“If I had had more time, I would have written a shorter letter" Blaise Pascal 1

As Pascal notes, it’s hard to be concise. This is especially true when demo’ing a complex enterprise application. Unfortunately, our audience has trouble following a complex idea along on a longwinded feature focused demo. This makes it our task, as demo’ers, to break each key point into a short digestible story. I call these vignettes.

Vignettes Show How Your Product Delivers on Business Value Once you’ve primed the audience with why your product will change their business (see post 1), the vignettes answer how. Most importantly, vignettes are not about your product’s features. They are about reinforcing the business value in their terms. The key in success here is empathy.2

Vignette Structure: Open -> Demo -> Close Having a formal structure feels bureaucratic in some way. Trust me, the audience is craving it. In fact, you should include clear signposts to help the audience keep track of your demo. Phrases like “To begin” “Next” “To review” are great for this.

Open: Two sentence open that clearly announces the business value you will be showing in this vignette. Your goal is for audience members interested in this topic to perk up and focus.

  • Strong Example: “A key component of reducing inventory holding costs is understanding which products have unnecessarily high service levels. I’ll begin by showing how a supply chain analyst can use Shelf Monitor to identify these products.”
  • Flawed Example: “Next, I am going to show Shelf Monitor. Shelf Monitor builds a confidence interval of sales, based on historical data. It then combines this with current results to identify anomalies in the data. We display these results in our interface for the analyst to find opportunities in the data.”

Note in the strong example we clearly tie this demo back to the overarching business value (in this case, reducing inventory holding costs). In the bad example, we are too internally focused (our product, our methodology) without linking this back to the customer’s goal.3

Demo: Here you’re actually showing your product. Remember to focus on business value, not on features.

  • Flawed Example: “Now, I can use our drill-down capabilities to click on a distribution center and see each product.” Please don’t provide an inner monologue of what you are doing… they can see it!
  • Strong Example: “Now that I’ve identified DC #4 in Rockville, MD as having a potential inventory glut, we can determine which specific products to reduce inventory on.”

Close: At close, you reinforce the business value you just demonstrated and tie this vignette back to the overarching business value.

  • Strong Example: “To review, this showed how supply chain analysts use Shelf Monitor to identify products that have unnecessarily high service levels. This is a key component of reducing inventory holding costs.”
  • Weak Example: The most common mistake at this stage is simply not to have a close. You’ve shown this example and just jump to the next one.

Transitioning to the Next Vignette: Use Silence

Rookie demo’ers will often plow straight through to the next vignette. This is bad because 1) you haven’t given the audience the chance to ask questions, and 2) you haven’t confirmed they understand the business value you were covering, and 3) people need some time to reset and prepare to think about the next vignette. Remember, we’re demo’ing complex technology. Once you finish your vignette, open the floor to questions and then use silence. If you are nervous, take a deep breath and literally count to 5 Mississippi in your head.

Conclusion: in a demo we want to convey a very complex set of ideas. We need to tailor these ideas specifically to our audience. And, we need to hold their attention. The key to success is to create a series of concise and organized stories called vignettes.

Read part 3. Or go back to part 1.

  1. There seems to be some disagreement about the origin of this quote, but NPR and other reputable sources believe it was Pascal. ↩︎

  2. Much of your ability to succeed in the weeds of a vignette is around what’s sometimes called Profound Customer Knowledge (PCK). PCK means you know how to use your prospects jargon, you talk about their real business problems, and you sound like a user. ↩︎

  3. One sticking point I have with other recommendations I’ve read: often when you demo to a technical audience, the value to them is not in business terms. Instead, you should focus on their terms – whether it’s reducing application complexity, requiring fewer servers, etc… ↩︎