If you’re working in the world of software, there’s a near-certain chance that you’re going to have to demo your work. Long gone are the days when only the sales team had to give the tours. Whether you’re a Product Manager, Designer, Engineer, Marketing Manager, or Executive, part of the deal is showing off what you’ve done, either externally or internally.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to give an underwhelming demo. I’ve learned a few things that go a long way after giving hundreds of demos in the many different contexts of our client work. Here are six I’d recommend you include as you plan your next session.
1. Set context
First off: Don’t start in the weeds. Zoom out and assume your audience doesn’t know the why behind what you’re about to show. What business reasons (and constraints) led to what you’ve designed or built? Who are you, as the user? What problem do you have today, and how does what you’re going to show address that problem?
Context often needs to be repeated, too. At the end of the demo, remind the audience what the core business need was, recap what you showed, and highlight how what you showed directly addressed that need.
2. Write a script that tells a story
You don’t need to be a screenwriter to draft a script for a demo — an outline will work perfectly fine. Make sure you know the high points you want to hit. The goal is not to be exhaustive and thorough; the goal of a good demo is to hit the most impactful features in the most direct way possible. The best way to do that is with a real-world use case and data. If your interface has a bunch of placeholder text, take the time to put in real representative examples, so the experience feels alive.
3. Keep it short
Most good demos are short. About 10 to 15 minutes is the sweet spot. There can be times when a longer one is justified, but make sure you’re figuring out ways to keep it interesting if you’re demoing for more than 15 minutes. Humor helps. Use funny inputs or image entries, have your persona going through an amusing challenge, or interrupt yourself with commentary about what you’re doing. If the audience isn’t enjoying themselves, it will be harder for them to stay engaged.
I’ve seen so many demos get tripped up for needless reasons that could have been easily avoided with a practice run. Make sure you have a sense of your timing by saying what you want to say out loud as you point and click. Organize the windows on your desktop, so you’re not frazzled while you navigate. Make sure you’re comfortable with the videoconference tool you’re using. Zoom, Google Meet, Teams, Slack, WebEx, and the like all treat screen sharing a little bit differently.
As you practice, try to remove the tedious bits of what you’re showing. If you have to fill out a form, have it typed out ahead of time so the group is not watching you do data entry (unless there’s some uniqueness to the data entry that you want to show off). If you’re going to show a real-time update, make sure you have a plan so you’re not waiting around for a partner to do something. The less monotony, the better.
5. Get excited
The best demos happen when the person running it is excited about what they’re showing. Find what gets you going about the interface and make a point of saying it to the audience. Even a relatively straightforward point release of a mature software platform has something to brag about.
Be mindful of your energy level. If you need to sip an extra espresso a few minutes beforehand, go for it. I like to do jumping jacks before a demo. Come into the room with genuine enthusiasm, and your audience will get pumped too.
6. Share credit
Rarely is the person giving a demo solely responsible for the work being shown. Make it a point to highlight the team that contributed to the work, even if they’re not there. You should also share credit back to your stakeholder group. If you’ve gotten ideas from the wider team, give a shout-out to where they came from. If there’s a key feature that is valuable to an important stakeholder, tell them by name that you’re excited for them to try it. The personal recognition can make strong connections to what you’re demoing.
Have fun out there
Demos can be stressful. Spend the time up front to prepare, put together your script, and run through it a few times so you’re confident in what you’re showing. You’ll have a lot more fun when you know you’re going to give the audience a great glimpse into your work.
Chris LoSacco (he/him) is President at Postlight. Send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story published on Feb 8, 2023.