Demoing to your audience: when size matters

Over the years, we have built, delivered, and supported demos intended for a variety of audiences – from 1 on 1 sales visits to demos intended for tens of thousands of people. There are different techniques and goals for each demo style and audience.

How do you inspire thousands of people at once?

The bigger the audience, the more we are shooting for an inspirational message. Our goal is to rally and excite the audience. When we’re looking at a 1,000+ audience (even the high 100’s), we have a broad enough set of interests and focuses in the audience that we can’t give any of them too much attention. At these types of conferences, we have a mix of attendees from C-Level execs to salespeople, software developers, IT Professionals, consultants, independent contractors, the press, etc. It’s such a broad audience, the message is almost always a “look at the cool things that can be accomplished” technology stack when it should be a “look at how you can accomplish things” technology stack.

Usually we have just a few minutes to get a point across. Many of our customers agonize on how best to convey a complex story on stage during a 3-5 minute keynote.

Lessons learned with Bill Gates

A great example of this was the Office Developer Conference in the early 2000’s, where we supported Bill Gates’ last ever public conference keynote.


We were really excited to show the amazing types of solutions that could be built with the new Office development features. Instead of showing how to build something from scratch (and how easy it was to get started), we showed some really cool finished solutions. We then highlighted the interesting aspects of the code (it was a developer conference after all). BillG shared with us afterward that he would have preferred we show how easy it was to get started. C’Est La Vie. Ease of ramp-up time is a feature and a benefit in and of itself. We got caught up in the trees instead of seeing that particular forest.

In general, for bigger audiences, focus less on features and more on the benefits.  And, the benefits should be aspirational. In the above Office Developer example, our goal was to inspire a few thousand people with how powerful these new features were. The goal really should have been to inspire the audience with the new easy to use features.

When smaller is better

On the other end of the scale, when you are doing a one-to-one or a one-to-a-few demo, you can afford to be much more specific. What is the problem that this small audience is trying to solve? Is there a way you can show that particular problem resolution with your demo? Is it a technical audience? If so, can you show them how to resolve their own problem with your product? You have the luxury of being able to hone in on a specific need or sets of needs.

Also, where are they in the sales cycle? Do they already have your product and are looking to upgrade? Are they currently unhappy and you are being sent out to help them “see the light?” Are they much earlier in the sales cycle and still shopping? Again, it is much easier to focus when you have just a few people in the room. Don’t lose your opportunity to do just that!

Remember, even at a small size, you are still telling a story, and you should still be focusing on the benefits of your software. You have the luxury of honing in on the features of your product that can bring specific benefits to the people/person in the room.

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