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Light up your partner network with amazing demos: your ultimate guide

Light Up Your Partner Network With Amazing Demos
Microsoft Inspire 2018 is fast approaching. There are few better networking and partnership opportunities than Inspire – Microsoft’s biggest Partner event of the year. This year, we are fortunately located in the distraction-free area of the US known as Las Vegas. Between the evening parties, Bruno Mars, amazing sessions, and even better networking opportunities, you will hopefully find yourself in the position of convincing another partner organization to not only work with your product but to actively include it as part of their portfolio – all through an amazing demo.
For the past 16 years, 3Sharp has been a key part of Microsoft’s strategy to get the right message to the right audience with hands-on product demos. We have been involved in every Microsoft Inspire conferenceIgnite, Tech Ed, Tech Ready, SharePoint conference, and MGB/MGX since as far back as we can count.
Don’t have time to read the full guide? We’ve got you covered. Listen here! 
We have supported keynote demos for Bill GatesSteve BallmerSatya NadellaJulia WhiteBrad Smith, and many more technology executives in and out of Microsoft. This year we’ll be back stage supporting the majority of the keynote demos you’ll be enjoying at this conference. We are also supporting many of the high-profile breakout sessions. This guide is our way of giving back to the partner community who have been so involved and supportive of these conferences over the years.
So how can you, with the copious amount of distractions at this massive conference, win over new and existing partners to your cause, and convince them of the value of making your product key to their core offerings? Certainly, showing your product to important decision makers within your target partner organizations will be a crucial part of this process – and we have composed the ultimate guide to do just that.

The #1 most important thing you can do to guarantee amazing demo success during Inspire is to have a clear goal going into the conference. It is important to define the message you want your demo to convey, as well as the actions you want your audience to be inspired to take after experiencing the demo.  Here are a few questions to guide you:

  • Are you looking to excite and inform?
  • Are you looking to convince or educate?
  • Are you looking for new partners to sign up for your partner program?
  • Are you looking to drive more adoption among existing partners?
  • Or, Are you selling software to your partners?

It is worth spending some time understanding what will motivate your audience to move in the direction you desire.  Keep this goal in mind while reading the rest of this guide.

Audience size and type will greatly affect the style of demo you create. The larger the audience, the more generic and aspirational the demo should be. When designing a demo for the 2017 keynote, we kept the wide-ranging demographic profiles in mind. Folks attended from over 100 different countries and included CEOs of major corporations, technology workers, the Press, and Microsoft employees.

As you can imagine, with a larger audience the demo goal is different than a one-on-one demo. A one-on-one demo is more targeted, specifically focused on the needs of your audience. Tailor your content to the presentation format, and you will excite and inspire your audience, no matter the size. Here are examples of the various venues that you should be prepared for at Microsoft Inspire, all of which require different formats and can achieve different goals.


With an audience this big, any sort of personalized message goes right out the window (not that a keynote session has any windows, of course). Keep your demos short, concise, and show only the big payoff. Otherwise, you will lose too many people in the technical details of the setup. What will inspire partners to visit your booth or see your breakout session? What will inspire the press to research your product and company? What will inspire prospects to consider using your product, and existing customers to double down on their usage? Consider this presentation to be the trailer for your larger demo.

Be careful not to pack too much in or have any kind of convoluted story that the audience must understand. Workflows, in particular, are challenging to show as you want to minimize the back story and the amount of context switching. Having said that, there are plenty of times we’ve had to bring in additional users – sometimes offstage – to demonstrate a point. Feel free to get creative with your set design. It can often be the perfect solution.

The backstage setup to show multiple Skype users on a conference call in a prior keynote. This setup was used for maybe 20 seconds of a keynote demo.
2014 AvePoint Vegas Party
The view from the keynote podium at a prior Microsoft Inspire conference.

Breakout Session

Congratulations! You’ve scored a coveted breakout session slot with a full 45 minutes of time to share your story. Use it! Even at the breakout level, we find that if you become feature focused, your audience will lose the big picture and your true goal will be lost. Remember that even when telling your product story over a longer period of time, you’ll still want to focus primarily on the benefits of your product, just in more detail. Your goal should still be to show a deeper level of product benefits – not a walkthrough of product features.

The only exception is if you are doing an Instructor Led Lab or Workshop. In this case, you are actively walking users through your product to achieve either a pre-stated goal or a goal that the audience brings to the session. Even in this very technical level of presenting, you will go further by not abandoning your product story.

Expo Floor

When on the expo floor, make sure to focus on getting down to business with your prospects. You have 3-5 minutes to make an impression with your demo. Make sure to have in-depth knowledge of your product, because questions can take you anywhere.

Our #1 recommendation is to engage and actively listen first – working to understand the person’s issues, concerns, and questions. Then, give a walkthrough that highlights the benefits your product can bring to their specific situation. The Expo floor is one of the toughest spots in a conference to be demoing. You are both literally and figuratively on your feet, all day! Make sure to take steps to stay energized and comfortable, so that you can take full advantage of the plethora of opportunities on the expo floor.

"Tailor your content to the presentation format, and you will excite and inspire your audience, no matter the size."

The Commons

Presenting in the Commons is all about keeping your audience engaged. You’ll have folks in your audience who are there to take a break, waiting for the next speaker, or finishing up their notes from the prior speaker. Demos should be short, sweet, and packed with benefits. If you do a feature walkthrough, you will end up either speaking to an audience that is preoccupied with their phones, or a bunch of empty chairs.

MyInspire Meeting Tables

No doubt someone saw your breakout, visited the expo floor, and now wants more information. Nice work! Based on our experience, the best approach to one-on-one demos is to spend time upfront, understanding the other person’s needs. Once you get a good understanding of their issues, you can tailor your product walkthrough to focus on the benefits of the product that matters to them. Again, be careful not to get caught up in the details of your features. Keep it high level and stay out of too many configuration screens.

Exec or Press Briefing Sessions

At any conference, the press and executives see a significant amount of content. Product demos should be short and full of value – essentially like a keynote but without the amazing production value and set design. Drive home benefits and the problems your product’s features were designed for and you will have a much better shot of capturing their attention.

Storytelling is the often overlooked ingredient in a killer demo. Many demos at these conferences are given by product managers. In fact, you may be one! As a product manager, you are probably very proud of your product’s features – and we believe you should be. You’ve worked hard to spec them out, your dev team has worked hard to bring your vision to reality, and now it is time to introduce them to the world.

If you have only one takeaway from this entire document let it be this: Your demo should tell a story of how your solution can help your audience. Your demo is not an opportunity to teach your audience how your product works. Instead, it should be about how the solution can help your audience. Of course, you’ll be doing that by showing the features of your product, but you’ll want to do that in the context of telling a story focused on benefits.

This is a subtle shift in mindset that can have a dramatic shift in demo receptivity. For example, let’s take a useful and somewhat obscure feature in Microsoft Office that lets you paste text without formatting. It’s a really handy feature when cutting and pasting heavily formatted content from the web or from other sources where the formatting won’t match up or even translate to your document. The wrong way to demo this feature would be to click the Home tab and then walk through the paste options, feature by feature. It just won’t leave an impact.

Let’s see how one presenter, we will call her Jill, used storytelling to better engage with her audience.

"Let me see a quick show of hands, How many of you have cut and pasted content from the web into Word or PowerPoint?"

A few hands reluctantly go up in the audience.

"Now, how many of you have gone through the effort of loading Notepad...and then pasting first into Notepad to strip out the formatting...and then again, copying from Notepad and pasting into Word?"

More hands go up, accompanied by chuckles and knowing nods. The audience has made a personal connection and is invested in where Jill is leading them. 

“Annoying, isn’t it? What if I told you that you can get the same effect with one click, right within the Office apps?”

Obviously, this takes more time – which is good. You need the time to land a memorable message. It also means that you can’t show as many features. Also good! This should force you to limit your demo to the most impactful and beneficial features for your audience.

In the 16+ years we’ve been doing demos 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.

Bump Your Resolution Down

We get it. You are a tech fiend. You’re running crazy pixels so that you can fit your favorite Integrated Development Environment (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 the icons looked the same. As you may have guessed, I needed reading glasses by my mid 30’s.

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

Bump Your Font Size Up

This is true for the text in your documents, spreadsheets, the UI of your applications, and anything else containing font. It’s 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 and work with them daily. It can be incredibly useful to bump up your app fonts when demoing to a large audience. Size matters when you’re figuring out how to configure your desktop settings.

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. Looking for an easy solution? Like me, you can create a ‘to sort’ folder to dump everything in. Then, when stuck on a long flight, clean out your 5-deep stack of ‘to sort’ folders while half paying attention to Jaws 19.

"These tips will help you get rid of distracting elements and avoid potentially demo-ruining pitfalls that have befallen the best of us."

Use A Compelling Background

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?

Turn Off All Notifications & Social Apps

No one needs to see a Toast from your doctor confirming your next appointment. Likewise, an instant message from your best friend doesn’t need to be on public display.  It is best to turn off any notifications or social media apps prior to your presentation.

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.

However, this doesn’t always work. When at a conference, you’re almost always demoing on your primary desktop.  There is also a high probability you are being recorded. Best to hide your date and time, make your taskbar icons small, and limit the amount of information shown on the taskbar. The more that is there, the more distracting it will be to folks – especially when watching a recording of your presentation.

Disable Updates, Screensavers, and Battery Settings

The last thing you want is for your computer to go through a forced update during your presentation, a screensaver to pop up because your machine has gone into sleep mode, or your computer to go into battery saving mode. You may laugh, but I guarantee you that it has happened.  Take the steps to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Plug 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. I’ve observed a demoer 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.

By implementing these tips and tricks you will greatly increase your chances of having a distraction-free demo!

These pre-presentation logistic tips require no explanation, but they will go a long way to ensure a seamless and ‘hiccup-free’ presentation.

  • Show up early, with a good attitude.
  • Get to know your room tech.
  • Ask for help early if you need gear in addition to what you brought.
  • If projecting more than one laptop, talk to your speaker coordinator.
  • If using audio, talk to your speaker coordinator.
  • Give a dry run of your demo, and look at it from the audience's perspective.
  • If you have audio, talk to your speaker coordinator well in advance.

Going through these logistics early will give you peace of mind and a moment to breathe before your demo begins. 

Okay, so you have minimized distractions and ensured that all logistics are good to go. Now it’s time to deliver the demo, which can be the most challenging aspect of a conference for many presenters.  Keep the following things in mind, and you won’t just deliver your demo, you will deliver a great demo.

Less is More

If you find you’re working hard to fit everything in the time you are allotted, it means you should cut something. To make our point, let’s go way back to one of the most well-known storytellers of all time: Bill Murray. Playing Polonius in a recent production of Hamlet, Bill Murray gives an annoyingly long list of advice to his son, Laertes. He ends with the famous line, “To thine own self be true.” It’s the only piece of advice that most of us remember from the speech!

Likewise, running through a massive list of features will be lost on your audience. Instead, pick the top two or three, and slowly walk through the story behind the need for the features. It will be easy to then shift to benefits. If you take the time to build a connection, people will remember why your message is important to them.

Don’t Rush

You have been living and breathing your product for months, if not years. It is as second nature to you as a well-worn pair of shoes. However, it’s 100% brand new to at least some of your audience and even your most experienced audience is probably learning about new features for the first time. Slow yourself down to make sure everyone can follow along.


You know your product better than most, maybe better than everyone else on the planet. This doesn’t mean you know your demo that well. Practice your demo as you want to give it. Make sure your timing is down, your transitions are seamless, and that you have talking points to cover any loading delays.

Anyone who has been building, supporting, or giving demos for any length of time, is bound to run into an untenable situation. Your demo isn’t working, and you just don’t have the time to get things fixed. It happens to the best of us, and it is statistically guaranteed to happen to you. At some point, the Wifi won’t work, or the network connection is going to go down. Other than praying to the demo gods to withhold their vengeance, what can you do to recover your time and have a successful outcome for your demo? It’s simple – have a backup!

"Always remember, your confidence in your demo drives your audience's confidence in your product."

Frequently, when we are doing high-stakes executive keynotes or demos to the press, we will have a duplicate system running in parallel to the one the presenter is using. If anything goes wrong with the primary, we can switch to the backup presentation by pushing a button. The screen blips for a second and the presenter can keep going as if nothing happened. If you are presenting at your booth, or during a breakout, you won’t have that luxury. You can still have a backup environment that you can move to swiftly. It may not be perfect, but it will allow you to tell your story!  Let’s take a moment to examine some backup environment options:

  • Your first option is to use a mocked-up click through environment as a backup. We've seen some presenters switch to this mid-stream when something goes wrong. Frequently, the audience doesn't catch that they are no longer live.
  • You can switch to video. It's obviously not the best, but it's better than nothing. It definitely takes more time to pre-record the video. And, you probably will not have practiced timing your narrative to the click steps, but it is certainly better than nothing. In fact, sometimes, demoing with a video is the winning approach!
  • At the very least, having screenshots in PowerPoint or a secondary deck will allow you to talk to the high-level benefits of what you are presenting.

Nothing is ever as good as showing the real thing. However, if you’ve spent time building trust with your audience, you have done your research to know what they want to see, and you come prepared with a backup – then when an inevitable issue arises you will be able to salvage your time. Always remember, your confidence in your demo drives your audience’s confidence in your product.

Following up with your potential partners and customers is the first thing you should do after the event. But, if you are as exhausted as we are after a conference, it can be hard to know where to start.  These post-event steps will jump start you in the right direction:

  • Add your new connections to your contact list, and ask them if it is okay to follow up in the future. Put a reminder on your calendar to complete that follow up.
  • Don't let all the hard work you put into your demo go to waste - make it available to your new partners and contacts. Microsoft does a great job of this on, their demo portal for which we, 3Sharp, build the content for.
  • And finally, as you wait for your plane to begin boarding, connect on whatever social media platforms you belong to; linkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

As the team that helps Microsoft and other partners to light up their network daily by telling engaging technical stories through great demos and providing world-class demo support – we would value the opportunity to speak with your organization about how we can be of service to you!

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