Nathan MacNeill, the co-founder of a company called Network Streaming (recently renamed Bomgar), documented the lessons that he learned from winning the DEMOgod award at DEMO 2006. I am publishing what he wrote for three reasons:

That is, to his credit, Nathan figured out a way to get me to plug his company in my blog. If there’s anyone who appreciates sly marketing/evangelism/manipulation, it’s me.

How We Got DEMOgod by Nathan MacNeill

There are a lot of good resources on how to be successful at Demo and even more good resources on what makes a great demonstration. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the things that stood out the most in our successful attempt to be a DEMOgod at DEMO 2006 and in watching the sixty nine other demos. See our demo here. I’m the brown-haired guy with the goatee

[Guy: which he should shave off]  that you only see for a second but hear talking for a couple of minutes.

Use Fewer Everything

Words, Points, Features. DEMO is not the time to explain the nuances of your product, your market, or your company. Many companies see the six minutes as a time trial to see how many cool features they can show off without crashing the application or getting tongue twisted.

Don’t be optimistic about what your audience will remember from your demo. Depending on when you demonstrate, they may have already seen 60+ product demos ranging from image search to spam filtering. After awhile, the demonstrators start to sound like Charlie Brown’s mom.

If you expect anyone to gather anything about what you do, then you have to put everything you have into demonstrating one or two main, benefit-oriented, features that you think will blow the audience away. If you try and fit in three main points, then they may not remember but one. If you try to fit in four, then they probably will not remember any.


“DEMOgod” is a play on words for the term “demigod” which is defined as “a being with partial or lesser divine status, such as a minor deity.” The point of this is that you are NOT God and, as such, have no right to assume that you will not make a fool of yourself in front of 600 people given the opportunity but not preparing.

Your underlying assumption should be that you require endless planning and repetition in order to ensure that the components of the demo that you control go as planned. You can calculate the number of times you should rehearse a demo by using this forumula:

Importance of the demo (on a scale of one to ten, ten being most important)


Inability to get a second chance (on a scale of one to ten, ten being no second chance)

A demo to your mom on how to use a new toaster would get a one. A demo to George W. Bush about why your product should be deployed nationwide by federal security mandate would be a 100. If you graduated from Stanford with a double major in computer science and drama, then you should double the number of repetitions to compensate for overconfidence.

Even well-prepared companies fail at DEMO, but you want to stack the deck. Joel and I repeated our script with each other until it was more natural to say the script right than it was to say it wrong. Could we have winged it? Sure. Have we winged other demos? Uh, yeah. Were we capable of screwing the demo completely up in the first thirty seconds? You betcha!

For DEMO, the importance was high and the repeatability low, so impromptu and ad hoc were replaced with robotic adherence to “the plan” (which, as Guy Kawasaki has mentioned, sounds more impromptu than impromptu if practiced thoroughly). Adhering to a scripted plan has the added benefit of naturally eliminating sections of the demo that didn’t sound cheesy to you the first ten times you practiced.

Practice Failing

No matter how much you prepare, something can still go wrong. Fortunately for us, our product worked great. However, the day before, during our technical rehearsal, the product froze. I didn’t really have a good way of keeping the demo on track, but Joel probably could have bailed me out had it been the real thing (as a CEO, he is better at producing words without corresponding mental activity).

We had rehearsed contingency plans, but, looking back, should have done a lot more practice to ensure that we could still go on past a product crash. Realistically speaking, a crash is sort of like landing on your butt in the Olympics after attempting a triple Sow Cow; you can get up and complete a great show, but you are probably out of the running for a DEMOgod. Lesson learned: test your product until it knows the script as well as you do, and then assume it will forget its lines.

Learn from the past

You can benefit from the experience of countless other DEMO participants in the excellent training material that DEMO offers to its demonstrators. This material teaches important tactics for not looking stupid, making the point, demonstrating relevance, and preparation. Despite this wealth of resources, company after company violated the rules that DEMO laid down, almost universally to the company’s detriment on the stage. Among these enlightening insights was…

Skip the Skit

Of all the helpful hints that the DEMO training offered, this was the most clear, the most helpful, and the most violated by DEMO 2006 demonstrators. I watched approximately twenty five skits, and there was only one that I remember being funny or entertaining (the goal of all twenty five). Unless you and your fellow demonstrators are exceptionally talented actors/actresses, your skit will come across exactly the same way as an elementary school skit. . . with one important distinction:

Your parents are not the audience.

DEMO attracts hundreds of venture capitalists, journalists, and entrepreneurs–all of which share the common trait of not having a sense of humor. Even if they did have a sense of humor, they would not laugh at you wearing a cape and pretending to be Captain Spammer. Skits at DEMO were, for the most part, boring, embarrassing, long (it seemed like skits were given twelve minutes), and painfully non-professional. People train for years to act like they are not acting when they are acting. You are not one of those people.

Don’t force the laugh

Because DEMO attendees are born without a sense of humor, they may not laugh at your jokes even if you are generally known to be funny (if you are not known to be funny before DEMO, you won’t be given that gift the night before DEMO). However, jokes help to make your demo engaging if they are delivered correctly. Here’s the rule of thumb should you attempt jocularity:

Don’t tell jokes that require laughter

You should be able to continue past the joke without awkwardness even if you don’t hear a peep from the audience. (I think that all but one of our jokes met this criteria. Looking back, I would have taken that joke out.) At DEMO 2006, there were approximately fifteen venture capitalist jokes (we considered trying a company valuation joke, but took it out). The auditorium contained probably 100+ venture capitalists and not even the first venture capitalist joke got laughs. If the absence of laughs would leave a painful silence, kill the joke. It’s not worth the risk.

Have Fun

Assuming you have rehearsed twenty times more than you really felt was necessary and paid attention to all of the DEMO training, then you should feel licensed to enjoy the experience on stage. It’s quite a rush with very few parallel experiences. Don’t waste it, use it, relish it. The demonstrators who seemed like they were actually enjoying the experience were refreshing to an audience that had been nervously watching after group of white-knuckled, poker-faced execs.


…I’m not kidding. You may get a DEMOgod, but you are still not God.

PS, Nathan may be a DEMOgod, but he’s sure not a NAMINGgod because calling his company “Network Streaming,” for what it does, is not exactly what I would call “;logical.” However, it’s much easier to fix a name than a product.