Three Steps to Crushing Software Demos

Tony Compton, Managing Director

I’m hustlin’ down memory lane. Trade show memory lane.

My thoughts go back to a cavernous convention hall – somewhere, sometime ago.



New York.

Doesn’t matter. It could’ve been a convention hall in Anytown, USA.

Those exhibit halls all look the same inside. Concrete walls and floors. And those blue drapes are everywhere.

It was those blue drapes that separated presentation sections in a demo area of an exhibit hall in a convention center at a trade show. Somewhere, sometime. All the time.

Makes me tired just thinking about that checkerboard layout.

Each demo section was properly appointed with a small makeshift stage, cheap plastic folding chairs, a small screen, microphone, podium and speakers – and no acoustics. Wide open spaces. Concrete structure. More echos than the Grand Canyon.

One convention lunch hour with nothing better to do I decided to check out the fast-paced scene of the demo area. Demo Area 1 had a dozen people or so watching, you guessed it, a demo. Couldn’t tell you the company represented in that section. If memory serves the next demo area was empty. After that I might’ve stopped looking and turned around.

I do recall on another occasion in the same demo area a couple of guys tried to get their computer to work for their time in the exhibit hall spotlight. I presume the computer had the demo on it. And of course you can’t do a demo without a computer. #sarcasm

I don’t know if they ever got the laptop to work. For all I know they may still be there.

Another time in the demo area I saw yet another guy presenting. Nothing remarkable about it. Couldn’t tell you the company name. I’ll never remember it.

I think the demos were concurrent, 20 minutes each.

I know the demos were bought and paid for by exhibitors and sponsors.

I wondered why anybody in their right mind would waste their time, money and effort on presenting demos under such circumstances, but hey, companies bought it.

But I never did see impressive-size crowds back there.

Giving demos is sacred to some. Some CEOs equate the number the demos given with a number of leads generated… Nope. That’s not how it works, but there are some who will never understand that. To them, giving demos is the sales and marketing security blanket that keeps them warm when confronted with the question of measuring the outcomes of a trade show investment. More demos equals more leads. So all some want to do is give demos. That’s their idea of marketing and generating demand.

But it doesn’t mean they – or their people – are any good at actually giving software demos.

So here are three ways to get good at giving software demos. Really good. Crush ‘em, as the title indicates. Not that I want you to just do demos, but they’re part of presentation life in the software industry. So you might as well crush it.

1. Get Good at Giving Your Demo

Easy, right? The arrogant will say they have this one checked off the list. Not so fast. Getting good at your demo doesn’t mean reading off intro and outro slides, and droning on through features and functions on the screen for an hour. It means employing superior physical presentation skills. How you look and sound. Knowing how to interact with an audience. Structure. Timing. Clarity. Practice. Performance. More Practice. Technical know-how.

This is a bit of an advanced opening section because you have to put in the work to improve your presentation and public speaking game to ‘get good’ at this. BTW, the work at getting good never stops. And getting good doesn’t mean crushing it.

2. Give the Demo with No Computer

Yep, you read that right. No computer. No laptop, no tablet, no smartphone, no electronic assist. Just you and a whiteboard or a flip chart. In front of an audience. (Almost forgot that last part.) And you’ll get your multicolor markers.

Now the fun begins.

I want to see you demo your product without the software demo itself. Which means you have to tell the demo story. And do so with animation. Enthusiasm. Confidence. Description.

Help the audience see your product through what you say, how you draw it out and your physical movements. Through your storytelling. Entice them.

That means you’ll need to know the software inside and out. (As you should.)

You’ll need to describe it. Make it come alive. How it may sound.

Make the user feel what it feels like to use the product, and what can be accomplished.

In other words, demo it. As you’re supposed to do in a … software demo.

3. Bring 1 and 2 Together

Yes, we’ll return your computer. But then…

If you’re a) fluent in the demo and can effectively speak to it and b) serious about a process of practice and continual improvement in your presentation game – you’ve anted up.

Next, if you’re able to demo – without the demo – and bring your software to life without electronics, you’ve got a competitive arrow in your quiver that few possess.

But when you bring the two together, it won’t matter if you’re in a cavernous convention hall, in a meeting room, in your trade show booth or on a webinar.

You’ll be able to crush it. Anytime, anywhere.

Do that, and I do believe I’ll remember your name and your demo.

So will the rest of the audience.

Bonus Coaching Tip: The presentation and public speaking exercise I would construct to coach speakers through this process would be a day-long session in three stages that would mirror the three steps above. In a small group setting, have those who give demos present – one at a time. First, all should give the standard demo. Second, take away the electronics. Third, bring the two together. Record, contrast the differences, get and give feedback along the way and see the performance improvements on video.

Keep the individual demos to 20-30 minutes. Do the math over an eight hour day to determine the number of participants that can be accommodated.

Repeat often and keep up the practice sessions.

Have a blast.

For more on Challenging the Status Quo of #Marketing and #Presentation Groupthink, follow me on Twitter: @tonycompton, @GettingPresence

For immediate #presentation & #publicspeaking tips, visit the GettingPresence website.