The Demonstrator’s Environment – Know your Data

I’m taking a small break from the mini-series we have going on to talk about something that has been on my mind for the past 30 seconds. Okay, maybe a little longer than that. The following strategies are very helpful in growing your confidence while adding a bit of flare to your demo. I am going to talk about something that’s very fun, for me, and very important to make sure you have the best experience when presenting.

Every situation is different and I cannot provide you with a “one size fits all” solution for every demonstration you give, but I can give you some general guidelines to follow. Most of these are software-industry specific but the general idea can be used across all types of demonstrations.

Build your own Environment

The first part, build your own environment, doesn’t mean you have to use this system for the actual demonstration, although, this would be the preferred scenario if possible. The concept here is to become very familiar with all the components and steps necessary to setup a working environment. I’ve personally learned to build virtual machines and manage virtualization software in an effort to experience a piece of software to the fullest extent. I can tell you why the network needs X, why plugin Z is required, and what background tasks are running on machine B. If you know the core components, you will end up troubleshooting every step and become an authority in your field.

The ability to accurately troubleshoot becomes extremely helpful when you run into potential errors during your demonstration. While the goal is to have zero issues, you can’t anticipate a network outage or complete system failure. If you know every detail and step in the process though, you will quickly determine the problem and smoothly recover. Why did this page not load? Let me check the logs. Services are down, why? Oh, that’s because this error happened. Not to worry I can show you how easily this can be fixed, and I can prove that it wasn’t a result of my product. Even if you are using a generic or shared demonstration environment, the knowledge of how all the pieces fit together can turn a bad situation into one that shows your expertise.

Add Personal Touches

I’ve heard people say you should only use realistic data or only professional names, etc., and I fully agree with adding this kind of data for the purposes of GOOD analysis and overview. However, when it comes to your actual demonstration, I like to make it fun. Who doesn’t like to see Jean-Luc Picard as a profile picture for the administrator? What self-respecting IT professional doesn’t appreciate a well placed “nerd” reference? It might be a small addition and it might be “out there”, but I’ve never had a customer that was unhappy with a well-placed and meaningful reference.

You can also use these personal touches to make it easier to remember important points. I create some references that only extreme fans will notice, but they help me to remember what kind of permissions or roles I’m demonstrating. As an example, if I’m going to describe someone with full access to a system, I might use Professor Falken (and obviously a password of Joshua). For a user in my corporate hacking department, you may find that Malcolm Reynolds aims to misbehave. Do you need a pesky HR user? Don’t look too closely but Pam Poovey might make an appearance. Each personal touch has meaning and I can easily “jump into character” as I tell my story.

Push  yourself

Practice makes permanent perfect. If you have a chance, practice demonstrations for anyone and everyone (except customers) that will listen. You will start to notice that your confidence grows and you may start to experiment with different stories or functions. While I don’t recommend trying new things in a customer demonstration, I do suggest trying this with your practice audience. Some of my best scenarios came out of testing things that were far beyond the standard knowledge expected of my role. I even had the chance to institute a few best practices with my new material.

You’ll also find that highly engaged customers won’t always let you stick exactly to your originally planned storyline. While I’ve seen some people become annoyed, I consider this to be an honor. An engaged customer, asking you quality questions, will ultimately sell the product to themselves if you can properly demonstrate what they are asking. If you know your environment thoroughly, you can easily present the answer to random questions and off the wall scenarios. What happens if Amy Pond gets removed from my “companions” group? That’s a great question, let me show you!

Is that all?

I could probably write a book on each one of these headings, diving deeper into each scenario and why it’s helpful. However, I’m not sure that a step-by-step detailed analysis would be the right approach. I’d prefer you go out and practice. Find your own style and use it. Start with a set of core concepts and evolve a strategy from those.

The key to knowing your data is to make it meaningful to you, practice constantly, and stretch yourself. I urge you to become the expert in your field. Once you learn something, nobody can take that away from you. So, get out there and demo like a pro!

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