The Art of the Demo

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about doing demos among the people I work with. Showing how a piece of software and how it works is not always, perhaps not even often, as easy as people think it is. It involves knowing something about the software of course but it is so much more than that. It is about knowing the audience and what is interesting to them. It is about being able to tell a story where the software is a bit the hero - the problem solver - of the story.

I have seen a lot of students demonstrate their programs over the years. Some do a good job and some, well, not so good. One would think that having written the software would make a student knowledgeable about the program and of course one of the reasons why teachers often ask for a demo is to make sure the student does show enough knowledge to convince the teacher that they really did write the program. But as I said a good demo is as much about story telling as anything else. This is a skill that can be taught but generally isn't. After all how does it fit in to a computer science course? I'm starting to think we should find some room for it though. Maybe in schools (pre-college) it belongs in English class along with other presentation skills. After all people in all fields need to do demos.

But if you want to start a discussion about demos - which I think is a good idea - then a recent post by John Montgomery would be a good place to start. John runs the Popfly project at Microsoft and he has to do a lot of demos. He probably has to sit though a lot more of them than the average person and he knows something about a demo. In this post he outlines seven things that the best demo people do:

  1. Know your audience

  2. Know your product

  3. Know what you're trying to get across to your audience

  4. Know your themes

  5. Know yourself

  6. Know your story

  7. Practice (which I might call Know your demo)

Check out his list (he goes into some useful detail of the why and what of each item) and tell me what you think? What do you think of the order he has things in? What would you add or remove for your own list?

You know looking over this list one more time two things occur to me. One is that teachers demo everyday. These items are important for classroom demos as much as anything. The other thing that comes home is that any presentation has these same needs. So maybe a unit on demoing products would fit into any good presentation skills course. As I tell students all the time, having a great idea is useless unless you can communicate it to others.

Comments (5)

  1. Add how to do demo’s using technology and what is your plan if your technology does not work.

    How many of us have had to sit and watch a presenter scramble because they didn’t check out the demo before the presentation or that the video doesn’t work etc.

    Awefull to watch!

  2. Bryan says:

    Demo’s are a big part of my classes. We have a beta demo for my 2nd years on Wednesday and a demo for my 3rd years in front of the local university faculty on April 11th. And then there’s the big demo/presentation for the end of year final exam.

    As to Brian’s statement – it’s happened once or twice with my students and ALL the groups feel the pain of the group that breaks down. BUT – 1. They never forget it or how they felt when it happened. 2. Every group had a back up plan for the next demo should their primary demo blow up. 3. They talk about it to the next years groups and while the first hand experience was less, the fear of failure lives on. As does the learning from that failure.

  3. AlfredTh says:

    The really impressive demo people know how to recover from a problem. Who was it that said we learn more from failures than successes?

  4.   Knowing your audience is probably both the hardest and most important aspect of giving a great

  5. Clint Rutkas has posted his interview with Frank Savage from Microsoft Gaming Studios over on Channel

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