How Effective Are Your Demos?

For those who have read my recent experience with undertaking a demo, you’ll know that sometimes you feel like they could’ve gone better. This is my simple yet effective guide that may help you avoid some of the usual pitfalls;

Feedback is important. Especially so when it comes to software development. How does the new functionality meet the expectations of the stakeholders? Does it ‘feel’ right? Does it positively impact on the customer experience? We need to know the answers to these questions to determine the value of any newly developed function.

There are many ways to gather feedback, but chief amongst our arsenal is the ‘demo’. A simple yet effective tool when done right, you get a bunch of stakeholders together (either on site or remotely), and present the new functionality to them. They can then freely discuss what you have shown them, allowing you to gather their thoughts and feelings on whether any further changes are required.

Demos can be extremely powerful, they allow us as the facilitators to guide the stakeholder’s thoughts onto particular areas of a system or site, to consider certain scenarios or UI enhancements. But, do we use them effectively?

We’ve all attended poor demos in the past. You can picture it; the stuffy room, filled with people from all areas of the business, some of whom have only passing knowledge of the subject matter. The monotone voice, droning on. The demo bounces around, showing different pages and functions so quickly that you have no idea what is going on. Or perhaps the facilitator is focusing on something that you know in detail already, and you’re being taught how to suck eggs. You lose interest, allowing your mind to wander. Your eyes glaze over…

A boring presentation

Sounds awful doesn’t it? It’s a waste of your time, the facilitator’s time and the business ultimately sees no value.

Now consider this, how many demos have you given that play out as described above? You sure? How do you know?

If you want to be sure, then follow this guide for delivering great demos and getting that all important, quality feedback;

Step One – Know who you’re delivering to

Who is coming to the demo? What is their background? Do they understand the system in-depth, or have they hardly seen the system before?

The content of your demo needs to take into account the knowledge held by the audience. There is no point going into technical detail for an audience that has never seen the product before, Similarly, don’t waste time demoing basic functions to people who know the product inside out. It’s not always possible, but try to keep the audience limited to those with a similar level of knowledge. You can then tailor the content to fit. These leads us on to point two.

Step Two – Limit the audience

When inviting you audience, consider what you are trying to achieve. Do you really need to invite someone from marketing to a demo of backend systems? Does QA need to be involved in a demo focused on user experience? Try to keep the audience limited to those who will have something to offer in terms of feedback, those whose opinions matter. Don’t invite loads of people; the more people there are, the less likely it is that your audience will feel confident to ask questions or provide opinions.

Step Three – Keep to a predetermined scope

It’s obvious really, but know what you want to demo and what you want to get out of it from the stakeholders. Don’t let your audience get side-lined onto a completely unrelated conversation. If needs be, you can always arrange for a separate meeting or demo to discuss any unrelated issues. Keep your audience focused on the task at hand.

Step Four – Have a run through before-hand

Again, a simple yet effective step. Practice what you intend to demo. If possible, use the same equipment and/or software that you intend to use on the day. Deliver the demo to a colleague; can they understand the information? Was your delivery clear and concise, or were you mumbling? Preparation is key.

If you are doing the demo on site, make sure the room you are delivering in is big enough, has the right number of chairs and has the equipment you need. There is nothing worse than wasting the first ten minutes of a meeting trying to get the projector working.

Make sure you consider different delivery mechanisms. Does it have to be done using a PowerPoint presentation or could you use something more creative or unusual? If it helps engage your audience, then give it a go!

Get creative with your demo deliveries!

Step Five – Gather feedback on the demo

Probably the step that most often gets overlooked. Just because you delivered the demo successfully and got some feedback, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have gone better. Try to get some feedback on the demo itself. You can do this in any number of ways, from chats around the coffee machine to asking the audience at the end of the demo. Personally, I have used online questionnaires to great success (Survey Monkey is a free, simple, yet effective tool). Keep in mind that some people don’t feel confident enough to make their opinions known in front of others (particularly if there are loud, brash or opinionated members in the audience), so sometimes you will get honest feedback only by approaching these people on their own or allowing them to answer anonymously.

All of these steps are simple enough, but they will help achieve that ultimate goal of getting useful, valuable feedback.


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