Communicating A Message

I'll let Hans focus on expanding upon some of the geekier details of some of the demos he's working on. Which will give me an opportunity to switch things up a little bit and discuss some of the overall concepts of how to go about designing a great demo.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a demo, is to make sure that it communicates the right message to the audience. And before you can communicate this message YOU need to know what that message is. There are countless occasions when I see demoers totally lose track of the message, or try to use far too complex of a message in their demos and presentations.

Often, when you ask somebody to articulate a core message that they are wanting to communicate, they will ramble off a paragraph or two. If you ask them to repeat that message, they will usually ramble off a slightly different paragraph, since they can't exactly remember what it was they said the first time. Makes you wonder how they expect the audience to remember that message if they can't themselves.

I like to try to get people to distill their message down to something that would make a great headline in a newspaper. One short sentence, with few (if any) unecessary words. Such a message is far easier to consistantly repeat, but more importantly it is easier for the audience to understand AND remember... which is the point after all now isn't it?

I think it would be useful to spend a few moments taking on an actual example to help illustrate this. Let’s take a set of messages that perhaps we are all roughly familiar with, Newton’s Laws of Motion. Here they are as Newton himself originally stated them:

1. Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus a viribus impressis cogitur statum illum mutare.

2. Mutationem motus proportionalem esse vi motrici impressae et fieri secundum lineam rectam qua vis illa imprimitur.

3. Actioni contrariam semper et aequalem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones is se mutuo semper esse aequales et in partes contrarias dirigi.

Clearly this represents a set of messages that would be awkward to present, and difficult for the audience to remember, much less understand. Ok, so part of the reason for that is because they are in Latin, but that’s only partially to blame. To get past that hurdle, let’s take a look at a translation of these same laws as they would appear in English and see if that makes them much easier to understand and remember:

1. Every body-perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon.

2. The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the straight line in which that force is impressed.

3. To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.

Nope, still not at a state that would allow them to form a core message that is easy to communicate to an audience. So let us try our hand at modifying these statements to make them fit better as a presentation or demo:

1. An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force.

2. When force is applied to an object, it will proportionally alter its velocity.

3. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Some might argue that the exact wording used here doesn’t as precisely match the exact laws that were being laid down by Sir Newton, but frankly that’s not important. One of the worst things you can do when trying to set up your message, is to get caught up in the exactitude of them. The messaging you choose to use doesn’t have to be so accurate that it sounds like a lawyer wrote it; it just has to properly communicate the intent, concept, and potential without being misleading.

As for Sir Newton, it’s possible that the first “English Translation” I listed above is the first time you’ve ever seen his laws listed with wording like that. I know that it took me a while to track these down. More than likely what you’ve seen are closer to what I’ve listed in the last, and more sensible, listing. Why’s that? Because people have had a hard time quickly grasping the “original” ones, and so the presenters have continuously been tweaking their wording in order to make these laws more memorable.

So before you get too far along with designing your next demo, take a little time to try to identify the messages that are at the core of your demo, and work on crafting them in a tight and memorable way.

-Robert Hess