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How to Rock Your Next Demo

We’ve all been there. Being asked to demo or show our work. If you’ve ever had to demo something to your boss or a customer, this post is for you! While this article will focus on how to demo something technology oriented, many of these tips apply to any kind of demo or presentation. I’ll review my best practices for how to prepare and execute a great demo, because who doesn’t like to knock it out of the park?

Your Mood

I like to go into every demo with the mindset that it’s the most important demo of my life. Every time there’s a demonstration of something, whether it’s a business process, sales pitch, or deliverable review, you’re there to accomplish something–usually to seek alignment of the stakeholders in the room and move something forward. Keep this in mind at all times. Bring the energy, or, as I like to say, “Bring the Thunder!!”

Stakeholders

Who is going to be there? It’s important to understand who will be in the room and what context needs to be set before proceeding into the demonstration. If they’re all people who have been closely involved with the project up to this point, don’t waste their time with too much backstory. However, if it’s a mixed audience, or the CEO has decided to attend, build in some “getting up to speed” content in your agenda to educate everyone on what you’re about to show them before you jump into it.

Preparation

  • If you’re demonstrating remotely, be intimately familiar with the technology that you’re using. Don’t be embarrassed by your tool. Make sure your audio and video shares sound good and work, and show up early! 10 minutes minimum. Not only are you demoing, but you’re also responsible for keeping attendees entertained until the demo starts.
  • Script your demo. Good PR people always have talking points that they can turn questions back to. Get your talking points in order and don’t let the demonstration go too far “off the rails” by tangential questions. Print the script and have it nearby at all times. A printed script does not rely on technology and does not complicate the A/V at all. Also, it’s easy to take notes that are in line with the talking points.
  • Have GREAT demo data. Get rid of goofy sounding stand-in names. Use data that is easy to apply to the stakeholders’ business. Even use real customers as examples if you have that information available. Don’t make everyone stretch their imaginations on how this demo works in their business. As an aside, don’t use controversial names. I once saw a former US president enrolled in a mental institution during a demo. Needless to say, some of the more political stakeholders had negative things to say about that, which also disrupted the flow of the demo.
  • Have a Demo Cave. By this I mean an eerily quiet place with no distractions, particularly audible ones.
  • Practice. But you knew that already.

Style

  • A few visual aids go a long way. Don’t dive right into the technical demonstration before showing a diagram of the business process at play and how your demo will fit into the process.
  • People love stories. Think of yourself as a storyteller. If you’re demonstrating future technology that the organization will use, play the role of an employee or user of the technology and weave that into a story. Stories are entertaining; demos are boring. Be very clear who you are proxying during the demo so everyone on the call understands the viewpoint they are seeing.
  • For any repetitive tasks take a lesson from a cooking show. Show the start of the process and how it works, and then… BAM! Pull the finished product out of the oven. If you properly set the stage and show the beginning and end, people will understand what happens in the middle and quietly thank you for not having to watch you create 10 records in real time.
  • Don’t ask questions to other team members live. Use backchannel chat to get answers or take notes and promise to get back to the stakeholder with the answer. Asking too many questions undermines your position of being an expert on the subject matter that you’re demonstrating.
  • If there are multiple people on the demo, make sure handoffs are practiced and that timing is measured and assured. It is just awful when the third presenter has to cram a 20-minute presentation into 5 minutes because the first two went over.
  • Don’t sell features. Explain the business logic. Don’t show a feature and say, “And you can do this, and you can also do this, and you can now do this.” Instead, say, “Because I have this business problem, I am now going to use this feature which will solve the issue for our customer. I did this because…” Explaining the why is much more provocative than explaining the what.
  • Avoid dead air. Dead air is wasted time for everyone in the meeting, and lowers people’s confidence.

The Aftermath

Any demo is just a milestone with lots of work that follows after. To get the most utility out of the time and energy spent investing in putting on a great demonstration, be hardcore about your follow-ups.

  • Take notes like a fiend. When you’re all amped up in demo mode, it’s easy to miss an actionable item. Pause and write it down. Tell the people on the call you’re taking notes if it takes a minute.
  • Deliver on action items. I like to schedule time after every demo to immediately attack action items. Getting them sorted out while everything is fresh has a bigger value to everyone on the call and is more efficient for you.
  • Send thank-yous. Handwritten or via email, it’s worth thanking the attendees for their time. They’re just as busy as you are.