Public Speaking Tip 7 : Live demonstrations

Live demonstrations are something I’ve done from day 1. It wasn’t so much a decision I made, it just seemed the right thing to do. Does that mean that you should use live demos too? As Tom Kyte always tells us, the answer is “it depends”. 🙂 If I am honest, my desire to demo things comes from my own insecurities. If I don’t show it, I feel like I’m a liar. Is that the right motivation for doing a demo? Hell no! Here are a few thoughts about live demonstrations.

You can demo too much!

It takes some time to see where demos are adding benefit and where they are just bloat. You will also redevelop your style of demoing over time. When I first did my Clonedb talk I demoed everything. I did all the setup, ran a backup and did the actual clone. That’s fine, but do people really want to see me (mis)type a bunch of commands and edit config files live on stage? I think it’s safe to say they are capable of following a recipe in my article if they want to. What really has some impact is when they see you clone a database in 2 minutes, regardless of size. You look out into the audience and see the proverbial light bulb come on. Demos are nice, but don’t overdo it. Identify the things that will have maximum impact, for minimum time waste. (Note to self: Listen to your own advice once in a while! You need to work on this!!)

Live demos go wrong!

I would not recommend doing live demos when you first start. Why? Because they go wrong. You accidentally screw things up, the demo doesn’t work as you expected or your laptop dies and you can’t run your demos on someone else’s laptop. When demos work well they are great. When they fail they can totally ruin a presentation. As I mentioned in a previous post, you need a disaster recovery plan. I would suggest in many cases, if the demo does not work instantly, laugh it off and move on. Trying to fix or rerun it often ends up being a complete time waster.

Of course, you should try to make demos as robust and re-runnable as possible!

Are video demos a better option?

In many ways I think video demos are superior to live demos. For a start, they work properly every time. 🙂 More importantly, there are some things it’s really difficult to demo on a laptop. You will see a number of presenters rocking up with super-duper laptops, so they can run RAC and Cloud Control in their demo. That is a serious investment in kit for the handful of times you need it. It’s far better to run the demo on some real kit at home or at work, record it and play that to the audience. It also allows you to do things like zoom in to specific parts of the screen or add notes for additional clarity.

But I can run my demo on AWS or from my office can’t I? Only if you have a suitable internet connection. Not all venues provide this and not all venues have great mobile reception. I would not rely on this!

What size/quality of screen are you using?

You don’t know what sort of screens you are going to get until you get there. I’ve worked with everything from giant auditorium screens to projectors not much bigger than a large TV. Most will show slides OK, but many will look terrible if you try to show code or IDEs, unless you can zoom in. I would go as far as to say, demoing an IDE (SQL Developer, JDeveloper etc.) without a zoom function is a fail.

Some projectors really can’t handle switching between slides and other apps. Some of my demos involve me switching between Powerpoint, a text editor and a terminal session. When there is a 10 second lag each time you make that switch it is a real ball-ache. You really need to consider how you are going to handle this type of situation. Maybe that will involved switching to your backup plan…

Do people like demos?

Some do. Some don’t. In my speaker evaluations I’ve had responses from both camps for the same presentation. Literally one comment saying, I loved the fact he demoed everything and another saying it was demo overload. You can’t please all the people all the time. I’ll talk about that in another tip. 🙂


I could carry on talking about this subject, but the post is getting rather large already. 🙂 So do you demo or not? Do what feels right to you, but keep in mind that it must not break the flow of your presentation. Remember, maximum impact for minimum time waste.



Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

14 thoughts on “Public Speaking Tip 7 : Live demonstrations”

  1. I’m all for live demos and therefore disagree with the video approach. Agreed, it’s safe – but also boring for the same reason. Also, you can’t do things differently with a video – e.g. in order to answer a question instantly with (another) demo. If you want to see a video, you don’t need to attend a presentation – YouTube will do then.

  2. @Uwe : Well, I do live demos too. I guess the thing I’m trying to get to here is, what value are you adding with a failed demo? 🙂

    I think the video demos I’m talking about are not really the sort of thing you could post on YouTube, as I would still expect a live commentary, which adds the extra flavour. 🙂



  3. I don’t like video demos either, logic tells me they are a good idea, but they just aren’t quite as exciting. That’s my POV at least. If you do do them it is good to be able to stop and pause them to discuss something and a live commentary is a must.

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