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8 Easy ways to set your desktop up for a distraction-free software demo

In the 16+ years we’ve been doing demos here at 3Sharp we’ve developed a few tips and tricks to make your demo machine more conducive to a great demo. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving the demo on your personal device or a dedicated machine, these tips will help you get rid of distracting elements and avoid potentially demo-ruining pitfalls that have befallen the best of us in the past.

1. Bump your resolution down

IWe get it. You are a tech fiend. You’re running crazy pixels so that you can fit your favorite IDE next to your app, plus all of your debugging windows and probably a database window in there as well. At least, that’s how I was. And then, of course, I’d try to show someone something cool on my screen and they couldn’t read the 5-millimeter high font and all of the icons looked the same. Also, I needed reading glasses by my mid 30’s.

Do your eyes and everyone else a favor; bump your demo monitor resolution down to something that is visible to normal people. It’s best if you know the room size and screen size & resolution you’ll be presenting on to do some simple math to figure out what people will be able to see.

2. Bump your font size up

This is true for the text in your documents/spreadsheets/whatever, as well as the text in the UI of your applications. This means that it is time to learn all about those accessibility settings that you’ve completely ignored. Total shout out to those of us who actually need these settings. Once you, as a demoer, start using them you’ll start to see where they fall down, and you’ll definitely start feeling for the folks who need them to get their job done. However, it can be incredibly useful to bump up your app fonts if demoing to a large audience (size really does matter when you’re figuring out how to configure your desktop settings).

3. Clean your desktop

I try to lead an uncluttered life, but having an icon-free desktop sits squarely in the aspirational category for me. Just like you don’t want to invite someone to your house when it’s a mess, it is best to get rid of your desktop clutter before a demo. You can cheap out on a solution like me and just create a “to sort” folder to dump everything in and then, on a long flight, clean out your 5-deep stack of “to sort” folders while half paying attention to Jaws 19.

4. Use a compelling background

Again – this depends on audience size. Sometimes, if you have a small audience, it’s nice to leave family vacation pictures up to make a personal connection. As your audience grows, it is best to have a muted background. Why not take the opportunity to increase your brand recognition by having your company’s cool logo as your desktop background? Of course, this is completely up to you, but having your favorite Budweiser background up probably isn’t sharing the right message.

5. Turn off all notifications

The last thing anyone wants is to see the email TOAST pop up from your doctor telling you that rash is benign. Best to turn off as many notifications as you can!

6. Turn off social apps

Likewise, getting an IM from your spouse about how child #2 threw up in third period today, while somewhat funny to share in front of your audience, probably will just detract from your message.

7. Hide your taskbar

I’m a big fan of extending my display onto my demo screen (instead of duplicating my desktop). That means I can have my taskbar (and whatever notifications I miss) show up on my laptop while my secondary display is used for the demo. This means I can hide my taskbar, have an IM window open, etc.

8. Disable updates, screensavers, and battery settings

The last thing you want is for your computer to go through a forced update during your presentation. You may laugh, but I guarantee you that it has happened.

Bonus: Make sure you're plugged in!

Believe it or not, we’ve seen it happen more than once that power wasn’t getting all the way from the wall to the demo device. One demoer (thankfully not ours) was forced to make a mad dash through the conference hall in search of a power cord for a demo machine with a battery percentage in the single digits.

Please, learn from our mistakes as well as others; by implementing these tips and tricks you will greatly increase your chances of having a distraction-free demo!

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