How we demo…


I get a bunch of questions at events etc… on how our team do demos.  I don't mean the content of the demos, i mean the actual setup and execution.

You might think this is a simple question to answer, but it is more complex than you think.

First up there is no single answer to this, but it basically boils down to what type of event you are demoing/presenting at.

Here is how we break then down:

Tier A:   Big high profile keynotes demos, usually done by or for an executive.  Think of TechEd keynotes, PDC keynotes etc…  These are demos you never ever want to mess up in :)

Tier B: These are still important demos, but usually a smaller crowd (less than 300).  Sometimes for an exec or in front of a bunch of execs.

Tier C:   Everything else.

Demo Tip: Don’t tell the owner of the event which bucket you have categorized their event in.  They sometimes don't like you telling them they are a Tier B event :)

Physical Hardware:

Tier A & B events usually require a complete set of backup demo gear.  This sometimes will save your day & or may never get used at all.  Trust me, when the s**t hits the fan you will be counting you self lucky you have it on hand.

For Tier A events we usually get in server grade machines to ensure total stability and performance.  Most of the time they just run Windows Server 2008  with Hyper-V.

For other event types we tend to need to be more portable & we run most demos on a grunty laptop.  Currently we are using HP 8530w machines with Quad core extreme processors, 2 SATA 7200 RPM disks (important to have the 2nd drive for Virtual Machine performance) & 8GB RAM.

If you need 2 machines in the set up then a crossover cable between them for networking is ideal.  Not using a hub/switch is good because that is one more single point of failure you want to rule out.  Most gigabit network cards can just use a regular network cable, you don't need a cross over cable as they auto detect.

Remember what i said earlier about backup gear.  For Tier A & B events we usually run two identical sets of gear.

Software Setup:

For SharePoint demos this usually requires 1x Server with SharePoint, AD, Exchange, OCS etc… on it.  We have a library of ready to go Virtual Machines (Hyper-V) that we spin up when needed.  We run this image on one of the HP laptops spec’d above & give it 6GB RAM. 

For Tier A & B events we sometimes we also need to add another machine, or two, for the Client machine(s).  This is usually a Windows 7 machine with Office and IE on it.  Joined to the same domain as the server virtual machine.  It is usually a physical machine so we get Aero effects etc… working.

Fail over:

If the worst happens you want to fail over to your backup kit quickly.  This means it needs to be in exactly the same state your primary kit was in when you flip the video switch over. 

How do you do this i hear you ask?  … easy … you have someone on the backup kit back stage following mouse and keyboard strokes click for click.

When you switch to back up the other person (we call them our shadow) takes hands off keyboard and mouse and the presenter is back in control.

To make all this work you need some pretty sophisticated KVM technology.  This allows two sets of screens, keyboards & mice to be plugged in and working on the same machine at the same time.  One set up front on stage … and another back stage.

Demo Prep:

They say preparation is the key.  IT IS.  When prepping for a Tier A & B event we script every mouse click and movement in a demo script & then learn it.  On stage we have a shortened version that you can follow along with in case you get lost.

They key here is that your shadow will have also learnt the script and will be following along.  They will be watching you screen and following along … but it is much easier if they know what should be coming next.

Remember, every time you deviate from the script you potentially run into something you were not expecting :)

Demo Tip:   Have an automated way to get back to the starting state of your demo.  For us this usually means a snapshot in Hyper-V.  You must be able to roll back to a good known state time after time.  This bit me during my PDC session when my machine was not quite in the right state to begin with & my demo didn't work right.

Demo Tip: For Tier C events where you don’t have a shadow backstage you can use Hyper-V snapshots very effectively.  Snapshot the major areas of your demo after you have completed them.  In the event of demo meltdown you can simply roll forward to the next snapshot and move on.  This is really important if a latter part of your demo relies on a previous part working!


I hope this has given you some insight into what goes into some of the demos we give & how seriously we take them. 

Final note:  For Tier A events it is usually a 500:1 ratio of prep time to demo time.  So if you have a 15min demo on stage plan on spending 125 hours in prep.  That includes working out what you are going to demo, building it, scripting it, debugging anything, setting up the hardware & software etc…  i.e. LOTS of work.  For Tier B & C events the ratio drops significantly.