Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk gestures while introducing the newly unveiled all-electric … [+]
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Earlier this month, Elon Musk debuted the newest addition to Tesla’s lineup: the Cybertruck, an all electric pick-up truck set to start rolling off the assembly lines in 2021. As with most Tesla events, this one was a smash hit (quite literally, in fact — Musk’s demonstration of the truck’s “armor glass” ending up smashing several of the windows). In the days following the launch, tech and business press were saturated with Cybertruck stories, and more than 250,000 people signed up to buy one. For Musk, it was mission accomplished.
How does he do it? He’s not an especially engaging public speaker. He doesn’t have a great stage presence. Tesla does have an amazing line of products. But apart from that, how does Musk manage to captivate the world time and time again? For me this is more than just curiosity. In growing Hootsuite to the world’s biggest social media management platform, with more than 18 million users, I’ve had to do quite a few demos and debuts myself. And there’s always room for improvement!
Here are five key demo and unveil tactics I picked up in Musk’s latest presentation:
Mistakes are opportunities. Roll with it.
TED has created the illusion that live presentations are these flawless performances — perfect hair, perfect lighting, perfect delivery. In reality, things rarely go that smoothly. The mic always cuts out. You lose your train of thought. The demo doesn’t go as planned. What’s important is the ability to not simply take those challenges in stride but to embrace them as publicity opportunities. Musk took this to a whole new level when his demo of the Cybertruck’s armor glass went haywire and a heavy metal ball smashed not one, but two, windows. “Ah, not bad, room for improvement,” he muttered, continuing as if nothing had happened. The reality, however, was that the little broken window snafu likely multiplied the Cybertruck’s press and social media buzz exponentially. Did Musk plan it that way all along? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Being a “bad” presenter can help you stand out.
Watching Elon Musk give a public presentation is painful. He speaks in clipped, short sentences, like he’s reading straight off cue cards. He’s stiff as a board onstage and seems about as comfortable as a teenage boy at his first school dance. He swallows his words, paces awkwardly and folds his arms defensively. Basically he does everything you’re taught not to do in your very first Toastmasters class. But you know what? It comes across as authentic and it absolutely stands out from the standard slick, corporate presentation. The simple truth is that being different — even if that means breaking every convention — is a huge competitive advantage, whether we’re talking about public speaking or truck design.
Launched is better than perfect.
At this stage, I’m pretty sure Tesla’s Cybertruck is held together with duct tape and baling wire. Some of those product bugs and limitations were on display for everyone to see (i.e. those pesky broken windows and lack of side view mirrors). But there’s a long, proud history of great products launching a little prematurely. It’s part of Silicon Valley lore that the iPhone’s first demo was a total mess. In fact, it ran out of memory so fast that Steve Jobs had multiple demo phones stashed on stage, which he discreetly switched between. But all that’s water under the bridge now. By getting a revolutionary technology out there early, Steve Jobs managed to capture so much buzz and market share that competitors are still trying to catch up. I imagine the same pattern may hold true with the Cybertruck and the all-electric truck market.
The real goal is a pulse check on the market.
To that end, an effective launch is less about unveiling a perfect product than about gauging public demand for it. This approach lies at the core of “lean startup” philosophy. Building something “perfect” — behind closed doors and without market testing — is usually a recipe for dramatic failure. A far better way is to put some sort of minimum viable product out there and, essentially, see if it sticks. Then, and only then, is it time to truly roll up your sleeves, invest time and resources, and figure out how to deliver a flawless finished product. For the Tesla team, a quarter-million pre-orders is proof positive that demand exists and the team is onto something big. (Side note: the only requirement for a pre-order was a $100, refundable deposit. Bonus points to Musk for making this seem like a big deal, even though the barrier to entry is so low.)
Speak to your tribe (and don’t be afraid to ruffle a few feathers).
I can’t see a Ford F-150 or Dodge Ram owner trading up for a Cybertruck anytime soon. For starters, Tesla’s truck looks like a set of isosceles triangles on wheels. But the truth is that the Cybertruck isn’t meant to appeal to the usual pickup truck crowd at all. It’s extreme design and off-road capabilities are aimed more to tech-savvy millennials, who spend days tethered to a keyboard and weekends outdoors, than to the blue-collar set. Much like Tesla cars initially, the Cybertruck is targeted firmly at people who want to make a statement — whether for environmental reasons, personal tastes or just to feel special. Judging from the hoots of awe and applause at the unveiling, Musk has won over his tribe, and that’s what matters most. If Tesla’s cars are any indication, where the influencers and tastemakers lead, the rest of us eventually follow.