The Seven Step Process to Creating an Amazing Demo
So you have some crazy idea and want to build a demo. This seven step process should help you turn that idea into something that has value for developers and shows everyone how smart you are. When you hit the right combination of technology, showmanship and intrigue, it’s magical. One of my most popular demos is the World’s Largest Raspberry Pi Cluster. It was designed to be an in person experience showcasing a lot of different technologies but then the world changed. So the experience was adjusted and I created a video of building the World’s Largest Raspberry Pi Cluster.
Now that the world has gone virtual, obviously you’ll want to go viral, and with any luck, if you follow these simple steps you just might have a chance. Demos can take many forms. If your idea is only software then obviously something with eye catching visuals can be stunning, however to the right audience some low level bit twiddling can have a real impact. It all depends on how you show off your idea. Be creative with your presentation and you’ll be off to a good start. If your idea is physical thing and appeals to makers, you’ll get more for your money when it has a virtual component to it such as a YouTube video or an interactive website using the cloud. What you produce will start a conversation and you have no idea who that will inspire or where it will lead. Your goal should be to create talking points and give people a reason to look at your idea and maybe, just maybe, you’ll build a community around it. There isn’t only one way to create a demo, and all rules are meant to be broken, but this is a proven process where the arts meet engineering and if followed, will allow you to ask and answer all the right questions for your idea to become a success. Sometimes you will start at step one and work your way through the other steps. Other times you’ll start at the end and work backwards. And other times you’ll start in the middle and work forward and backwards. It’s all part of the creative process. At the end of each stage you need to ask the questions, “Is this the best experience that we can deliver?”, “Is this demo realistic?” and “Am I satisfying this step?”. If the answers are not a resounding “yes”, go back and reiterate over that step or ruminate on the idea for a while because sometimes you’ll connect the dots from unrelated thoughts. If the whole idea doesn’t feel right you’ll know, don’t force it. And if everything isn’t working out just throw the idea out and start over. The sooner you throw your terrible idea out and find a better idea the better.
Step 1. Pursue something achievable.
It is OK to work with an idea that has been done before, just put your own spin on it. In other words don’t just be a copycat, but make sure it stands out. You can make it bigger, more interesting, more polished, fancier, smaller, super intricate or focus on a different aspect of the idea than what others have done. World’s Biggest can be better than World’s First. If the basis of your idea is sci-fi tech like a transporter, I hope you didn’t get this far, but if it’s a tricorder keeping going. It isn’t a scientific process, but there is a method. The idea must be achievable. Doing something highly technical or implementing Harry Potter magic with technology is cool, but holograms and transporters are not a realistic idea to develop. Yet.
Step 2. Find your audience.
Figure out who you are trying to target. For this guide, developers are your primary focus, and those developers have hobbies and areas of interest. This is where the developers and your target audience Venn diagram needs to have a very large overlap. For example, Raspberry Pi has a huge following. The same is true for super heroes, sports, fitness, home automation, open source, makers, Star Wars, R2 builders club, food, Formula 1, etc. I suggest finding a singular audience. It’s possible to focus on multiple audiences, but be careful.
Step 3. Determine the technology stack.
Choose a technology stack depending on the audience and idea that tells the story and showcases the idea. There may be multiple options. For example, some programming languages lend themselves to solve certain tasks better. The stack may change or adjust mid-project due to the Agile process so be flexible and use the tools and products that make the most sense. Consider using technologies you aren’t familiar with so you can learn. You can’t go wrong with open source. Work with what you know so it’s in your wheelhouse, but stretch yourself and don’t be afraid to learn something new.
Step 4. Create a platform.
Whatever you create, it will be more successful if it is a platform for others to build on. This might be as simple as you building a version 2.0. This will allow your demo to scale, for extensions to be created and maybe create a community around your creation. It’s always more productive and fun to work in a team. Reach out to engineering teams and find ways they can contribute or take your idea in a direction relevant to their product.
Step 5. Create content.
Now that you have your platform setup, it’s time to engage with your user base, create content and publish that content. You want to create as much quality content as possible and content that makes sense. Consider enabling others to create content about your idea. Here are the types of content you’ll want to consider:
- source code
You’ll want to consider where to publish your content. Here are some platforms you can publish content to:
And there are lots of places where content delivery is in person:
- user groups
- conference talks
- customer visitor centers
If you’re looking for places to deliver presentations consider the following:
Consider creating a series of content instead of a single piece of content. Examine the whole idea and what content you can create. If you are creating a YouTube video, consider creating a video about how you made the video about how you made your creation. This all takes more time but produces more content and a behind the scenes look that developers love. Remember, you are focusing on geeks and nerds that like technology and you are telling a story with your writing or videography. If you can’t write, don’t like to be on camera, don’t like the sound of your voice, or don’t know how to edit videos — no problem. Get someone to help. Don’t feel like you have to put your name down for every job in the credits. When creating something, think of it like a movie: you are the director, you need financing and someone to really understand the idea which is the producer’s job, solicit writers, actors, crew, production team and so on. When creating video content write a script. Your idea might be better as a talking head, interview, or a screen cast with voice over. Maybe a blog series works best. Be creative. Everything needs a good script and storyboard. If you just wing it, chances are it won’t be very good, so have a good plan for content and if you can’t come up with a plan go back to one of the earlier steps and think harder about the content you can create. Do some research about similar ideas or talk with people to brainstorm.
Step 6. Develop discrete parts of the project.
By this point the idea is now a larger concept. Break the whole concept into small parts and ensure each part is achievable and can be built. Start everything out as a thought experiment then test out individual elements. You’ll want to start small and prototype the things you don’t know how to do. Sometimes the right thing to do is to jump in with two feet because you want to learn something. Just know that it is just research and you may never deliver it but it just might turn into something. Work on the hardest problem or the thing you know the least about first is usually a good idea. Then create a schedule for the project and solicit help if needed. If you can’t break it down into small parts or they aren’t doable, then backup a few steps and iterate over it again.
Step 7. Refine and iterate on all steps above.
Socialize the idea with others before starting anything. Collaboration is one of the most important aspects of your project. Write it down in a couple sentences and look at it. If you can’t explain your idea in under two minutes with one slide or three sentences, start over. Make sure each part of the idea is achievable logistically, physically, financially, and name all the risks, unknowns, and concerns. Try to come up with a reason it is a terrible idea. Is it sexist, derogatory, too expensive, a rich person’s toy, just a toy, desperately uncool, anything — come up with all the reasons the naysayers and haters won’t like it and address all of those issues. If this is for a virtual conference, does it work, is it fun, what are the problems, how will people interact with it, watch it, see it, is it any good. If it is for a physical conference, can you ship it? Many countries do not accept food items, some don’t allow batteries or electronics that look like a bomb. Do you have the proper packaging for shipping? If shipping internationally keep a detailed list of exactly what is in the box. What if customs turns over the Pelican case and dumps the entire thing out? Are there instructions to assemble it or fix it? As a point of reference out of a hundred ideas I have, one makes it to publication. That isn’t to say the ninety-nine ideas were worthless, often times they go on the back burner and I continue to think about them or they get absorbed into other ideas and become a piece of a larger idea. Think of every possible thing that could go wrong with every situation that you intend to use this and come up with every possible reason not to continue this idea because chances are your idea is bad and you really need to throw it away and start over because the sooner you do, the more time you’ll save. None of this is to discourage anyone from creating anything, but provide a thought process to make sure your idea has the most impact possible.
If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations! You just may have the world’s next best demo idea. So go forth and make something! Keep scrolling for some popular demo ideas.
World’s Largest 3D Printed Brick Computer
Raspberry Pi Mini Super Computer