Stunningly Awful Demos: The Top Ten List of What NOT to Do - Great Demo

Stunningly Awful Demos: The Top Ten List of What NOT to Do

stunningly awful demos - top 10 donts

Stunningly Awful Demos: The Top Ten List of What NOT to Do

(A Collection of Demo Don’ts!)

A Never Stop Learning! Article

Here’s a collection of poor strategies, failed tactics, bad errors, and faulty steps you can take to increase the likelihood that your demo will be a failure. We recommend that you avoid doing these things!

If your organization’s demos are not as successful as you wish, consider using this list as an assessment tool. If these items occur frequently you may want to make some changes!

What “Don’ts” Are in This Article for You?

Bite-size or full meal learning: Your choice! You can sample each of these on their own or consume the full article. Either way, you win! Here’s the menu:

  1. Be unclear on your Prospect’s Needs: “The Harbor Tour.”
  2. Present a Long Linear Demo that saves the best for last: “Where is this going…?”
  3. Start with a Corporate Overview: “Death by Corporate Overview…”
  4. Don’t reconfirm the Time Constraints for the meeting: “Sorry, we’re out of time…”
  5. Pack as many Features and Functions into your demo as possible: “And another thing you can do is…”
  6. Show the same demo, regardless of your Prospect’s Needs or Interest: “One for all…”
  7. Let Questions drive you into the weeds: “But what about…?”
  8. Don’t use the Annotation and Other Tools in your online demos: “Can you see my screen…?”
  9. Don’t describe your big Wow! Screens: “Doesn’t that look great…?”
  10. Avoid Summarizing: “And the next really cool thing I want to show you is…”
  11. Plus, a BONUS “Don’t”!

Each delightful “Don’t” also includes a solution to help you improve and avoid SAD (Stunningly Awful Demo) outcomes. Enjoy!


The Stunningly Awful Demos (“SAD”) Top Ten List:

  1. Be unclear on your Prospect’s Needs: “The Harbor Tour.”

Offer and deliver a demo hoping that your prospect will see something of interest, eventually. Also known as “Living in the Land of Hope,” prospects refer to these long, tortured demos as:

    • Show-up and throw-up
    • Spray and pray
    • Tech splatter
    • The IKEA demo (“How do I get out of here…?!”)
    • Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot, and, of course,
    • The Harbor Tour (“Oh God, it’s the Harbor Tour Demo…” The prospect boards the boat, is driven around the harbor for three hours while continually being asked, “Have you seen anything you like so far?” And they can’t get off the boat until the end of the ride!)

Inexperienced presales and salespeople often inflict these demos on their prospects as a replacement for doing discovery. Jaded presales folks often feel forced to resort to these demos when they receive little or no pre-demo information from their sales colleagues.

Solution? Do discovery, if your prospect is willing, or deliver a Vision Generation Demo and then move into discovery! (See Chapter 11 in the Third Edition of Great Demo!)

  1. Present a Long, Linear Demo that saves the best for last: “Where is this going…?”

Have you ever been watching someone else’s demo and after a few minutes you start wondering, “Where is this going…?”

You can ensure the same awful fate for your prospects by delivering long, linear demos that show how to set up the system, then comprehensively plod through a workflow, taking forty, fifty, or sixty minutes (or longer!) to finally reach the end with the big pay-off screen. This tactic ensures that:

    • Your audience is half asleep by the time you reach the important take-away message and pay-off screen. In some cases, your audience may actually be asleep!
    • The most important people in the audience leave the room while you are still introducing the module names and navigation features.
    • The prospect is so mentally numb by the time that you do reach your big “Wow!” moment that they cannot remember it after the demo is over.

Could you make this worse? You bet!

    • Invest liberally in showing Set Up Mode tasks that are only done once (and often by the vendor during implementation) to squander more time with unimportant items.
    • Include all of the latest features to consume remaining time.
    • Every ten or fifteen minutes ask, “Any questions so far?” The “Nope, we’re good…” responses will encourage you to continue to drone onwards!

Solution? Do the Last Thing First! and apply the Inverted Pyramid approach to structure your demos.

  1. Start with a Corporate Overview: “Death by Corporate Overview…”

Make Number 2 even worse by starting with twenty minutes of your corporate overview. Regale your audience with your mission statement (yawn), your company’s formation and history (yawn), your revenues-over-time, office locations, markets, products, and that smorgasbord of customer logos (yawn, yawn, yawwwwn, zzzzzz…).

This strategy will ensure that:

    1. The most important people leave before you can even start the demo.
    2. You’ll have to go really fast to show everything you want to show in the time remaining!

Doing this also sets you up nicely for SAD item Number 4!

Solution? Start the meeting with a crisp summary of your prospect’s situation, using a Great Demo! Situation Slide. (See Chapter 6 in the Third Edition of Great Demo!) It’s all about your prospect!

  1. Don’t reconfirm the Time Constraints for the meeting: “Sorry, we’re out of time…”

You’d planned on two hours with the prospect when you set up the meeting a week ago. Is there any reason this might have changed?

Your prospect joins you at 10:00 AM and you dive into your agenda. Your team delivers a Corporate Overview presentation followed, after twenty minutes, by a long, linear demo.

Your key contact looks at their watch and says, “Um, can you please wrap things up in the next five minutes? We have an all-hands meeting scheduled at 11:00…” You end the demo without ever reaching your big “Wow!” screen and ask to schedule another demo!

Similarly, don’t reconfirm the list of participants or their objectives. It is such a delight to enter a room (or virtual room) of twenty people when you were expecting two and haven’t had a chance to do discovery with any of the new folks. (Which returns us to Number 1, again!)

Solution? Ask four questions at the very beginning of the demo meeting:

    1. What’s your name? (If you don’t already know.)
    2. What’s your job title? (Ditto.)
    3. What are your objectives for this meeting? (Or reconfirm.)
    4. What are your time constraints? (Reconfirm!)
  1. Pack as many Features and Functions into your demo as possible: “And another thing you can do is…”

Want to make your software appear as confusing and complicated as possible? Want more ways to bore and torture your audience? Want to help your prospect negotiate a price reduction for your software by “Buying It Back?”

It’s easy! Show as many features as you possibly can.

A simple way to achieve these negative results is to present your demo as if you are doing product training: “Let me show you how to do this, and that, and this other thing…” To really inflict pain, make sure to show and explain all the menu options, tabs, navigation tools, and configuration and setup options.

Be sure to include all the “if”, “or” and “also” cases for each option. These simple steps will yield a Stunningly Awful Demo!

Use “loopbacks” to further confuse and complicate: “Remember when I started that order process earlier in the demo?” (The prospect thinks, “Um, not really…”) “Well,” says the vendor, “now I’ll return to that order and show you several workflows to process it…”

Use as many “hats” (personas) as you can: “Now I’m Mary Manager approving the order that was generated by Steven Staffer a moment ago, but I’ll also show you how Elizabeth Executive can have Corey Controller put a hold on payment through Amy Accounting, and if Isabel Inventory can’t find the item she can alert Prentiss Procurement to restock, while Rachel Receiving is queued to watch for delivery, etc.” Your demo will have more characters than a Jane Austen novel!

Solution? Focus on the Specific Capabilities and deliverables you identified in discovery and use the fewest number of steps to complete each workflow or segment. Stay in “You Mode” throughout.

  1. Show the same demo, regardless of your Prospect’s Needs or Interest: “One for all…”

Ignore the fact that the VP in the room only wants a top-level summary of your offering and that the managers are only interested in their portion of the process. Instead, choose the lowest-level users’ scenario for your demo, such as an end user “day-in-the-life” saga.

This will ensure that the senior prospect players grow bored and leave the demo early. They’ll never see anything that compels their interest, requiring a second demo meeting, a loss to your competitor, or a No Decision outcome.

Similarly, the prospect managers won’t be thrilled with what they see, either! Your software will look too detailed and too complicated for them to use. In the end, you’ll have done a fair job training the target end users, but the training won’t be necessary since you won’t get the deal! A stunningly awful waste of time for everyone involved.

Solution? Organize your demo in “chunks” by job title. For example, address prospect executives first, then middle managers, then end users, and finally system admins.

  1. Let Questions drive you into the weeds: “But what about…?”

You’ve just started your demo when someone asks a question about your system’s login security, so you take a few minutes to answer the question. The prospect asks a follow-up question which you dutifully address in more detail, taking another few minutes. The prospect considers your answer, and then asks for more details. Now you are way off track, lost in the weeds!

Meanwhile, what has happened to the rest of the audience? They’ve checked out. They’re browsing the web, answering email, checking texts, working on other projects, and you’ve barely begun!

The SAD strategy? Answer all questions in depth, driving your demo into the weeds, the jungle, the swamp, the bog, and eventually, into the dumpster!

Even better, allow hostiles to hijack the meeting: These are the people who don’t like you, they don’t like your company, and they believe it is their purpose in life to torture the vendor. They’ll drag you on a bruising slog into treacherous territory!

Solution? Respond to Great Questions right away. Park Good Questions and park Stupid Questions as well. (See Chapter 8 “Managing Time and Questions” in the Third Edition of Great Demo!)

  1. Don’t use the Annotation and Other Tools in your online demos (using Zoom, Teams, WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc.): “Can you see my screen…?”

Here are wonderful ways for you to show your software in the worst possible way when demoing online:

    1. Don’t use the annotation tools, chat, whiteboards, pause, or any of the other capabilities that drive interactivity. Instead, hit the Share button and ask, “Can you see my screen?” Then talk and click, and talk and click for the balance of the time.
    2. Present nonstop for long stretches of time: Going six, ten, or fifteen minutes without a “check-in” with the audience is a great plan. This gives them time to leave the meeting to refresh their coffee, use the toilet, make lunch, take their dog out for walk, etc.
    3. Leave your mouse cursor at the small default size and move it constantly and rapidly throughout the demo. The small cursor means the audience will lean close to their screens to follow your action.
    4. Circle your mouse rapidly around areas of interest on your screen to draw attention. Your prospect will be fatigued or dizzy in no time!
    5. Ignore the fact that successful demos are a conversation with the prospect where “speaker-switches” should take place an average of every seventy-six seconds.

Solution? Driving interactivity is the name of the game for success with online demos. Use those annotation tools and other capabilities! Check in with your audience frequently. Cure Zippy Mouse Syndrome. See Chapter 13 “Virtual Demonstrations” in the Third Edition of Great Demo!

  1. Don’t describe your big Wow! Screens: “Doesn’t that look great…?”

You’ve been demoing along for forty or fifty minutes, and you finally get to a big Wow! Screen, one of the key deliverables your software provides. You say, “Doesn’t that look great?” and then swiftly move on to your next feature. This SAD approach ensures that your audience never remembers your key messages.

While you have seen that Wow! screen hundreds of times, this is the first time your audience has seen it. Showing that screen for just a few seconds puts your message in the long undifferentiated list with all the other 3000 marketing messages your prospect will see that same day. Good luck!

Do not use the annotation tools online to draw the audience’s attention to the key portions of these screens. That would only make it easy!

Solution? For every key screen that you share, describe, while pointing precisely or annotating, what your audience is seeing, how they would use it to solve their business problems, and how much value it represents for your prospect.

  1. Avoid Summarizing: “And the next really cool thing I want to show you is…”

“I get paid to talk and click,” commented a presales practitioner. So, just talk and click from section to section, segment after segment, in a continuous verbal assault.

Leave no pauses, offer no introductions and, by all means, don’t summarize after you complete an important segment. You want your delivery to be perceived as a firehose, furiously flinging features and functions frantically at your audience (frightening, frankly)! This SAD tactic contributes wonderfully to cultivate confusion, add complexity, and generally bore your audience to tears.

For maximum SAD effect, use this tactic in conjunction with long, linear, non-componentized, multiple-player, multi-product, multi-hour demos. You’ll have your audience toggling away from your demo to browse on Amazon, “multitask” on another project, check their phones, or explore the insides of their eyelids!

Solution? Provide a crisp summary after each section of your demo, and a more comprehensive final summary at the end. Summarizing after each chunk also encourages a productive conversation to take place by providing a clear opportunity for questions, comments, or feedback from your prospect.


To maximize your probability of disastrous demos, definitely don’t learn and apply a validated demo methodology.

Solution? Save yourself years! The Great Demo! book and Workshops are time machines, compressing decades of learning, experimentation, improvement, and evolution into a few hours. You can learn skills the long, painful, hard way, or you can leverage these learnings the fast, easy, effective way!

Speaking of Summaries…

These ten eleven SAD practices will certainly increase the probability that your demos will fail to help you achieve your goals. Instead, of course, follow the “Solution” guidelines in each section to improve your results!

Is this the end of the list? Certainly not! Follow our blog and peruse our articles for many more demo and discovery do’s and don’ts!


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To learn the methods introduced above, consider enrolling in a Great Demo! Doing Discovery or Demonstration Skills Workshop. For more demo and discovery tips, best practices, tools and techniques, explore our books, blog and articles on the Resources pages of our website at and join the Great Demo! & Doing Discovery LinkedIn Group to learn from others and share your experiences.

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