Ten things to consider when giving a live demo for high-tech products

Anyone who has done a live demo understands that it comes with a lot of risks. As a producer for games and interactive experiences powered by cutting-edge technologies, I often have to do live demos. I also organized the showcase of over 80 Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality unique prototypes created by graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University and was a key coordinator for several game jams. These experiences have given me great insights on how to put on a great show, so I will share them in this article. Here are the ten questions you should consider when giving a live product demo:

1. Who is my audience and what matters to them?

Understand who you’re talking to and the audience’s pain points. Be direct about how your product can make a positive impact in the audience’s life. Do not delve into the product details, unless asked. Make sure you can explain your product to both technical and non-technical audience. In many cases, one of the best ways to explain is to let the audience try the demo.

Have a quick overview of what your demo is about and how long it will be lets the audience know how much time and effort is required from them. Keep in mind, low barrier of entry and easy to understand are the keys to introducing changes.

2. How can I improve my audience’s life today?

What do you want the audience to walk out of the demo thinking…or even better, acting? Have the outcome in mind to anchor your demonstration. If the audience ended up using your product in a way that is different from what you had expected, let them. Be curious about why the product is useful that way. Listen and collect their feedback.

Most importantly, if the audience asked something you don’t know, never, ever give an inaccurate response! Tell them you will ask the person who knows and get them an accurate answer in a timely manner.

A networked multiplayer iPad experience at the Games For Change festival 2019 in New York City

3. Do I have enough backup devices?

Think of the constraints that would put your demo at risk and have alternative plans for them. Technology breaks. Shit happens. You should always have additional supplies in the inventory. Make sure all devices are fully charged and ready to be used! Battery outage is the kill-joy moments of all technological innovations. Make sure the devices are clean to use and share as well. I always brought wipes to my demos. Additionally, it might be useful to have an identification tag for each device in case you need to keep track of what works and what doesn’t.

4. What is the Internet bandwidth at the demo space?

Most demos rely on Internet connection. If you are showcasing at a conference with thousands of people, be extra cautious about the Internet bandwidth, especially for multiplayer networked experience. Can you create a private hotspot? Can you build a local server? Is there a way for you to resume your progress if the demo loses its connection? Can you simulate different Internet speeds to test run the demo?

XR Brain Jam 2019 in NYC— A 48-hour challenge that paired neuroscientists with game developers to create use cases for XR technologies

5. Can I visit the site?

If you are doing a demo off-site, I highly recommend to visit the location at least once so you can do stress tests and have a better understanding of what you need to run the demo successfully. If you cannot visit the site, find pictures and videos of the space, and keep close contact with the IT department. Remember to check for lighting, audio, access to computers, projectors, etc. Think of how your demo will be recorded and the people in charge. Is your demo best experienced in a smaller or larger room setting, with flexible seating arrangement or auditorium style? If you have multiple VR tracking systems, how should you set them up to avoid the interference? How do you handle cable management for aesthetic and traffic efficiency? Other necessary things to have would be duct tape, scissors, extension cords, hand sanitizers, and…fans. It can get pretty hot and uncomfortable wearing a VR headset, so you need to make the player experience as pleasant as possible.

If your product is built specifically for a showcase, designing around these constraints should be your number one priority. It might be necessary to create flexible knobs and controls so you can adjust certain design elements on site.

Pittsburgh Global Game Jam 2019

6. Who are my helpers?

Rely on your fellow humans and their ability to improvise when things go wrong. It is important that the people involved are aware of their roles and responsibilities prior to the demo. If the demo requires a specific person to run, like an engineer, you should learn to run the demo yourself or have other technical people available in case he/she could not show up. Plan the schedule for your team to take shifts and have breaks, so no one will get burned out from a whole day of demos.

7. Is my demo created for the participants and the observers?

Make sure your demo accommodates all types of audience. If the demo requires a guest participant, make sure you are there to guide and empower them, not leaving them confused or frustrated. For those who observe or wait in line, you can design a comfortable area to welcome them in. Oh, have you thought of seamless ways to bring the guests who show up late into the experience?

The ETC Festival 2018 at Carnegie Mellon University, showcasing over 30 interactive demos with VR, AR, and a variety of input devices — Images belong to the graduate students at CMU.

8. What should I do when things go wrong?

You don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s more important to be light-hearted and flexible with your plans. Keep in mind that the audience doesn’t know what to expect, so they will usually play along with what you have.

If you made a mistake, be calm and move on to the next part. Don’t freak out. If the demo did not work at all, can you show a video? Do you have a presentation slide to talk about how it was built and the things you have learned? That’s what planning is for, not for everything to go perfectly, but to quickly tackle the things that go wrong.

Keep in mind, the audience wants you to succeed because nobody has time to watch you fail.

9. How do I turn my audience into advocates?

Your enthusiastic audience might be your advocates if they love your product, so give them something to talk about. Everybody likes a little bonus at the end and delights are best served when they are least expected. Make them personalized. They act as a thank-you gesture and a keepsake to recall your demo when the audience leaves the room.

10. Have I practiced enough?

Practice. Practice. Practice. Fake it til you make it. It’s very hard to advocate for something you don’t know by heart. No one will believe in your product if you don’t believe in it yourself.

Did I mention surprises and delights? Here is a poster of 10 things you should consider when giving a live demo of high-tech products.

Producer at Schell Games — turning Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality into meaningful consumer products

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