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A Recipe for More Engaging Software Demos

by Tom Johnson on Apr 3, 2008 •
categories: technical-writing

This is a funny video of Chris Pirillo talking about how difficult it is to teach people software.

In software training sessions I've given recently, I've learned that demos can be incredibly boring unless you do them in a certain way. People don't learn much by simply watching you click through everything and explain tabs and buttons. People learn by doing, so you have to get them doing something.

Here's my recipe, recommended by a friend, for delivering more engaging software demos. (This assumes you're in a computer lab).

  • Show a few of the most common tasks one can do with the software. 10 minutes.
  • Give a list of 5-7 tasks (not too hard) for users to complete. While they work on the tasks, walk around and help them out individually. 15 min.
  • As a group, walk through how to do each exercise. 10 min.
  • Answer miscellaneous questions. 10 min.

People like to be challenged with exercises -- that's the key. Even if you haven't shown them how to do the task, that's okay. Let them try to figure it out.

Also, make sure you invite your interaction designer to come and watch people stumble around the application.

What tips and techniques do you use to keep people engaged while giving software demos?

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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