In the same way that the finest presentations involve much more than the simple relaying of information, the finest software demos are much more than just presenting features.
REMEMBER: The goal of a demo is to INSPIRE the audience to use the software/technology, not to teach them every nuance of software/technology.
I’ve spent the last 10 years learning how to give good presentations and to give good software demonstrations. Here are several tips to take your software demonstration from informative to masterful:
1. Know your audience
Whenever you start a demo, make sure you have a good idea what the audience is interested in. That way you can focus the attention of the audience upon things that actively engage their imagination. You really, really want the audience to be thinking about how they’re going to use the software that you are presenting. If it if you’re not presenting on something that they’re interested in, they’ll mentally disengage. In some cases you’ll even see them open their laptops and start to answer emails. That’s the last thing in the world that you want to happen.
In many cases, I’ll begin a presentation by asking my audience to tell me more about themselves. I want to know how much of their time is spent as a developer, as a DBA, as a designer. If nothing else, I can change the sort of examples that I use to be tailored specifically to the audience that are presenting to.
Truly bad software demos have problems. The code doesn’t work. The beta software crashes. The screen shows the dreaded blue screen. But that’s one thing. What you really want to avoid, is the truly mediocre software demo. The quickest path to a mediocre software demo is to simply show every feature and explain each in as much detail as you can. It’s like those games that sit in our closet that no one likes to play. Most all of these games are ones in which one person takes a turn while everyone else waits. No one has any fun except for the three or four minutes in which it relates directly to them.
2. Start, but only start, with an agenda
It’s always a good idea to inform your attendees of what you would like to present. What you present the agenda it’s a great idea to confirm that this agenda is what the audience is looking for. Before I learned to do this on a regular basis, I found that my presentation might contain two or three lengthy sections of my software demo which were completely uninteresting to the audience. The customer is really numbed by this waste of time. It’s far better to tell the audience what you are going to tell them.
Here’s my routine when I start a demo. Confirm that your agenda is of interest to them and recheck the time constraints of the meeting. Then, get to what they are interested in. This flexibility also provides you the opportunity to inject other software demonstrations that are much more pertinent to your audience. Audiences love a presenter who can think on their feet and are flexible to the interests of the audience.
3. Skip the lengthy intro
This is a aspect of demonstrations and presentations that I struggle with. I worried a lot that I hadn’t demonstrated enough credibility with my audience. And so for many years of my technology evangelism role, I spent a lot of time telling the audience about myself and about the company. What I found over time though, is that audiences actually give you an initial dose of credibility. It’s up to you to maintain and even enhance that credibility through a strong demo and a good presentation. Better to have a very short introduction and get straight to the meat of the presentation.
Call out – Mouse Cursor Movement: It’s especially important to remember in online demos that there is usually a great deal of latency between what you do on your screen and what your audience sees on their screen. So it’s important to remember to MOVE YOUR MOUSE SLOWLY AND THOUGHTFULLY! I’ve sat in online webcasts, and even in in-person events, where the mouse literally disappeared on one section of the screen and reappeared elsewhere because the presenter was moving their mouse cursor here, there, and everywhere. If you want the audience to see what you’re doing with the mouse cursor, keep it slow.
4. Show what is pertinent
One of the most important things a software evangelist can do is to show the most important and pertinent take away of their software. Let’s you are trying to teach an audience about the extreme ROI (return on investment) of a particular kind of business intelligence strategy, it’s crucial that you figure out in advance what are the key takeaways that you would like your audience to remember. Typically in audience will only remember two or three very salient points about your demo. If the BI presentation spends the first 30 minutes showing how to build a report but never once mentions ROI, what do you think the audience will remember? Once you know what is pertinent to your audience and what you want the key takeaway to be, you should focus the rest of your energies on building an airtight demo that supports those takeaways.
You will see the inverse of this many times in a mediocre or poor demo. At the end of the demo the audience will feel like they have sat through product training, rather than a call to action that inspires them to use the product. I’ve sat through demos in which the presenter carefully walk through several different menus, tabs, and wizards. And after 30 minutes of that, I now knew HOW to use the software, but I still didn’t know WHY I would use the software.
In the worst cases, showing everything that your software can do may leave the audience feeling that it is too complex, too detailed, or too overwhelming for them to use effectively. Remember that a software demo is not design to train the audience. A software demo is designed to inspire the audience to use your products.
5. Don’t get sidelined
We usually get sidelined in our demos by two things: questions from the audience and “technical difficulties” a.k.a. bugs.
Questions from the Audience
It’s usually a good sign if your demo is provoking questions from the audience. However, you don’t want to demo to turn into free consultation to solve one person’s problem. Nor do you want to turn into fact-finding for one very narrow set of interests or to become the arbiter of some sort of political dispute between factions in the audience.
When taking questions, remember to repeat the question to the audience. This ensures that you fully understood the question, that the questioner asked for what they meant, and that if there is any recording going on the question will be picked up by the recording system.
But my typical rule of thumb is to only spend a couple minutes on a single question and questioner. Once a single questioner goes beyond a couple minutes, you can usually tell if you’re heading for the sidelines. It’s at that point that I asked the questioner if we can take the question off-line and come back to it afterwards so that everyone else can benefit from the time that we have set aside right now.
Another form of sidelining are bugs in the software and outright crashes of your demo environment. Many times this simply can’t be avoided. This is especially true if you are demoing a beta version of the software. But there are couple important things to remember if you are sidelined by a bug or crash.
First, mention if you’re using a beta and that it might not be fully stable. Also, be sure to mention that the software WAS stable when you prepared the demo. Second, test your demo after conducting a full reboot of your demo environment. I’ve seen many demos crash because the presenter made other changes in the environment but only tested for the software demonstration itself. Third, Don’t draw attention to bugs that you encounter during the demo, especially if they’re just cosmetic. It’s important not to do things like slap your four head and exclaim “what the hell is that?” If it’s a bigger bug that hampers or interferes with functionality, you might state that it’s normal functionality is… XYZ. Finally, if you experience a major bug or crash, immediately disconnect the projector or the desktop sharing application. There’s nothing worse than seeing a presenter struggle with the bug in front of the entire audience.
6. Hit the jackpot
All good jokes have a punchline. All good action movies have a climax. All good newspaper stories have a headline. Your demo needs to have a jackpot, where the audience can clearly and immediately see how your software pays off.
Let’s say you’re doing a demo of the new columnstore features in SQL Server 2012. You could spend a lot of time showing the conceptual underpinnings of a columnstore index. You could show the state was to create columnstore indexes, to modify them, to drop them. You could admonish the audience and ways to build read-write systems so that they can easily get data into and out of columnstore indexes.
But what’s the real payoff of a columnstore index? It is incredible fast for a particular kind of scenario on SQL Server. So in this example, your jackpot is to show how difficult that scenario is under normal circumstances and then immediately show how easy and fast it is with the columnstore index. Bingo! Your audience is hooked. They immediately see why they want this. There inspired to start using it. Now, they want to figure out how to use it and want to know when and under what conditions they should use.
Are you an SC, technology evangelist, or technology presenter? What are your tips for a better demo?
I just got this email from LinkedIn about my profile (that’s http://www.linkedin.com/in/kekline in clear text).
Recently, LinkedIn reached a new milestone: 200 million members. But this isn’t just our achievement to celebrate — it’s also yours.
I want to personally thank you for being part of our community. Your journey is part of our journey, and we’re delighted and humbled when we hear stories of how our members are using LinkedIn to connect, learn, and find opportunity.
All of us come to work each day focused on our shared mission of connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. We’re excited to show you what’snext.
With sincere thanks,
Senior Vice President, Products & User Experience
P.S. What does 200 million look like? See the infographic
What does that mean? Two things: 1) that the much more famous actor of the same name is not very good at social media, and 2) I’m better at social media than I thought.
It means one more thing – I should be grateful for your support and interest. THANK YOU! Please let me know what else I can do to help you grow in your SQL Server technology skills, database & SQL skills, and IT leadership & professional development path.
Relational?!? Move On, Geezer!
Maybe you’re thinking that relational databases management systems (RDBMSs), like Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle, are going the way of punched cards and rotary phones. After all, there’s been a lot of hype these days in the IT media about the rise of so-called NoSQL (Not Only SQL) databases. Many new and upcoming CS and MIS graduates who like working with data might think that relational databases are, at best, soon-to-be legacy systems and, at worst, are a career dead-end.
It’s true that all the cool-cat computing services (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, etc) are indeed making heavy use of NoSQL technology. They’re also making heavy use of traditional RDBMS’es too. In fact, some of the world’s biggest users of SQL databases are hand-in-hand the biggest users of NoSQL databases. The reason for that is that both types of data platforms are exceeding good at specific types of data storage and data processing. They also have their own unique weaknesses too. Meaning, each platform has a sweet spot and a weak spot, and that none are a 100% panacea for all imaginable data processing scenarios. Take a look at this article by my friend and former colleague, Guy Harrison - 10 Things You Should Know About NoSQL Databases, for a good discussion on the pros and cons of NoSQL in comparison to SQL data platforms.
Timewarp! Let’s Take a Look Back at Why Relational Databases Were Needed.
These days, relational database management systems (RDBMSs) like Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle are the primary engines of information systems everywhere, particularly for enterprise computing systems and web applications. Though RDBMSs are now common enough to trip over, it wasn’t always that way. Not too long ago, you would probably trip over hierarchical database systems, or network database systems, or flat-file systems (heck, that still happens in many government IT shops who still use COBOL). A quick-and-dirty definition for a relation database might be: a system whose users view data as a collection of tables related to each other through common data values.
Perhaps you are interested in more than a quick-and-dirty definition for the term relational database? Here goes. The whole basis for the relational model follows this train of thought: data is stored in tables, which are composed of rows and columns. Tables of independent data can be linked, or related, to one another if they each have columns of data that represent the same data value, called keys. This concept is so common as to seem trivial; however, it was not so long ago that achieving and programming a system capable of sustaining the relational model was considered a longshot with limited usefulness.
Relational data theory was first proposed by E.F. Codd in his 1970 paper to the ACM entitled “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks”. Soon after, Codd clarified his position in the 1974 paper to the Texas Conference on Computing Systems entitled “The Relational Approach to Data Base Management: An Overview”. It was in this paper that Codd proposed the now legendary 12 Principles of Relational Databases.
If a vendor’s database product didn’t meet Codd’s 12 item litmus tests, then it was not a member of the club. Note that the rules do not apply to applications development. Instead, these rules determine whether the database engine itself can be considered truly “relational”. These rules were constructed to support a data model that would ensure the ACID properties of transactions and also eliminate a variety of data manipulation anomalies that frequently occurred on non-relation database platforms (and still do occur on non-relational database platforms). (As an aside, the transactional paradigm was conceived by my hero, Gray, Jim in 1981 while at Tandem Computer and presented in the paper “The Transaction Concept: Virtues and Limitations“).
Codd’s 12 Rules for a Truly Relational Database System
Are you curious about Codd’s 12 Principles of Relational Databases? Don’t be ashamed that you don’t know them by heart; few technology professionals do, and no one on the marketing staff of technology companies do. However, the few folks who do know these principles by heart treat them like religious doctrine, and would likely be mortified by their “lightweight” treatment here. Nevertheless, I’ll give them to you in my own paraphrasing:
If you know much about SQL, then you probably recognize immediately that SQL ended up fulfilling rules #5, #7, #11 and possibly more. Others of the rule are manifest in the system tables of a relational database, such as DMVs in Microsoft SQL Server and V$ and X$ views in Oracle.
There is some debate about why relational database systems won out over hierarchical and network database systems back in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, but a couple of reasons seem self-evident. First, the high-level language interface (SQL) is much simpler to learn and more intuitive than that mishmash of languages supporting non-relational databases. (In fact, the lack of something like SQL is a hindrance to adoption of many NoSQL database platforms). Second, relational databases provide efficient and intuitive data structures that easily accommodate ad-hoc queries and reporting. People just intuitively understand the value of storing data in tables. From phone books to hotel registries, relational databases (of the paper sort) are second nature to most people. Third, relational databases provide powerful integrity controls such as check constraints and referential integrity – thus providing higher quality data. And high quality data is near and dear to the heart of CFOs around the world.
In fact, the strength that relational databases demonstrate with data quality, consistency, and durability are the same reasons that they’ll be with us – quite possibly – forever. So where NoSQL databases excel at storing data that is moderately important and requires eventual consistency, SQL database excel at storing data that is of paramount importance and requires immediate consistency. As long as we’re exchanging money, there’s a need for relational database technology and ACID transactions.
And, just my opinion here, but database administration is currently, and will continue for decades to be, an excellent career choice. Why? First, although databases are widespread, good databases are not. So there’s always need for those who can tune, troubleshoot, and optimize what is currently in the marketplace. Second, just because database are widespread doesn’t mean that they’re everywhere they need to be. Some estimates gauge that only half of the enterprises that need SQL databases actually use SQL databases. Imagine if only half of the citizenry wore shoes, and of the half that wore shoes, only half of them wore both shoes and consistently tied them. It’d be a good time to be a maker of loafers! Well, that’s where we’re at today with relational databases.
So what do you think? Am I off the mark on the longevity of relational database? Do you think the sun has set on them? Will they be smashed, degraded, and humiliated by NoSQL database platforms? Or will they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a variety of data platforms in the years to come?
I was recently honored to speak on TechNet Radio in two separate sessions about BigData & Hadoop and cloud databases (specifically SQL Azure). The show debuted on the TechNet homepage under “Today’s News” and on the TechNet Edge homepage. In each of these shows, I did what I like to do for all the parties I attend – bring a friend. To make my life easier, I simply reposted the verbiage that TechNet used, rather that to write my own.
About the BigData/Hadoop video:
Microsoft SQL Server MVP Kevin Kline and Vice President of Database Development at Quest Software Guy Harrison (blog | twitter), join us for today’s episode where we discuss Big Data and Hadoop —from what it is, why its important as well what role does it play in cloud computing.
Watch the video: HERE
Use the following short link to share the word with on Tweeter, Facebook, and LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/In8uu8
About the SQL Azure video:
Microsoft SQL Server MVP Kevin Kline is back and brings with him Director of Development at Quest Software, Patrick O’Keefe. Tune in as they chat about the latest enhancements of SQL Server 2012, SQL Azure, as well as Project Lucy – a unique data analytics service in the cloud which offers insight on system and data performance through analytical presentations.
Watch the video: HERE
Use the following short link to share the word with on Tweeter, Facebook, and LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/Hypc6z
A new beta build of Toad for SQL Server (v184.108.40.2067) is available at:
It’s free and, afaik, doesn’t have a short expiration date. It contains popular features such as compare & sync (for database schemas, servers, and data), a full transaction log reader and DML undo feature, debugger, intellisense, auto-complete, code formatter, and a lot more. Check it out! (There’s also a version of Toad for Cloud Databases, which gives you SQL-like capabilities against a bunch of NoSQL databases).
This drop contains a couple of fixes in the areas: Database Object Editors, Job Management, Editor and Code Completion, Schema and Data Compare. The dev team is looking forward for your feedback/posts on the forum! Tell ‘em I sent you. ^_^
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You might have noticed that Microsoft has recently launched a cool set of Trust Services for Azure. This is an application-level encryption framework that can be used to protect sensitive data stored on the Windows Azure Platform.
One of the hindrances to adoption of Azure that I keep hearing about is trust and security. If you want to learn more about protecting your data in the cloud you can read up HERE. I’m not pushing you to get into Azure (even though you should), nor am I subtly trying to make you feel guilty for ignoring the cloud in general nor Azure specifically (subtle, ain’t I?). But you really should consider learning a few things about database applications running in the cloud. Our reticence to learn about cloud computing is rough analogous to data processing professionals in the 1980′s who thought the microcomputers where a passing fad. They weren’t. And neither is cloud.
Let me know what you think … after you’ve read about Trust Services for Azure. Enjoy,
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Steve Balmer very publicly pronounced that Microsoft was “all in” for cloud computing and Windows Azure. So that means Microsoft is using cloud for its internal IT as well as building products to utilize the cloud. If you want to learn how Microsoft IT is using Windows Azure to move existing applications to the cloud and creating new applications for the cloud, click here: IT Showcase on Windows Azure.
Let me know what you think. Accurate and informative? Or marketing fluff?
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I hope you’ve taken a few minutes to peek in on the nice refresh that’s happened on a bunch of the System Center engineering blogs. Good things are afoot there. And if you haven’t checked in, avail yourself of these great resources:
And, as always, I’m interested in your feedback. Tell me what you think!
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One last reminder – If you’re interested in learning more about troubleshooting and optimizing SQL Server performance, please consider coming to the full-day seminar I’ll be giving this Friday. Full details are here: http://sqlperftuning.eventbrite.com/. We’ll be working some exercises, so bring your laptop with an instance of SQL Server 2008 (or later) running on it. It’ll be fun!
I also encourage you to come on down to SQL Saturday 130 the following day – whether there’s an official registration for you or not. (But don’t tell ‘em I said that). :^)
Come by the booth for a visit. I’ll be hanging out most of the day and have some nice swag to give away.
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What is TEC?
The Expert’s Conference (TEC) is a multi-day event featuring five co-located Microsoft educational conferences at the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina April 29-May 2. It’s pretty – see!
The event includes advanced 400-level training on Microsoft Directory & Identity (including Active Directory), Exchange Server, SharePoint, Virtualization (Microsoft Hyper-V) & Workspace Management, and PowerShell Deep Dives. There are lots of great activities for Quest and Microsoft customers and partners. In addition, there’s a Quest Software Day, with User Groups sessions; Focus Groups to steer product direction; and Executive Briefings.
In the registration section, be sure to mention my name when it asks “How did you hear about TEC?” If I get enough people to sign on, they’ll let me off of the chain and give me fresh bread and water instead of the old moldy stuff they usually slide under the cell door.
Click on the pretty picture below to get more info!