When Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra launched the Mi 4i in India, people were impressed as much by the device as by the quality of the presentation that accompanied it (we DID say he was channeling Jobs, remember?). A number of senior journalists confessed that they had not seen anything like it on Indian soil, and we have had our share of queries from competitors about links to the presentation (we are embedding it at the end), as well as inquiries about what did he do to make such an impact. Was it his charisma? His reputation? The venue? The hi-tech wizardry at his disposal? Well, all those played their part, but the truth is that what really worked for him was actually a very rigid focus on his key presentation basics. Basics that can be learnt and adhered to by just about anybody ready to put in the time (sorry, no way around that – you need to work for weeks to get something like this right).
So if you want to make a tech presentation like Hugo Barra, just try incorporating these eight points into your presentation, and then sit back and soak up the applause:
Rehearse, rehearse… and then rehearse some more
He might be a wizard on stage but if many people are to be believed, Barra is by nature a quiet person. So how does he manage to entrance a crowd the way he did on April 23? The answer is sheer dint of practice. The man held several rehearsals and even worked out the angles at which he and the product looked the best. The result? A near-inch perfect presentation with almost zero snags, technical or verbal. He did get say Foxconn when he meant Qualcomm once, but barring that, he very rarely stumbled in a presentation that spanned over an hour – and even that stumble, he covered up with a laugh. Mind you, he can get things wrong – he was oddly off color during the launch of the Redmi 2 in India and when I quizzed him about it, he frowned and said “I just did not do enough rehearsals!”
Keep the text off the slides whenever possible (and avoid reading off them)
If you look through the presentation, you will be struck at the number of slides which had very little text on them – the only ones that did have lots of text related to tech specs. Barra’s principle is right out of the book of Guy Kawasaki: he uses the slides for sheer visual impact, letting them supplement what he is saying. And barring the odd tech spec and comparison slide, he almost never reads off them.
God lies in the details, especially unusual ones
Whether it is talking out the steel frame that made the Mi 4 or the manner in which uninstalled apps disappeared in a flurry of dots on MIUI 6 or the pressure tests that the Mi 4i was subjected to, Barra has always been able to highlight features of products that others would have deemed relatively unimportant. It is this attention to detail that makes his products seem different from other brands who stick to the spec sheet/display/camera/software formula.
Pretty sure many phones will have such precision engineering involved, but not everyone cares to showcase like how Xiaomi did
— Raju (@rajupp) April 24, 2015
If the presentation is long, break it up with videos
Yes, he was on stage for more than an hour, but he kept interspersing his presentation with video clips, giving viewers a ‘break’ from him. Significantly, he never let the videos be too long, and refrained from using multiple speakers (something Jobs and Apple do), and so never let the focus go off him, and left no room for comparison.
Let the voice lead – and speak slowly, correctly and emotionally
The value of speaking is vastly underrated in presentations, where far too much stress is placed on the slides. The result is that far too many people let the slides ‘lead’ a presentation, with the person on the stage responding to them. Barra is very different – he lets his voice lead the slides so the audience is always more focused on what he is saying and is not simply watching the slides. And to ensure that his voice remains the focus of the presentation (it always should be – else you would not need a presenter), Barra speaks slowly, rarely stumbles and often infuses his voice with emotion. The emotion part is important, because without it, a speaker sounds like a drone.
Let the product be the hero
This is supremely Jobs-ian – Barra always lets the product be the hero of the presentation. It is the belle of the tech ball, and is described in loving detail, the effort being to convince the audience that they are seeing something very special indeed. We have seen far too many companies lose focus by talking of the company, other products, and even getting celebrities on stage. With Barra, the product is the star. It is a strategy that has worked wonderfully well for him.
Have a sense of humor
Again, we cannot overstate the importance of a sense of humor. We don’t know how much of it is rehearsed (Barra does have wit) but rare is the Hugo Barra presentation that does not get some bursts of laughter from his audience. From asking “kitna doge” in Hindi while talking of the price to taking gentle digs at competitors who did not test their devices for bending (oh yes, THAT company), he made sure that the audience had something to laugh about. And he managed to do so without resorting to cheap stunts or tricks, ensuring that the focus never moved from the hero of the show, the product.
Get the audience involved…subtly
Getting them to laugh is only part of the formula. Where Barra seems to score is in his ability to get the audience involved without actually getting into the “Good morning! I can’t hear you! I said ‘Good Morning!’ That’s better” kind of cringe-worthy routine that some do. Yes, he was helped by the fact that the auditorium was packed with a number of Mi Fans whose adoration for him seemed to border on the fanatical, but Barra actually seemed to be conducting them by getting them involved almost at his will, unlike other companies, whose own supporters tend to restrict themselves to whistle and clap in a methodical manner at pre-arranged times (the price, the spec announcement). So the crowds did not applaud only when the price was announced but also when Barra them to applaud for the most “good looking” Mi team around and there was positive pandemonium when he took a selfie on stage with the crowd in the background. It did get very noisy at times, but the impact was impressive. Remember, you may not always have this kind of audience – what if it is a simple briefing with a dozen people – but nothing, absolutely nothing, stops you from getting them involved, whether it is through an inquiry, or an activity. Just do not ask too much of them – we still wince at the thought of a brand that tried to make the media do warm up exercises before introducing a fitness wearable!