The First Law of Demos

It’s the last full week before the Xojo Developer Conference in Austin.  I’ve gone through my presentation on Reporting Tools in Xojo at least once already.  I have the Keynote presentation done (added a few things), have the sample projects done and ready to upload to the website.  You’d think I’d be done, right?  Wrong!

The First Law of Demo’s says that unless you’ve done the demo multiple times on the hardware you’ll actually use it’s as if you’ve never done it in the first place.  I should know, I’ve been standing in front of a group of people to do a demo only to have the first element fail and then flounder away for the next twenty minutes with plenty of, “well, if this worked I’d be able to show you this feature.”

I have learned from my mistakes, the hard way.  Several times.  Here are Bob’s rules of effective demo’s.

Rule #1:  Disconnect from your normal network/regular computer

There are things floating around on your drive that you tend to use all the time.  So when you take your development project off your home network, or move to a separate machine, you’ll quickly find the things that you forgot include in your demo packages.

In my case, I discovered that a Xojo project had references to graphic files that weren’t included in the folder I moved to the presentation machine.  The graphics weren’t necessary and it was easy to fix but how embarrassing to be in front of your peers to have a simple error like that occur.  It shows a lack of preparation.

Rule #2:  Run all of your Demo’s in the latest version of the software

This sounds silly, I know, but I found that one of the reporting tools I’m talking about in my session doesn’t work with Xojo 2015 R1 and R2.  For whatever reason I was using 2014 when I first created the project and didn’t run into the problem until I started working with it on the laptop which had the latest version of Xojo.

Another reporting tool I’m talking about in my session had to have a number of libraries installed to work properly.  And then it needed a newer version of its plugin.  These issues were not very hard to fix when I have reliable internet access and access to all my files, but once you’re away from home that’s not always the case.  Again, if this happens in a presentation it looks like you have not prepared.

Rule #3:  Practice saying your presentation out loud  

Speaking your presentation is important in a number of ways.  First, it will show you where you have not prepared enough.  If you find yourself um’ing and ah’ing in a particular session that’s an area to do again (and again).  Since you can think faster than you’re speaking you’ll often find yourself saying “I need to mention this.”  Having this happen during your actual presentation is a bad time.  Practicing beforehand will show you these problems.  Practice multiple times to catch even more of them.

I’m a good writer (I’m sure that’s open for debate) and I have my ‘inner voice’ that talks to me when I’m reading something.  That’s not good enough when practicing for a presentation because your inner voice lacks depth.  It lacks the pauses and breaths that you need when speaking.  Practice your presentation as if there are people in the room.  Pause for effect.  Pause for eye contact.  And in technical presentations pause for people to wrap their head around the idea.  Silence is good in a technical presentation and that pause is never as long as you think it is.

A lot of people have a fear of public speaking.  I can’t say was overly enthused about the subject a few years ago either.  I decided to tackle that fear and enrolled in a local chapter of Toastmasters (TM).  At this point I have achieved the Competent Communicator award and feel more comfortable speaking in a crowd.  Frankly, after two years of TM it’s hard not to evaluate all speakers and count their use of um’s and ah’s.  Toastmasters is a safe and friendly environment to learn how to speak in public.

Rule #4:  Practice, Practice, Practice

This seems intuitive but I’ve seen it happen to myself and others way too often.  The more you can practice your presentation, out loud, the better off you’ll be.  I can’t remember which Toastmaster’s speech I was giving but I didn’t have the same preparation as I normally did and it showed.  My use of fillers words was awful, I fidgeted a lot more, and I was uncomfortable with the topic, and I had to use my notes more often than I wanted.  I did okay but it was not my best speech.

Steve Jobs was known for his awesome keynote speeches where he introduced new, sometimes buggy, products to the world.  He practiced, on stage, with the actual product hundreds of times until everything seemed magical and when something didn’t go as planned he could make joke of it and move on (and use the backup device).  That last bit is very hard, but if you’ve practiced your presentation to the point where you’re dreaming of it you should do okay if things go awry.

Rule #5:  Relax

I can’t say I’ve ever been to a technical presentation where the audience was hostile to the speaker.  We usually have a choice on what sessions to attend and we are there to learn something new and hopefully be entertained.  The audience is pulling for you!  When you make a mistake during your presentation know that we’ve been there and had the same thing happen to us.

Toastmasters has another fine tradition of telling a joke to start off their meetings.  It makes everyone relax a bit and if the joke, even an awful joke, can get a chuckle or two it’s a great way to start a presentation.  If you can do a joke somehow related to the topic you’re even better!  One word of caution on jokes, though, unless you’ve practiced the heck out of telling this joke don’t bother!  The timing of joke is everything and unless you’re are comfortable with it don’t screw it up (unless you’re comfortable enough to botch the joke and recover from it and make everyone laugh anyway).

So that’s it.  I have a lot of work to do before the conference next week.  I have to practice some more and when I get tired of talking about it I’ll do it again once or twice.

Hope to see you at the conference.  Please stop me and introduce yourself.  I really enjoy meeting my fellow Xojo developers.

2 thoughts on “The First Law of Demos

  1. The more often one does the same presentation the easier it gets.

    I will never forget the worst training I ever did: because of dense fog we weren’t able to find the building. Then we were in the wrong building. And for giggles that was the time when it was hip to close USB ports. So we had no presentation for the training.

  2. Yeah, that should be another rule.

    Rule #6: Have multiple backup copies of all your stuff

    Backup all the files you’ll need for your presentation in multiple formats. Don’t rely just one one technology. USB sticks and external drives are really handy but they can get damaged or stolen, and depending upon the equipment you’re using they may not have USB enabled for security reasons. We tend to have 3 copies: One on our computer, one on a USB stick that we cary with us, and finally a DropBox account so in the event we get into an accident and all of our equipment is damaged all we need to do is hit a computer store to buy a new computer.

    Hopefully, we never have to test the accident theory and if we do I’m very hopeful that *all* we have to do is get a new computer for our presentation.

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