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The Big Conference Launch: How to Stand Out from the Crowd

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Editor’s Note: This post represents the professional advice of Brian Solis who is not affiliated with TechCrunch50. If you are a participating TC50 company, resident TechCrunch PR expert Sarah Ross is available to share and review the public relations guidelines with you. It is important to work directly with Sarah to ensure you are in compliance with these guidelines to maximize your PR opportunity while also avoiding disqualification.


How do you launch a startup at a big tech conference without getting lost in the crowd?  With TechCrunch50, Demo and several other major tech conferences around the corner, this question is on the minds of more than one entrepreneur.  How do you create visibility for your startup, and do you need PR to do it, or just a great demo?

The coming days and weeks will be filled by some of the industry’s most anticipated, attended and watched conferences. They’re all competing for mind share and they are attracting influential attendees and spectators who will report their experiences and observations far and wide. In the next two to three weeks, over 150-200 companies will vie for attention and precious blog and media real estate.

Your story, as wonderful as it is, will need help rising above the flurry of news that will jockey to reach the ears and eyes of bloggers, press, customers, investors, and partners.

Even though some A-list bloggers and high profile entrepreneurs (Jason Calacanis, cough) have publicly implied that any good product or eloquent and outspoken CEO will easily traverse the roads cluttered with inferior startups to quickly rise to stardom simply by existing, the reality is, you really do need a strategic launch plan and some level of PR.  Most importantly, you need a polished, professional, and creative demonstration that will resonate with attendees and compel them to want to learn more.

Public Relations

This advice may seem 101, and in some cases it is. Nonetheless, it’s an important refresher for those companies who are using TechCrunch50 and other conferences to debut their company or new products.

For those 52 companies presenting at TC50,  there is a clear and prevailing rule to participate in the event and it will make the difference whether or not you launch to accolades or you’re disinvited before you hit the stage:

You have to introduce your new company or product, for the first time, on stage at TC50.

Some people are debating the merits of this requirement.  But given this rule, let’s explore a few ways to ensure a successful launch.

What’s Your Story?

Let’s start by determining who your customers and users are and where they go for information and insight. Identifying these groups will humanize the process of crafting your story. It forces you to adapt what you’re introducing specifically to the people you’re hoping to reach.

The next step is to summarize not only what you’re introducing, but distill the value, benefits and extraordinary features that differentiate you from your competition and also highlight how you’re solving real world problems and challenges. This process will impact your press materials, your stage demo, your pitch, and ultimately the perception that conference attendees form.

Demonstration

You have an obligation to attendees and also to your development team to present your company in a way that makes people remember who you are and why you were invited to participate in the first place.

This isn’t a local meetup for startups. This isn’t just another opportunity to practice your everyday company pitch. This is a major production that requires an entirely new level of presentation, probably of the caliber that you may not have experienced previously. The world will literally be watching.  (TC50, for instance, will be streamed live on Ustream, photos will appearon a special Flickr page, and stories will be organized by the audience at large on a dedicated Mixx community site).  And the live audience will be sitting through dozens of demos.  So what are you going to do that will make everyone in the room stop checking email or updating Twitter, pay attention to your time on stage, and more importantly, remember you after the event?  This is your first and best chance to create enthusiasm and support in order to ignite referrals and potential word of mouth for being one of the hottest companies to debut this year.

Ditch the Powerpoint presentation. No one wants to see bulleted lists that say what you do or endure a series of slides that detail your professional credentials and career experience. They want to see what you do and how it was selected over the hundreds of other companies that were hoping to make the cut. Quickly explain the pain that your solving, make us empathize with it. But, get to that demo as quickly as possible. Show, don’t tell.

You may need help and coaching to become an incredible presenter to maximize your time on stage and that’s OK. It’s how we become more incredible public speakers.

As TC50 co-founder and co-host Jason Calacanis (yes, the same one who does not think much of formal PR) has recently emphasized in his email newsletter, companies need to attach their brand to a movement, a trend, something bigger than just the next shiny new object, search engine, widget, or next new social network.  He also suggest the following rules for startup demos: Show your product within the first 60 seconds; Talk about what you’ve done, not what you’re going to do; One driver, one navigator; Short answers are best; Leave people wanting more.  It is good advice.  (Read his full list of demo tips here and here).

Have charisma. Express how much you care about your product. Speak clearly with authority and confidence. Move around the stage as you demo your product. Get someone to run the notebook computer and don’t lock yourself in that comfort zone behind the podium. Please don’t subject us to a dry demo of you staring at you notebook screen, clicking buttons and talking monotonously.

Breeze through the frontlines of your demo and and get into crux of what it is you’re launching. We don’t need to see the registration process. We don’t need to endure the discomfort of watching you fumble through typos as you enter unnecessary data to support your presentation.

Have everything ready to go and have it rehearsed and polished. You don’t need slides. You don’t need 3×5 cards. Connect with the audience. Grab and hold their attention. This is your baby and you know it better than anyone. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious and the audience is there because they want to be amazed.

They are there for you, so help them remember why you’ve been singled out from hundreds of applicants to tell your story.

Lobbycon

At any major industry event, there are always scores of people who don’t have passes who want to participate in the can’t-miss excitement and action and also promote their agenda. This adds a new layer of dynamics to an already incredible environment. When combined with the onsite PR and marketing activity of all the presenting companies (both onstage and off), it also creates an additional possibility to promote your company among those networking in the event lobby.

Last year, PowerSet served delicious “branded” shots in test tubes to attendees as well as the huge contingent that formed the unofficial lobbycon. Other promotional items and clever memorabilia were also freely distributed all in the hopes of striking a chord with attendees and rising above the fray.

Make no doubt that there will be an influx of companies competing for attention, whether or not they’re part of the official event. You do need to offer something that helps you stand out. So think of this as your chance to create and distribute something memorable that also correlates with your brand so that attendees not only remember you after the conference is all said and done, but are also reminded to test, and hopefully use, your product.

Put It in Writing

After you’ve run through your messaging exercises and presentation development, document the story in a convincing press release, product/company overview, and unpublished blog post that officially announce the product or service.

Make sure that the solution and the value is upfront.

Assume that the people who will ultimately read your story are short on attention span, whether they’re a blogger, reporter, customer, partner, investor, or potential acquirer. Just because you’re selected to launch out of the hundreds of companies that applied, doesn’t mean your story is a guaranteed success.

In PR, writing usually follows an inverted pyramid format, which recommends that you pack all of the pertinent information at the beginning and conclude with the supporting details. In today’s highly competitive Web economy, solely relying on traditional press releases to tell your story greatly restricts its potential. Time and attention are precious commodities.

Find a way to tell your story as quickly and as compelling as possible. If it’s one thing that Twitter has taught us, it is how to say something significant in 140 characters or less. Twitter and the onslaught of emerging micromedia communities are reinforcing this process of sharing updates and insight through brevity and clarity. In PR and marketing, the study and practice of saying more with less online, is referred to as MicroPR

With every sentence, description, or statement we verbalize or write effectively, we can earn the chance to open the next door.  The goal is to continue to tell the story progressively, gaining momentum and increasing resonance along the way, and continue to open enough doors to tell our story completely.  This helps you tell the story quicker and more persuasively. Just in case someone stopped listening at any point, the important information and market opportunity should have already been communicated.

While paper press kits are long gone, or , digital press kits are still alive and well. Pull everything together in one place, such as a USB key, a downloadable zip file, an online press room, and consider experimenting with a social media press kit or a >social media release.

For instance, a Social Media Press Kit, a.k.a. online press kit/press room, is a dedicated, one-stop destination for your specific news event. This landing page contains embedded objects that help reporters and bloggers assemble the news their way. It can feature an embedded version of the press release and all other related social objects, for at-a-glance viewing and also for quickly grabbing the necessary embed codes.

There are other ways, beyond press releases, summaries and blog posts to break news. With Web video production and screencasting tools readily available, affordable, and easy to use, producing a visual demonstration will only help convey your story and fortify the integrity of your message when you’re not present to personally explain it. Also, short videos and demos are shareable and embeddable to expand the story across the social Web.

The Launch Is Only The Beginning

Many of the industry’s most influential bloggers, analysts, and reporters will attend these conferences, with many more observing and reporting on the highlights from all over the world.  Remember what your mother said: you only get one chance to make a first impression.  But if you do your job right, you will be repeating your demo many times over in the weeks and months ahead.  What you want to do is stand out so that people will ask you to see it again and again and again.

Good luck to all the startups everywhere who will be stepping onto a stage for the first time next week.  We’ll all be watching.

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