Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Effective Product Demonstrations

Last week we had to give a demonstration of all MuleSource products working together. The requirements were open-ended and it required some planning to put the demo together. Like giving presentations, giving demonstrations is a skill that you learn only by doing. Ours went very well so I figured I would share some thoughts about it.

1. Understand your audience

You need to make sure that you know what your audience is looking to get out of the session. In our case the audience was technical, but understanding how to build the ESB was less important than how to manage and control it. This sort information drastically changes how a demonstration is presented.

2. Build a story

Our demonstration was about 1.5 hours and we had a lot of products to demonstrate. We didn’t want to bombard the audience with everything all at once even though the pieces were very much related. We decided to provide a big-picture view in the context of the story we were building and then sequentially go through each chapter of the story.

3. Keep it simple

A common mistake I’ve seen before is that it takes so long to introduce the reference application for the demonstration that the audience is confused before you’ve got to your real agenda. Usually, real world scenarios need to be simplified for demonstration purposes.

4. Introduce and summarise

The story should be broken into chapters, each one tackling a specific part of the demonstration. Each chapter should be introduced. We found it very effective to provide a diagram for each chapter to show how the pieces where going to be presented. After each chapter we summarized what was covered and allowed time for questions.

5. Present in pairs

It is very difficult to drive a live demo, answer questions and talk coherently on your own. It’s much better to have a co-pilot; one provides commentary for the presentation and fields questions while the other drives it and talks to the specific aspects of the demonstration.

6. Prepare, prepare, prepare

History is littered with demonstrations gone wrong; everyone remembers Microsoft’s numerous blue-screen-of-death incidents. Both presenters should run through the presentation at least a couple of times to iron out glitches and spot areas for improvement. You should also do a dry run with other people in the organization to get feedback and check timings.

7. Lock it down

You should not change any code using in the demonstration last minute. What may seem like an innocuous change may blow up in your face later. Like software releases, any changes will require a full run through.

8. Stay focused

When doing technical demonstrations you are likely to get a lot of questions. Sometimes these may take the session in a skewed direction. It’s up to the presenter providing commentary to keep the demonstration on track.

9. Have fun with it

I’ve sat through demonstrations in the past where I felt like the presenter was dead at the wheel. You need to believe in what you are demonstrating and put energy and enthusiasm in to it otherwise you will lose your audience. Having a co-pilot helps to facilitate more lively discussions.


ericlee said...

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