How Not To Demo

Recently, I was asked to demo a system that we are building for a client to some stakeholders from across the business. The demo would be delivered by me remotely, although the stakeholders would all be in the same room.

Simples. I’ve been managing the project ever since development had started (actually earlier than this, as I was involved in the ‘scoping’ phase as well), so I knew the system inside out and back to front.

I also deliver demos to the key stakeholders on a weekly basis, so I had no qualms on delivering a demo to a slightly wider audience.

‘Yep, no problem” I responded, “Just tell me when and I’ll set it up.”

And that was that. I put it to the back of my mind.

A couple of days later, it was time for the demo. I dialled in and introduced myself to the room at large. I then asked the facilitator at the client site to open up a browser and go to a particular URL, which would then display my screen to the room (I was using an online screen sharing program, and they were having this projected onto a screen in the room).

After the facilitator confirmed that everyone was there and they were ready, I began. I started by showing some of the latest features my team had been developing and explaining how they worked.

I talked.

And talked.

At one point, I had to talk to cover up the fact that I was waiting for an email to be sent to me via the system.

At other times, I was talking simply because I couldn’t hear anything happening at the other end of the line.

I was flying through the demo and after about 15 minutes, I realised that I had gone through parts of the system that I had expected to take twice as long to present. Was I going to fast? I posed the question to the audience.

“A little” the reply came back from someone in the room, “This is the first time I’ve seen the system so I’m struggling to keep up”.

It was as though someone had poured cold water down my back. What?! I thought the participants all knew about the system? Why didn’t they tell me that I was demoing to people who had never seen it before?

Hang on, did I ask?

I tried to keep calm. I backtracked, and went over some of the previous functions in a little more detail. I explained some of the background to the decisions we had made and what we were trying to achieve.

The demo came to an end. Silence.

“Well, that’s the end of the demo” I pronounced, “Does anyone have any questions, or are you all fast asleep?”

That at least got a couple of laughs, and negated my fear that everyone had left the room in boredom.

The facilitator then spoke up;

“Thanks Chris, that was great. I’ll handle any questions as we’ve got some other stuff we need to discuss here anyway, so thanks for the demo.”

“Oh, no problem” I responded, “thanks for your time”. I hung up.

It then struck me. I had absolutely no idea of what those ‘participants’ thought of the demo. I use the term loosely as they hardly participated at all, it was just me talking for most of it.

All sorts of thoughts were running through my head, how could I have not checked who I was presenting to before-hand? Did they follow anything I said at all, or did it go straight over their heads? I had made all sorts of assumptions going into the demo, and I was coming to the realisation that at least some of those assumptions were wrong. I had dropped the ball in spectacular fashion.

“What I need”, I thought to myself, “Is some feedback on how that went”. I couldn’t speak to the participants face to face, this wasn’t possible due to the distances involved. Phone calls to everyone that was in the demo wouldn’t be terribly efficient. Perhaps some sort of survey would get me the answers I need?

So that’s what I did. I used an on-line tool (Survey Monkey, which proved to be quick and simple to use), to create a basic survey . I sent off the link to those persons who were in the demo. Within a couple of hours I had a number of responses and plenty of data to start to analyse.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought.

As it turns out, only one person hadn’t seen the system before and they appreciated the fact that I went back to explain some of the features in more detail.

Another participant explained how the order in which I presented the functionality confused them, something that could easily have been solved by showing another part of the site first.

The other participants all thought the demo was well delivered and the pace of it was fine. The biggest issue appeared to be the projector used in their meeting room, which was a little blurry, plus the glare from the sun coming through on of their windows.

All in all, it could have been much worse. But I learnt a number of things from this little escapade;

  • In future, I need to check the equipment that’s going to be used as well as have a practice run through, this will ensure that things run smoothly on the day
  • Always find out who I’m demoing to. What is their knowledge of the system like?
  • Try to get my audience engaged. If I want feedback at the end of the demo, then I need to keep the attention of the participants.
  • I’m going to try and get feedback from as many demos as possible in future. This is invaluable in improving my deliver mechanisms for future demos.

If you ever find yourself having to deliver a demo. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Why not read my handy guide for avoiding the major pitfalls.

One thought on “How Not To Demo

  1. Wendy July 4, 2014 / 10:31 am

    Great post about your experience and learnings – thanks for sharing!

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