Thursday, April 17, 2014

How to Demo an App in Six Steps

Being asked to demonstrate an app or website, or whatever it might be, can be pretty unnerving.  Usually it's something you worked on, you care about it, and you have a galaxy of insights into each item and feature -and that microscopic familiarity can be the biggest problem when it comes to live or web meeting demonstrations.
It's so tempting to blast into the minutia or say what this-or-that doesn't do.  Just imagine you are the audience and ask yourself what the important chunks are -the plan -a bullet list of nuggets. Then narrate out loud every movement you make and why, and take your hand off that mouse any second you aren't following that plan.

Meow Wars by Kevin Dooley / Flickr

So here's a six-step cheat sheet for breezing through a demo...

Opening Housekeeping
  • Thank the viewers for watching/attending (even if they are regulars).  If they are co-workers, a simple "thanks everybody" is fine.  If they are customers (or would-be customers) maybe turn up the formal a bit, like, "thanks (person who introduced you) and thanks everybody for making it."
  • Introduce yourself, and give a less-than-one-sentence description of your role, even if you were introduced in the setup/hand-off.  They already forgot that; only now are they ready to jot your name down.
  • “Can everybody see my screen?  Is everybody seeing the (whatever)?”  This is the first hurdle.  Make sure they are seeing what you are seeing, otherwise, you know, what's the point?  And definitely provide a head’s-up to your viewers about the inevitable web-meeting lag, if applicable.
  • Invite them to interrupt you at any time with questions.  This is all about them.  "Of course feel free to jump in anytime if you have a question; please interrupt."

Overview Statement of Purpose
  • Provide a statement of context for the viewers.  Remind them why they are watching you demo.  Don’t dive into the guts (and don’t 'bury the lead').  If this were a newspaper article, what would the headline be?  Some examples, depending on what sort of demo it is:
    • A feature pitch: "So wouldn't it be nice to be able to quickly and easily roll up your manufacturing data by whatever geographic region you like? Here's how."
    • An iterative walk-through of an agile project: "We've been heads-down this week on our latest set of tasks and we've made some exciting progress."
    • An overview demonstration of a product: "Really, what VCC does, is give you a single picture of the people and places that you care about in the context of events that pose a risk to them so that you can get the jump on threats."

Tell them what you are about to show them
  • If it is an iterative demonstration of progress to a customer, like in an agile project, verbally list out the functionality that has been worked on before you demonstrate it.  It sounds crazily mundane, but it will give their expectations structure and prime them for an orderly demo.
  • If it’s the first time someone has seen the content, start painfully generically.  If I’m demoing VF to a first-timer I will make a statement about the importance of visualization to IDV, then note the three layout zones (map, timeline, list) say why those dimensions are important to us.
  • Always go general to specific.  For example, I'd first introduce the toolbox (where it is, what it is, what lives there), then the specific tool within -rather than getting to the tool as quickly as possible.

Show them
  • Slow movements and self-narration.
    • Each click has cost, be click-stingy.  Viewers want to understand and follow along; don’t inadvertently mislead them with nervous clicking and unrelated mouse movements.
    • Move slowly and deliberately.  Take your hand off the mouse when not actively demonstrating an action.
    • Narrate your movements aloud, describing where your attention is moving to, the UI parts involved in the action, each action you take as you take it, and the result.
    • Speak slowly.  Pause from time to time to see if someone is trying to chime in (conference calls pretty much mute everybody when you are talking -so give them windows to interrupt).
  • Move from demo topics very deliberately.
    • Introduce each topic before you demo it.  Always say what the feature is and why it exists.  If it is an enhancement to something they've seen previously, describe the difference.
    • Close each topic by asking viewers if they have any questions about what they just saw, “before we move on.”
  • If viewers interrupt with questions:
    • Sometimes they ask a question related to the item you are currently demonstrating, to get more context.  Thank them for the question –it is an opportunity to clarify and proof that they are engaged –then answer it. "Ah, that's actually a really good question, thanks for bringing that up."
    • Sometimes they ask questions that diverge from the current topic.  If it is a convenient segue over into that topic, thank them and go with it (but first ask if they are satisfied with the topic you are leaving).  "Ok, sure, no problem.  Quickly, before we move in that direction, is everybody satisfied with the (feature you are now leaving)?"
    • If answering the question does not require demonstration, answer it verbally and don’t touch that mouse.

Tell them what you just showed them
  • When the demo is complete, re-state the items you just walked through in the demo (to fully embed those memories).  This sounds really redundant because it is -but don't worry it's good redundant!
    • “Ok, so you just saw improvements to the Excel Export functionality, the new color-categorization of buildings by business unit, and the new formatting of the buildings’ details panel.”
  • Read out loud any list of homework items you may have collected during the demo.  Some people say “action items” but I think “homework” is more personable.
    • “I have on my list of homework items the misspelled button in the export dialog, an answer to the question about census data, and ideas for optimizing the large number of employee locations in the United States.  Does that sound right?”

Closing Housekeeping
  • Check for any follow-up or final questions.
    • “Does anybody have any questions about what you just saw?” Oftentimes this will invite a segue and the audience might jump over to questions of cost or timing to the Project Manager or Sales Rep (if they are in the meeting) and your demo is effectively done.  Good job!  If not…
  • Hand-off back to the Project Manager or the Sales Rep (if a hand-off is applicable) and thank them for their time.  If it is just you, thank the audience for their time.
    • “Well thanks for taking the time to check this out.  If any questions come up in the meantime, of course feel free to reach out .  I’ll kick it back over to (PM or Sales Rep).”
  • Next steps and/or closure.  Generally, a PM or Sales Rep will the handle next-steps discussion, but it could be you. Either way, make sure that you and the audience is clear on whose court the ball is now in.  Sometimes it takes the form of people sorting the next meeting time -but at that point the demo demo is definitely done and you can lean back and bathe in that feeling.  If it is just you demonstrating in the form of a pitch, you might talk about opportunities for improvement but pretty much wrap it up at this point.  Woop woop, time to exhale!

Anyway, those are six steps to consider if you have a demo bearing down on you.  Now go rock it.
Relatedly, I've taken much comfort and utility from the excellent advice of Matt Haughey on public speaking.  He does know where all the bananas are.  So if you are all, "I don't do demos, I talk at conferences" then head over to his tremendous article, but first get ready to live.


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