scene in Go in which an awkward dinner seemingly pitched as a prelude for group sex turns out to be an invitation to join the couple as Amway reps)

The soccer ball and sexless participaction-esque logo are completely ignorable if the rest of the ad is someone sexy (in a not-remotely-soccer-ish outfit) asking you if you want to have sex, linked to a domain name that reads "yes, I'd like to have sex". In contrast, the site itself is a model of clarity: it says what it does in plain language in the first sentence, and uses sports-centric imagery and graphic design throughout. Hurrah!
7th Mar, 2007 20:20 (UTC)
Fair enough, I tend to agree.

I don't think the ad was too offensive to toss up at democamp though, and the feedback he received will result in him having a better marketing campaign, and final product.

Everybody wins?

7th Mar, 2007 17:29 (UTC)
The whole "looking for funding" angle of things makes it less interesting for those of us who aren't VC and/or startup people. And as far as I know, those us who aren't VCs are like n-1, n-2 of the attendees?

I think a cool presentation style would be: here is this [cool doodad] that i made. You can use it to do [cool thing foo]

Give me, a random sort-of-geeky person who likes nifty doodads, some reason to care about your technology.

Sadly, the presenter who did this best was the ilovetoplay guy, up until the point where he put up that really sexist ad.

I don't want to knock any of the presenters, coz I know it's hard to present. But I do think the presentations could have been a lot more compelling.
8th Mar, 2007 07:44 (UTC)
In practice, I can only attend DemoCamps that happen on Thursdays and Fridays. I work for *many* hours on the other days [including weekends] and I don't have evenings free.

That said, I notice the *next* one is on a Thursday evening, so I should be able to make it.
8th Mar, 2007 20:24 (UTC)
I'll see you there!
8th Mar, 2007 07:56 (UTC)
John Kopanas? I know that guy. Sorry I missed this, makes me home sick.
8th Mar, 2007 20:23 (UTC)
But I'm sure New York will have something similiar soon!
8th Mar, 2007 15:31 (UTC)
Ad shown at DempCampMontreal1
Hey Everyone,

Marc here from ilovetoplay.com.

Thank you very much for all this awesome feedback. This is the discussion I was hoping we'd have when I asked "Who likes this, and who finds this offensive?" at my demo. I guess the setting wasn't right for this kind of discussion then, so maybe the blogosphere is a better forum for it.

It was completely and absolutely not my intention to offend anyone. If I have, I sincerely apologize for it. With DemoCamp being an informal "un-conference", I considered everyone in the crowd as equals, as friends, and simply wanted to get other opinions on the ad which was shown to me in the afternoon prior to the event. A friend of mine, with great marketing credentials, had sent me this completely experimental prototype of the ad (you'll notice the iStockPhoto watermark on it) and I had the same type of debate with her. I thought it might offend people, women in particular, but she had me convinced by the end of our chat that it was clean enough to consider and that it had value. Now to me, the opinions that matter most are those of our current and potential users. So I decided that if I had time left after my demo, I'd let the crowd decide if I ran the thing, or if I'd dump it in my Recycle Bin.

ilovetoplay.com is pure and passionate about its message: it's about sports, and only about sports. Women, men, young, old, tall, short, are equal citizens on our site. Madamewoo, I would love to have you be part of our community. You've recognized the value that the service brings to people and I invite you and your friends to join us. Thank you for your constructive comments. Keep em coming!

All the best,

Marc Chriqui
8th Mar, 2007 20:26 (UTC)
Re: Ad shown at DempCampMontreal1
Thanks for your feedback.

One of the things I noticed about your presentation was that it seemed to be a dating site in disguise. This is probably not your intention, from what you've said, but it certainly gives that impression from the demonstration.

Perhaps you want to address that somehow?
8th Mar, 2007 23:16 (UTC)
Re: Ad shown at DempCampMontreal1
Did anyone else get that impression?

In my demo I showed how to find a hockey player according to playing position, skill level, height, weight, and location. Dating? Does the site's name give you that impression? When you visit the site, do you still get that impression?

Marc Chriqui
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )