6 Points to Make Your Tech Demos Better
Demos have been around ever since the first person who invented the wheel sold it to the first other person. The art and science of orchestrating a demo is its own industry today (late night TV ads anyone?)
Customer demos are also commonplace in IT. In my stint so far, I have delivered more than five hundred demos to both small (<4) and large teams of stakeholders. While there are many things that are specific to each team and the context, I see that a general checklist can be followed to make demos more effective.
Even before diving into any list, I would state that demos can have vastly different purposes. From selling the product to eliciting feedback to even shortlisting prospective users or even picking out prospective employees!
However, as a CTO of a firm I worked with said to me, the basic sanity check of a demo gone well is that “we haven’t embarrassed ourselves”. That is the low-bar the following checklist aims to clear. I know it’s really low. But from the half a thousand odd demos I have done, trust me that we do end up embarrassing ourselves a bit too often when we aren’t careful enough!
1- Empathise with your audience- This is an obvious candidate, but super crucial and sometimes forgotten in the thick of things. Ask yourself,
“what state my customer is in while walking into the demo?”
Has the customer just got out of bed? Have they just been to a nasty meeting before yours? There is no sure-fire way to know these answers.
Hence, it’s wise to “lather” them up a bit before starting the demo.
Exchange pleasantries, ask about the dog etc but be genuine. If you see that they seem low-energy, offer to reschedule. If you continue, maybe even shorten the length of your demo. I often see teams launch into demo mode with all revelry only to see a listless customer be distracted and aloof. The same customer was gung-ho one day ago. Also, you may have deployed 3 ML models in an Azure instance using Docker or created 3D graphs to model multivariate data. But if your customer or even one of your customers is not into these things, you will lose them. Simplify and simplify until every last customer on the demo is sure to spend minimal effort in consuming the information.
2. Have a team backing you- Of course you will prepare well for the demo. But if you are conducting the demo, running a test script, taking notes, answering questions, you will find yourself on thin ice very quickly.
Have a team take care of the backend work while you run the show.
Unless your demo doesn’t need you to tinker with anything else or doesn’t need you to take random questions (like a webinar for example), you can manage alone. In many of your initial demos, it won’t be easy to gate-keep questions until the very end. Many stakeholders might be anxious early on and will keep interrupting you. It’s important for someone to note those questions so that your flow doesn’t go for a complete toss.
3. Adapt- This is continued from the last point. Sometimes, the customer isn’t interested in your number 1 feature but they would like to see, “how you allow single sign-on” or “how you fetch those reports and how they look” -basically stuff that you didn’t think was important. Take a call. Are there more stakeholders who would be interested in seeing the flow you prepared? Or is the agreement to meander and go to another place in the demo. If the stakeholder is powerful, it will be tricky as other folks will tend to just agree anyway.
If a change in agenda doesn’t make sense without the full context, then you must plow on asking the customer to excuse you and hold on to questions for a minute.
If you can switch to the other feature without losing context, you could well do so!
4. Have clean, organised test data, no mumbo jumbo- There are more times that I can remember when demo-givers key in some horrible looking data. Even worse, you need to “clear the cache” after each form save. Sounds familiar? Your systems and your data need to be in top-notch shape before you walk into the demo.
Arrange your test data in a nice little spreadsheet with clearly called out test cases.
Don’t pull them from your memory as well (I have been guilty of it) as the folks expected to do UAT would get spooked. A spreadsheet of cases makes everyone’s lives’ easier and answers some unasked questions related to test data coverage, how to QA this etc. Also make sure that the system is not going to need any tinkering that you wouldn’t expect to happen in an actual UAT. If you are mocking data, then try and make it elegant instead of complex Postman calls (unless your customer does use Postman every day)
5. Arrive early. Always. — The most obvious point in the list, but always politely leave from the previous meeting a bit earlier (or maybe schedule it to finish earlier). When you arrive early for the demo, whether physical or virtual, you have time to asses the meeting audio, say HIs to early arrivers and break some ice, set up your background etc if you need to, drink water and do the little things that keep your frame of mind ready and alert.
If you hop from meeting to meeting, barely making it in time, demos will feel like a stressful affair.
6. Keep iterating value- Use this a quality check to prune away anything that you think doesn’t add value to the customers. If in doubt, push those features to the end of the demo. Hopefully you have done some amount of research to be sure that your guess will not a 100% off!
During the demo, keep tying everything you show to how it will elevate their gains or alleviate their pains.
In fact, the handy value proposition roadmap is something to use before walking into your most significant demos (https://www.strategyzer.com/canvas/value-proposition-canvas)
As a bonus, here is a GREAT demo I saw recently. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5-wgSjRrcE
Even if you aren’t into Snowflake or data stuff, a few minutes of the demo would tell you that the person demoing is killing it!
What do you think makes a demo tick? Let me know in the comments!