Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 18. Record your demos.

This is the eighteenth in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course. Record your demos.

I have already talked about recording sessions and some reasons why it's a good idea to do so.

Yesterday, Bryan talked about the value of pre-recorded demos especially when you want to mitigate against hardware problems.

There have been several cases where I have been glad of my pre-recorded demos.

I employ a number of contrived demos that if I miss a single step, the whole thing falls apart. If I know that I have such a demo coming up, I will often speed view the demo on my machine over a coffee break, just to remind myself of the key points and flow.

For courses such as Maintaining a SQL Server 2008 R2 Database where you are expected to install the product and point out important installation options, delegates will find the part where we sit back and watch a green bar advance across the screen very tedious. Having a video of this would allow you to skip or speed up the dull bits.

Although you could achieve the same result with a series of screen shots in a Powerpoint deck, seeing a real installation take place feels more 'real' and believable.

By the way. I haven't actually delivered the Maintaining a SQL Server 2008 R2 Database course and so cannot be sure if the trainer actually has to demonstrate the installation. However, I did deliver the SQL Server 2000 equivalent and back then you had to perform just such a demo.

As Bryan  says, sometimes the hardware cannot cope. Either the wrong equipment has been provided for an on-site course or there are technical difficulties in the training room. No one wants to sit there and watch a desperate trainer try (for the fifth time) to get a demo to work.

You can tell them that "it usually works perfectly" all you like, but they will still find the experience frustrating. So if you know that the demo will be impossible or it has failed once for whatever reason, you can paraphrase Blue Peter and say "here's one that I recorded earlier".

One last specific. A couple of years ago, I delivered a lot of Silverlight readiness training on behalf of Microsoft. As you might imagine, there was a need to demonstrate live Silverlight applications which in turn required an internet connection.

I couldn't always rely on the venue being able (or willing) to supply an internet connection. Also, sometimes there would be a mismatch between the Silverlight plug-in on my (or provided) machine and the version required by the example site. For example. I would sometimes have the developer plug-in installed and would then get prompted to download the 'correct' plug-in for the application.

Sometimes the application that I wanted to demonstrate would have a short shelf life and I could not count on it being available in future.

Time to roll out the recorded demo. Now the "done thing" here is not to start the video playing and then nip off for a brew while the delegates watch it (although I was taught by a guy once who would do just that). Instead, set the video playing with the sound turned off and then narrate it yourself (pausing or skipping as required).

A particular favourite of mine (Silverlight application) was an application built to demonstrate the use of data encoded into videos by Expression Encoder and processed in a Silverlight media player by handling the MarkerReached event.

The application was called the Contoso Bike club and it involved you watching a video recorded by a cyclist on his bike cam. Whilst cycling around London, the cyclist had used a GPS device to record his position at various points along the route. This data was then added into the video so that when the video was being played back, an image of a Bicycle could be moved around a Virtual Earth map.

Very clever.
My favourite point (50 seconds in) was where the cyclist approaches a busy junction and instead of sitting at the red lights, elects to cut across traffic, almost mow down three pedestrians and then cuts across traffic again to cross the Thames. Crazy! And they (Microsoft) used to show this one at the PDC and MIX!
If you do not currently record your demos, you had better get started. One day, you will be glad that you did.
So. Tip # 18? Record your demos.

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

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