Stunningly Awful Demos – The 2020 Great Demo! Top Ten List of What NOT to Do


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Here’s a collection of poor tactics, bad errors and faulty steps you can take to increase the likelihood that your demo will be a failure. We recommend that you avoid doing these things! 

If your organization’s demos are not as successful as you might wish, consider using this list as an assessment tool. If these items occur frequently you may want to contemplate making some changes…

The 2020 Stunningly Awful Demos (“SAD”) Top Ten List:

  1. Be unclear on the Customer’s Needs: “The Harbor Tour”

Offer and deliver a demo in the hope that your customer will see something of interest, eventually. This is a case of using Hope as a Strategy…! Customers refer to these long, tortured demos as:

  • Show-up and throw-up
  • Spray and pray
  • Tech splatter
  • The IKEA demo (“How do I get out of here…?!”)
  • Living in the Land of Hope
  • Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot, and, of course,
  • The Harbor Tour (“Oh God, it’s the Harbor Tour Demo…” They board the boat, get driven around the harbor for three hours while being asked, “Have you seen anything you like so far?” – and they can’t get off the boat until the end of the ride…!).

Inexperienced presales and salespeople often inflict these demos on their customers as a replacement for doing Discovery. Jaded presales folks offer these demos when they receive little or no pre-demo information from their sales colleagues.

  1. Present a Linear Demo from beginning to end: “Where is this going…?”

Have you ever been watching someone else’s demo and, a few minutes into the process, you start wondering, “Where is this going…?”

You can ensure the same awful fate for your customers by delivering long, linear demos that start at the beginning of a workflow and take forty, fifty or sixty minutes (or longer!) to finally reach the big pay-off screen. Follow this tactic to ensure that:

  • Your audience is half-asleep by the time you reach the important take-away message and key pay-off screen. (In some geographies your audience may actually be asleep).
  • The most important people in the audience leave the room while you are still introducing the module names and key navigation features…
  • The customer is so numb by the time that you do reach your big wow message that they cannot remember it after the demo is over.

Bonus: Be sure to show how to set things up – tasks that would likely only be done once (and are often done by a professional services team during implementation) to ensure that you squander more time with unimportant items…

Double Bonus: Be sure to Include the latest features so that you consume all of the available time allotted to the demo with set-up and workflow options – and run out of time before you get to the “best stuff”!

  1. Start with a Corporate Overview: “Death by Corporate Overview…” 

Make Number 2, above, even worse by starting the meeting with twenty minutes of your corporate overview. Regale your audience with your mission statement (yawn), your company’s formation and history (yawn), your revenues-over-time, office locations, markets, products, and that smorgasbord of customer logos (yawn, yawn, yawn, snooze…).

This strategy will ensure that (1) the most important people leave even before you can start the demo and (2) everyone is already bored and losing attention when you do deliver your demo. 

Doing this also sets you up nicely for item Number 4…

  1. Don’t reconfirm the Time Constraints for the meeting: “Sorry, we’re out of time…”

You’d planned on two hours with the customer when you set up the meeting three weeks ago. Is there any reason this might have changed? 

You arrive at 10:00 AM and dive into your agenda. Your team delivers your Corporate Overview presentation followed (after twenty minutes) by a long, linear demo… 

Things are going as planned when suddenly your host looks at his watch and says, “Um, can you please wrap things up in the next five minutes? We have an all-hands meeting scheduled at 11:00…” You have to end the demo without ever reaching your big wow screen and have to ask to schedule another meeting. 

Bonus: Similarly, don’t reconfirm the list of customer participants or their objectives. It is always a delight to walk into a virtual room of 20 people when you were expecting 2 (and haven’t had a chance to do Discovery with any of the new folks). Which takes us back to Number 1, again…!

  1. Show as many Features and Functions as possible: “…And another thing you can do is…”

Want to make your software appear as confusing and complicated as possible? Want more ways to bore and torture your audience? Want to help your customer reduce the price they pay for your software (aka “buying it back”)? 

It’s easy: show as many features and capabilities that you possibly can!

A simple way to achieve these negative results is to present your demo as if you are doing product training – “let me show you how to do this, and that, and this other thing…” To really inflict pain, make sure to show and explain all of the menu options, tabs, navigation tools and, of course, all of the file types you can import and export. 

Bonus: Be sure to include all of the “if”, “or” and “also” cases for each option. These simple steps will make your demo truly Stunningly Awful.

Double Bonus: Use “loop-backs” to further confuse and complicate, as in, “So, do you remember when I completed that order? [Customer thinks, “Um, not really…”] “Well,” you say, “now I’ll pick up the order and process it…” 

Triple Bonus: Use as many “hats” as you can. “Now I’m Mary Manager approving the order that was generated by Steven Staffer a moment ago, but I’ll also show you how Elizabeth Executive can have Corey Controller put a hold on payment through Amy Accounting and Sam Shipping…” Your demo will have more characters and story arcs than a classic Russian novel!

  1. Show the same demo, regardless of the Customers’ Needs or Interest: “One for all…”

Ignore the fact that the VP in the room only wants a top-level summary of your offering and that the managers in the room are interested only in their portion of the process. Instead, choose the lowest-level users’ scenario for your demo, such as an end-user “day-in-the-life” saga – or, for more pain, start by walking through how to set things up – tasks done only once.

This will ensure that the senior members of the customer team grow bored and leave the demo early (~fifteen minutes after the meeting began). They’ll never see anything that compels their interest, requiring a second demo meeting, a loss to your competitor, or a “No Decision” outcome.

Similarly, the customer managers won’t be thrilled with what they see – your software will look too long, too detailed, and too complicated for them to use comfortably. 

In the end, you’ll have done a fair job training the target end-users, but the training won’t be necessary since you won’t get the deal! An awful waste of time for everyone involved.

Bonus: Get dragged into the weeds by detailed questions early in the demo – leading to…

  1. Let Questions drive you into the weeds: “But what about…?”

You’ve started your demo and things are going well when, after five minutes, someone asks a good question. You stop your demo, take a few minutes to answer the question and turn back to your laptop. The customer asks a follow-up question which you dutifully address in more detail, taking another few minutes. The customer considers your answer, then asks for more details… And you are now way off-track, lost in the weeds.

In the meantime, what has happened to the rest of the audience? They’ve checked-out. They’re browsing the web, answering email, checking texts on their phones, and working on other projects – and you’ve barely gotten started!

For the greatest negative effect: Instead of professionally and elegantly “parking” these questions, let them divert your demo to ensure that you lose the customer’s key players early in the meeting and run out of time before you’ve gotten to your key points. 

Bonus: Let IT “highjack” the meeting right at the beginning with questions about infrastructure, architecture and support requirements.

Another terrific strategy for failure is to allow Hostiles to take control of the meeting – these are the people who don’t like you, don’t like your company; they simply believe it is their purpose in life to torture the vendor. Let them take control and you’ll enjoy the same negative results… 

  1. Don’t use the Annotation and Other Tools in Zoom/WebEx/GoToMeeting: “Can you see my screen…?”

Here are three wonderful ways for you to show your software in the worst possible light when operating over the web:

  • First, do not use the annotation tools, chat, whiteboards, pause-sharing or any of the other capabilities in your web collaboration tool. Instead start the session by saying, ”Can you see my screen?” and then talk and click, talk and click, talk and click for the balance of the hour.
  • Second, make sure to present non-stop for as long as you can – going for 6, 10, 12 minutes or longer without a “check-in” with the audience is a good plan. After all, this gives your audience time to leave their computer to refresh their coffee, use the toilet, make lunch…

Ignore the fact that the most successful demos are a conversation with the customer (where “speaker-switches” take place an average of every 76 seconds…).

  • Third, leave your mouse cursor at the default size and move it constantly (and rapidly!) throughout the demo. The small cursor means the audience with have to lean close to their screens to follow your action.

Bonus: Vaguely circle your mouse (rapidly, again) around areas of interest on your screen to draw attention. Your customer will be fatigued (or dizzy) in no time…!

Double Bonus: Do not use a pre-web-demo checklist to make sure things are working properly before the formal session begins. It is so much more exciting to have technical problems when everyone is joining the call, or mind-numbing latency, or problems with VOIP that “chops” your voice, or screen rendering challenges, or…

  1. Don’t effectively present your big Wow Screens: “Doesn’t that look great…?” 

You’ve been demoing along for forty or fifty minutes and you finally get to a big wow screen – one of the key deliverables your software provides. You share it briefly and then swiftly move on to your next feature…

This is a SADly terrific way to ensure that your audience never remembers your key messages. 

While you have likely seen that big wow screen hundreds of times, this is the first time your audience has ever seen it. Showing that screen for a fraction of a second puts your message in the long list with all the other 3000 marketing messages your customer will see that same day… Good luck!

Bonus: Do not use the annotation tools to draw the audience’s attention to the key portions of these screens. That would only make it easy…!

Double Bonus: Do not remember to describe (while annotating) WHAT the audience is seeing, HOW they would use it to solve their business problems, and HOW MUCH value it represents for your customer. Let them figure these out on their own…

  1. Avoid Summarizing: “And the next really cool thing I want to show you is…”

Roll along from section to section, through segment after segment, in a continuous verbal assault. 

Leave no pauses, offer no introductions and, by all means, don’t summarize after you complete an important segment. You want your delivery to be perceived as a firehose, furiously flinging features and functions frantically at your audience (frightening, frankly).

This SAD tactic contributes wonderfully to cultivate confusion, add complexity, and generally bore the tears out of your audience. 

For maximum SAD effect, use this tactic in conjunction with long, linear, non-componentized, multiple-player, multi-product, multi-hour demos. In no time at all you’ll have your audience toggling away from your demo to browse on Amazon, “multi-task” on another project, check their phones, or explore the insides of their eyelids!

Following these “Top Ten” SAD guidelines will certainly increase the probability that your demos will not help you achieve your goals. When you do these ten simple things, you should expect your audience to say, “Ugh… That was a Stunningly Awful Demo!”

[For practices that result in real success with your demos, contemplate a Great Demo! Workshop – contact us at [email protected] to start the discussion.]

Copyright © 2006-2020 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peter Cohan
Have you ever seen a bad software demonstration? Peter Cohan is the founder and principal of Great Demo!, focused on helping software organizations improve the success rates of their demos. He authored Great Demo! - how to prepare and deliver surprisingly compelling software demonstrations. Peter has experience as an individual contributor, manager and senior management in marketing, sales, and business development. He has also been, and continues to be, a customer.


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