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13 June 2014

How to Win the Grand Prize at the FWD Innovation Summit: 5 Tips for the FWD Participants from a Former Judge

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As a broker with Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate, which is part of Realogy, I’m excited to participate in the Realogy FWD innovation summit on June 17 at its headquarters in Madison, New Jersey.  This is the second annual event where 15 real estate technology companies will demonstrate their products in front of a live audience, answering questions from judges, and vying for a $25,000 grand prize.

What does it take to win the Realogy FWD Innovation Summit?

Last year, I was one of the six judges on the panel, which picks three contestants and submits them to an audience vote for the grand-prize winner.  And I apparently did such a good job at judging that Realogy has asked me back  . . . to sit in the audience and not say anything. But since it’s tough for me to just sit and watch when I’m at something like this, I’ve volunteered to live blog the event here.

Since I’m not a judge this year, I thought it might be helpful for the contestants to share my perspective on last year’s experience, and give them some advice about how to make the best impression. Many of these tips can be used for anyone trying to make a good first impression with any pitch.

1.  Practice, Practice, Practice
The best presentations were tight and well-developed. That’s harder than it sounds.  You have five minutes to pitch before you start answering questions, so be quick.  Most of you have done your pitch a bunch of times to investors and whatnot, so you’ve probably honed it just fine.  But if you’re not all that comfortable speaking, get comfortable or put someone up there who is.  And rehearse under timed conditions, because there’s nothing worse than seeing that red light go off when you’re still just getting ready to get to the good stuff.

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2.  Show, Don’t Tell
Classic cliché, I know, but it’s true.  This is your chance to show off your product to the people who run some of the biggest franchise systems and brokerages in the country, as well as several industry thought leaders.  So show it off.  Don’t spend a lot of time introducing yourself, your company, your history, or the clever Greek/Latin origins of your name.  Don’t even spend a lot of time introducing the product. Just tell us enough to get us grounded in what your product does, and then get right to the demo.  And make sure your demo shows off the best and most meaningful features of the product – we don’t need to see everything, just the good stuff.  Skip the vegetables, go right to dessert.

3.  Be Prepared
Thankfully, the event rules forbid slide decks, so participants don’t fall into the trap of presenting a bunch of boring PowerPoint slides. It’s a live demo of the product, which is exciting and probably a little terrifying.  You need to be prepared for the possibility that something horrible will happen while you’re up there in front of a few hundred people. In the event the app doesn’t want to show off its tricks that day my suggestion is to create a backup screen capture video of the app in action that you can narrate live.  It’s a good practice to always have a backup plan before you present.  It’ll give you peace of mind.

4.  Share the Load
Don’t try to go it alone.  Last year, most of the presenters came in pairs: one person to talk, and one person to run the demo.  That’s the right way to do it.  The cognitive burden of explaining the product while also navigating through the site or app is just too high.  I’ve always found that it’s tough to speak and think at the same time.  But that adds a layer of complexity to the pitch, right?  Because the person “on the conn” has to not only be listening to know where you’re going with the pitch, but also be able to improvise if you get a question and have to demo something you didn’t actually prepare.  Again, practice, practice, practice – make sure you’re in sync.

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5.  Connect Your Product to the Audience Needs
Remember your audience — these are traditional real estate brokers and franchise system principals who are deeply involved in day-to-day real estate.  They are probably tech-forward, but they’re not technologists. They’re not venture capitalists. They’re not disruptophiles. You want to connect what your app does to the day-to-day responsibilities of the agents that work for them or in their systems.  That is, the best pitch is this: “one of the real challenges real estate agents face every day is X.  Our app is designed to help them do it easily and simply.”  Now, not every app is agent-oriented.  Some of them are about fixing the client experience.  But there aren’t any designated buyers and sellers in the audience, so focus your appeal on how satisfied clients are good for agents: “real estate buyers/sellers always complain about X, which makes them unhappy about their real estate experience, but our app/site fixes X, so your agents will have much happier clients.”

All that said, don’t get too hung up on “winning” the event.  Don’t get me wrong — $25,000 is a nice bit of change, and it’s cool to win the title.  But you’ve already won just by making the cut.  The chance to pitch your product to representatives of franchise brands that closed more than 25% of transaction volume in the US last year, and invest millions of dollars every year in technology partnerships – that’s the real prize.

Take advantage of that opportunity, and good luck!

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