Here’s one I made earlier

By Colin Harris – Conchcom Ltd

Demonstrations have a curious effect on time – when people are watching software on a screen, time appears to slow down…. So in order to make our software look as fast as possible we have to bend and sometimes break the laws of physics, and this article explains how we’ll do that…

Once again, massive thanks to Terry Simpson for proof reading it.

Demo time is sooooo slooooowwwww...
Demo time is sooooo slooooowwwww…

Scientists can’t explain the phenomenon, well maybe they can but I haven’t asked any, and I’m doubting they could get the funding to investigate it anyway.  But it does appear that whenever a person demonstrates software in front of a group of people the system seems to take longer to respond than when there’s just one person looking at it.

“So what? Who cares?” I hear you cry.

“You should,” is my reply, “and here’s why.”

The problem is that a prospective customer is going to perceive that the fastest they’re ever going to see the software run is during the demonstration.  So if it appears slow during the demo they’re getting the impression that it’s going to be even slower when it’s live.

And it doesn’t matter if you tell them that it’s just a bit slow because we’re on-line to somewhere thousands of miles away, or our demo system isn’t very powerful; chances are they won’t believe you.

Now it may be that speed isn’t that important, and if it isn’t, that’s great.  However, waiting 2 minutes for the results to appear is going to feel like an hour has passed if all the audience is doing is watching a screen where nothing much is happening.

So what can we do about it?

We could try a line that an old colleague of mine used to use.  He’d say “We deliberately slow this down so that you can see what’s happening.”  And I think a prospect even believed that, once.  But we can be cleverer than that.

First of all, don’t demonstrate with one hand tied behind your back.  Find the quickest easiest way to demonstrate a particular feature.  Peter Cohan in his excellent book ‘Great Demo’ gives some powerful tips on how to do this – check them out here http://www.secondderivative.com/

Secondly, if you can, make sure the hardware is up to the job.  Get the fastest bit of kit you can, and keep it tuned up and de-cluttered.

Thirdly, is there anything you can do to make the software faster?  I’ve worked on systems where the first time a program loads it takes a while, but then it performs really quickly.  If this is the case, then pre-load the software before the demo.  Just make sure the system doesn’t time you out – is that something you can adjust?

Perhaps there’s nothing you can do about performance – it’s just going to take a few (or many) seconds to operate.

So here’s what you do.

You press the button and then you stand up and address the audience.  And then you tell them what the system’s doing.  Maybe you sketch a diagram on the white board or flip chart – maybe you have a separate projector and you show a diagram.  Or perhaps you could recap the steps you had to go through.

What you’re doing is distracting the people from the screen, whilst in another time-space continuum the software continues its merry dance.  Just make sure all this takes longer than the processing.  If all else fails you can try what another former colleague of mine used to do – he’d leap up excitedly, point out of the winner and exclaim “Is that a skylark?”

The extremely rare Skylark....
The extremely rare Skylark….

But wait, isn’t there another way?  How about we don’t show it at all?

“Anarchy” I hear you scream, “but they asked you to explain how xyz works.  And in order to do that we have to press the button. And that takes loads of time.”

But they didn’t ask you to show them, they asked you to explain it.  So why not do that?  You could walk them through the steps, maybe show them with diagrams how it works, perhaps show a few key things on the screen and then you do what’s commonly known in the UK as “doing a Blue Peter”.

Here's how to make a fort
Here’s how to make a fort

Blue Peter is a TV show for children that has been running since 1958 – I think it’s the longest running children’s programme in the world.  And quite often they show kids how to make things out of household objects (using ‘sticky-back’ plastic, washing up bottles, empty toilet roll tubes and coat hangers) – things like an advent candle, a present for your mom on mother’s day; and one year famously when the must have Christmas present for kids was Thunderbirds’ Tracy Island, and there weren’t any in the shops, your very own Tracy Island.

Except they didn’t show you how to make it. No.  What they did was show you the components, maybe they’d put a couple of things together.  And then, using the immortal line “Here’s one I made earlier”, show you the completed item.

Just like the real thing...
Just like the real thing…

So do that.  Already have the results to hand, run the program before the demo and have the output screen ready and then tell them “here’s one I did earlier”.  If it’s good enough for Blue Peter….

Or alternatively, keep your eye out for rare species of birds.