Doing Software Demos Right

Over the past few years, I have been regularly demonstrating the huge complex end-to-end software platform that I developed in my last hedge fund. Before that, as a CTO, I sat through hundreds of software demonstrations.

If you have complex software that requires a demo, and if you are going to demo it, here are some software demo do’s and don’ts that I apply in my demos to others, and expect in demos to me


Do demo the software live, from your laptop, via projector so the potential clients all can see it. These days, all conference rooms have projectors, but bring your own just in case. Feel free to use remote access or a browser to connect to a running production system to demo it.

Do have a version of the product running on a Virtual Machine on your laptop in case the internet is spotty or unavailable. In fact, it’s preferable to do the demo off your VM unless your laptop is too slow. I run multiple SQL Servers, Web Servers and clients on VM’s in my demos, live!

Do tell a story, do make the demo enjoyable. Walk your potential customers through some applicable typical use cases or workflows that show off your software’s best features. Don’t just list all the features while pointing to their menus with a mouse.

Do demo the top ten (10) best features of the product, then stop. Don’t even try to show every feature. If you need to demo it, your software is already complex and has a lot of features. Tailor the demo to show the best ten features for that client.

Do demo using relevant data. Showing equity trades to a fixed income fund is a waste of everyone’s time. Using obviously fake data is also a big no-no.

Do allow the potential client to interrupt and ask questions. Do answer those questions and do demo the features that support your answers. Once the topic has been covered, take back control and move on to the next demo feature on your agenda. And do be flexible in changing the demo agenda to meet their needs.

Do a face-to-face demo if possible, else have a series of screencasts available for the client to see at their leisure. If your software requires a demo, it’s big and complex and expensive enough to afford the face-to-face. Don’t do a webex or tele-demo, you’ll never see the client’s reactions to your points; and you show them that you really don’t care enough to do a face-to-face and don’t expect to get their business anyway.

Do leave some collateral, a brochure or some screen shots. Don’t have your collateral hidden behind logins or email requests, that drives potential customers away.

Do point out what the software does not do. Not all products do everything, nor are they expected to. A good demo will show the best features of a product, but also leave the viewer with a feel for what it does not do.


Don’t come to a demo with a Powerpoint deck and no live software. It’s a software demo, show the software! I have sat in too many meetings that were supposed to be demos but landed up being slide decks only. If you only have a deck, it tells the potential client that you have no software, or that it does not work, or that you are embarrassed to show it off.

Don’t show more than five (5) slides before switching to the live software. Use the slides to give the 10,000ft overview, then dive in. I only use 1 slide in my demos, one! A single picture showing the overall architecture and components. Show any more than five and the viewer who came to see a demo will get bored.

Don’t read from a script, or worse, read the Powerpoint deck. Other people in the room can read the screen a lot faster than you can vocalize it. If you have a script, memorize it and be flexible enough to skip sections.

Don’t demo a beta if you can help it. Betas are usually incomplete, they crash and make you look bad. Demo the current production release. If you have to demo a beta, don’t hide the fact that its beta. I use a big red beta stamp on all beta screens when I demo.

Don’t get flustered if the demo gods decide this demo is the one that a new error or failure happens. Files get corrupt, data gets messed up between demos, odd things happen in VM’s. Deal with it and move on. But don’t ever walk into a demo knowing that the application will crash and try to avoid that area, chances are the next viewer will want to see that feature and you do need to demo it.

Don’t ever declare that functionality exists in a product unless you can show it there and then live. Failure to do so makes the viewer suspicious. If you say it exists, show it! Even if it’s not pretty.

Don’t make any promises on future features or capabilities. You are demoing the software as it is now, and the purchase decision is based on how it is now. Demo what you have, not what it could be.

Don’t ever walk in blind, not knowing who the potential client is or what they do and what they want to see. If you do that, you’ll demo the bits they are not interested in or bore them or waste time trying to find out their needs.

Don’t spend time booting up or setting up, have it all ready and running before you walk in. All modern laptops can sleep with applications running and return to the right state quickly when the screen is opened. The time spent booting, logging in, finding the files, launching the VM’s, connecting to the projector is time better spent introducing yourself, your software and getting to know the potential client.

Don’t have anything else running during the demo, and do have a clean desktop with a plain or logo background. Other applications and notifications and icons distract viewers and may interrupt the demo. One option is to have a special demo account on you laptop with only the slides and software VM’s and nothing else (and be logged in to it before you enter the room).

Great demos

Great demos happen when the potential client sees the live product in action, performing the tasks that they need for their businesses using data relevant to them. Great demos happen when the potential client starts asking questions, drilling down and walking down paths in the software that are not on the agenda.

Great demos tend to be interactive discussions around live software, not presentations.

I love doing great demos right, and I love seeing great demos done right. If the demo is done right, you’ll see the light come on in the potential customer’s eyes.

Posted By Hilton Lipschitz · Oct 16, 2012 8:09 PM