Top ten tips for selling your IT project

I'm spending two days in Manchester for the JISC event, Rapid Innovation in Development. I've already had some interesting, inspiring and useful conversations and I'm looking forward to tomorrow (and more importantly, getting some quality programming time to try them out).

The event has a focus on helping developers effectively market their projects or ideas to wider audiences (aka 'normal people'). With that in mind, here are my notes from Alice Gugan's talk on her 'top ten tips for selling your project'.

She pointed out that it's not exhaustive but does list the key tips to focus on.

  1. Focus on your audience. Who they are, their interests, their technical level. If you're talking to a journalist, talk to who they're writing for.
  2. USP – what is yours? How does your project really change the lives of your audience? This is your main message. What makes your project stand out?
  3. Short and snappy sub-points. Not too many, make sure they lead logically on from your main message.
  4. Be confident. Be sure of your ground, be believable, be enthusiastic.
  5. Project your voice!
  6. Engage eye contact with your interviewer – if you have to scan your notes, still try to make eye contact with the audience.
  7. No gimmicks! They can be great but they won't necessarily make people remember what your project was about.
  8. No jargon! It's often a barrier to your audience. This includes acronyms.
  9. Practice, practice, practice. But keep it fresh, enthusiastic and believable.
  10. Test it on a stranger and adjust according to their reactions.

All good points! Based on years of geek conversations across several domains, I'd suggest making your pitch into a story about the engaging/useful/inexpensive/secure (etc, you get the picture) experience someone has while using your product. You can always bring out the technical details and features list later – once you've got people interested.

It's often hard to step back from the detailed perspective and remember how to talk about your project who haven't been living with it daily, but if you can't do that it's hard to make the best of your work by sharing it with a wider audience.

Focusing on your audience can be tricky – it's easier for pitches than more general presentations, but working out how to address audiences with different levels of technical or sector knowledge can be tricky. Maybe that's why I like user stories as pitches – it makes you step back from the acronomic** detail and think about what really makes your idea unique.

** Yeah, I made that up, but it's a nice cross between acronyms, macro and moronic.

[Update: thanks to Paul Walk for Alice's surname.

Also, I've found myself thinking about the event quite a bit since Friday – both in terms of the tips for presenting technical projects to non-technical staff, and generally in terms of the useful tips and inspiring ideas I picked up in conversation with other attendees.  Congratulations to all concerned for a great event!]

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