How to Appease the Demo Gods
When you are planning a demo, you must appease the Demo Gods, or
their wrath will surely strike you down, making you appear to be a total fool
in front of your professor, your fellow students, your boss, your co-workers,
or even the people you were hoping might become your customers.
The following time-honored rituals are unsurpassed in their power to
appease the Demo Gods, and perhaps even to make them smile upon you:
- Freeze your code at least three to four days before the demo.
The "simple" changes made at the last minute will invariably cause
the Demo Gods to smite your software, rendering it totally useless
at the most inopportune moment.
- Never exercise any capability in your demo that you have
not thoroughly tested beforehand. If you have not tested it,
it does not work, no matter how careful and clever you thought you
were, and no matter how simple the code seemed at the time.
- Test your code early in the project on the platform that
is to be used in the demo. My lab partner and I failed to perform
this sacred ritual in our Winter 2000 CSE509 project presentation.
Sure enough, an unexpected incompatibility caused our project to
fail. We did avert the wrath of the Demo Gods, but only
by hauling my desktop PC into the classroom at the last minute.
- Rehearse your demo as if you were rehearsing a play:
- Time each portion of your presentation.
- Brutally cut anything that causes you to run overtime.
After all, if it is really all that interesting, the audience
will ask you questions about it anyway.
- Allow no less than three minutes for every slide in
- Allow at least five minutes for questions.
- Anticipate some questions, and prepare backup slides for
these questions. Do not present these slides
except in response to a question that specifically
touches on the corresponding area. To
figure out which questions are likely to be asked,
rehearse in front of a friendly audience.
- Have backup hardware available. Rehearse setting it up, and time
how long it takes you to set it up. Rehearse one team member
doing part of the presentation while another is setting the
replacement hardware up.
- Bring backup copies of your slides, for otherwise your laptop
will be certain to fail to work with the projector.
A USB memory stick works very well for storing backup
copies, and, speaking as someone who has lugged tens of pounds
of acetate foils through all 24 timezones and four countries in
a one-week period, I can assure you that USB memory sticks are
a very welcome development!
Another good backup approach is to place a copy of your presentation
on the web.
- Arrive early enough to set up and check out any equipment that you
need for your demo.
- KISS: "Keep It Simple, Stupid!". The Demo Gods are less apt
to wreak havoc with simple things.
- If you have not already done so, join your local Toastmasters club
and work toward your CTM.
A friend of mine runs his own business writing specialty software. He sells
this software at trade shows, where he must do many demos. His wife could
never understand why he was so paranoid about these demos: he would run
through them multiple times, bring duplicates of all the required hardware
and software, etc., etc. This took a lot of time and money that she naturally
felt might be put to better use.
My friend tried to explain Murphy's Law to his wife, but she just didn't buy
it. After all, why would perfectly good hardware and software just suddenly
fail for no reason? And if you expected the hardware to fail, why not just
buy good hardware?
After much contention over his obsessive preparations, my friend eventually
came up with the concept of the Demo Gods. This deification of Murphy's
Law seemed to satisfy his wife (though she still seemed skeptical at times),
and for the most part restored domestic tranquillity.
And his wife is not alone. I have found that many people can relate to angry
Demo Gods much more readily than they can to an abstract "Murphy's Law".
If it works, go with it!