On Technical Demos

18 Feb, 2023
The magic is lost when you look behind the shoulders of the magician

Imagine the following scenario:

It's the year 2006, and you're attending the Macworld event. You've heard the rumors that the first-ever MacBook Pro will be unveiled today. The anticipation in the room is palpable, and you can feel your heart beating faster as you wait for the presentation to begin.

Suddenly, the lights dim, and the spotlight shines on Steve Jobs as he walks onto the stage with a silver-colored notebook in hand. You can feel the excitement building in the room as he announces that he's holding the first MacBook Pro ever and will be demonstrating its capabilities.

As Steve reaches the podium, he presses the power button on the laptop. The iconic "ding" sound fills the room, and you can hear a few gasps from the audience. A projected screen shows the Apple logo on the boot screen, and you can't help but feel a surge of anticipation.

But then, the waiting begins. 

After about 30 seconds, Steve Jobs announces that, as it's a completely new laptop, he needs to set up the user profile.  You watch as he scrolls through the different language options and selects English (US), clicking "next" to proceed.

Next, Steve sets up the time zone, selecting PST, and then mumbles to himself as he sets up his username as "Steve Jobs" and enters a long string of characters for the password.

The spinner on the screen spins as the profile is being set up, and you can sense the restlessness in the room.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the desktop of the MacBook Pro appears. 

You feel a sense of relief wash over you, but it's short-lived as Steve Jobs clicks on the Wi-Fi button at the top right and selects the conference Wi-Fi. You watch as he enters the password and wait once again, this time for the connection to be established.

"We are now connected to the internet on a freshly set-up laptop," Steve says. 

"Now let's try to browse the Apple website." You can hear the excitement in his voice, but you can't help but feel a sense of impatience as he clicks on the Safari browser and enters "apple.com" into the address bar.

Finally, the website loads, and Steve starts scrolling around, talking about how easy it is to use the new MacBook Pro to surf the internet. 

You're relieved that the waiting is over, but you can't help but wonder if the laptop has better specifications than the HP laptop that you've recently set your eyes on.

The magic is lost. 

In a recent event hosted by the team to introduce our Earn product for the first time, I was asked to set up a lending pool to bring the participants through the process of browsing, funding and withdrawing from a loan pool. My mind was immediately brought back to the last time we had such a demo within the team…

During that demo, we had to walkthrough and explain how to get the bluSGD stablecoins to fund the pool, wait for the pool to start at the right timing, fund the pool at the right timing and then wait again for a complete period to pass before being able to withdraw funds from the pool.

All of these, while trying to guess what is a good amount of time between each period of the repayment. It's a complex task because we are trying to compress a loan that would have been repaid over a year with monthly repayment to a loan that last for 15 mins with 3 min repayment period. Too long a repayment period and it will be too much waiting in between activities. Too short and we will have to redo the demo altogether. 

At the end of the demo, people probably had an inkling that the product "worked".

But… it's not a working product that inspires and excite people does it?

The purpose of a product launch or introduction is to inspire and excites. It should cater to the inner most desires or core motivations of the audience.

Think of yourself as a magician. You want to elicit awe and astonishment from your audience. If your audience is left wondering how your magic trick works, the magic is lost.

As the presenter, you are seeking an emotional response to your product, not a logical one. A technical demo does exactly the opposite, and should be avoided at all cost in the initial engagement.

There are only three scenarios which a technical product demo is appropriate:

  • You are a computer science student and you are conducting a demo of your project to the professor for grading.
  • You are at a hackathon and is showing how the product works (although I'll say a figma demo will work better here).
  • You are at the tail-end of the sales cycle and is now talking to people-on-the-ground for the final thumbs up to complete the sales after the big guys who controls the pursestrings already said yes to it.

Reflection Questions

  • What emotion do you want your audience to feel when introducing the product to them for the first time? 
  • What core motivations do your audience have? How do you appeal to the core motivations? 
  • Why does companies like SAP, Workday, or any IBM product continues to serve huge companies when their product are known to suck? Why did the managers make the purchase? Won't they already have sat through the product demo of how it works for the workers who will use it day-to-day? What happened in the sales meeting that made the manager buy the product? What can we learn there?

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