Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

Presenting New Software to Business Users

We get exited about new software releases. Full of enthusiasm we swarm out to tell the world of business users about all the shiny new features. We are met with a shrug. What went wrong? We used the wrong approach! We drowned our audience in the river of features. When presenting new software to business users, be it a new product or an upgrade to an existing software, listing features (how kewl is that...) won't excite anybody outside tech. We need to tell a compelling story how the new software improves the utility of users' computer use. In other word we need to clarify what's in for them.
So you structure your presentation around business scenarios and how the set of abilities in your software benefit this scenario. Software designers (at least the enlightened ones) use Personas for their scenarios. You standing in front of an audience you (should) know, of course pick examples that are relevant to the people that look you in the eye in that very presentation. However a good business scenario is not good enough. They way you communicate it is essential. Anybody loves a good story.
The best advice for structuring your presentation I found so far is provided by LeeAundra Keany a.k.a. The Contrary Public Speaker. She strongly suggest to use a classic speech approach as used by Aristotle, Plato, Quintillian or Cicero. Her presentation model consist of six simple elements (summary and explanation partly from the book, partly by me):
  1. The Message
    You need to answer the question: "What do I want the audience to do and why should they do it". For software demonstrations the "What" seems simple: "buy my product" or "demand the upgrade", but after a little soul searching you might end up with "See a different work style", "change their attitude towards ..". The why is trickier. Here you need to know your audience well - it's the What's in for me? question. A good message is clear, focused and compelling
  2. Audience Analysis
    LeeAundra sums it up: "The quality of the speech itself is powerless against the preconceived notions of the listeners UNLESS the speech and the speaker understand and deal with them". So be clear who is your audience. The CEO pitch differs from the CIO pitch and differs from the message for the personal assistants. You need to be clear about three questions: "What do they think of your message? What do they think of you? What is their state of mind?"
  3. The Speech
    Good speeches are short to the point. Good demos too. Your biggest mistake is to walk through endless variations of the same. Prepare the variations if our audience demands more, but keep your plan to the essentials. Write down your speech. Use simple words (keep in mind: simple doesn't mean simplistic!). Good speeches are highly structured and so should be your demo. Never just jump in, explain what will happen beforehand. I call that the "dentist model". (S)he will first tell you "I will hurt a little" before yanking out your teeth. The structure consists of 5 main components:
    1. Introduction: You provide an attention getter (no joke please unless you are really funny), explain why this is important - plan that message well, you will tie back to it - and the preview what you will show and tell in the body. For a detailed discussion of attention getter options see the book.
    2. The Body: The main part of your speech. Every item (don't have too many of them) has a point - a business case so to speak. You state your argument and then provide supporting evidence. In a software demo that's the part where you click around. You sum up the learning points and provide the transition to your next point. Build your points around utility rather than feature by feature. I experienced repeating features deliberately in different combinations for different use cases works very well.
    3. Preliminary Conclusion: You sum up the arguments you build during the main body. Don't stop like "That's what I wanted to show". You can and should tie back to your introduction. Something like "I promised to show you .... and I have delivered by ....". You also can state what else is possible that you didn't cover. Lead up to the Q&A session
    4. Question and Answer session: Of course you know your software, so any questions about functionality should come easy. However you need to be prepared for question around statistical evidence, reference customers implementation needs etc. Quite popular are questions how your product compares in function or market share to your competitors. I typically turn questions "what's about feature X" into "How do you solve the use case where product Y is using feature X with my product"
    5. Final Conclusion: Don't end your presentation with the last question from the Q&A session. Tie back to your message from the introduction. Rule the floor.
    This is a *very* compressed summary. Go read the book.
  4. Delivery
    You need to practise. Practise. Practise. In IT we are tentatively guilty to use to much insider lingo, so watch out for that (and watch your use of TLA). Also slow down. Speaking faster you risk loosing your audience. Pause to let key points sink in. Silence is not dangerous. Watch your non-verbal delivery: posture, gestures and eye contact. My own posture greatly improved after practicing Tai Chi and Martial arts. Stand straight, feel both feet on the ground, be in the moment. Look at your audience. Eye contact is king. This is another reason why you want to explain things before you click through them. While you click everybody's eyes are elsewhere. And - your are not a caged animal: Don't pace.
  5. Visual Aids
    LeeAundra states: "The Madness Has to Stop!" I second her. Go look at Presentation ZEN (or buy the book) Nuff said.
  6. Question and Answers
    This most likely is the most important part of your speech. You switch from story telling to conversation, from showing to interacting. In the Q&A session you will reveal how well you understand your topic (and the audience), where your passion lies. A good answer to a question accomplishes three things: it answers the question, it strengthens your argument and it reaffirms your message.
LeeAundra has a Podcast and sells her book online. Go it's one of the best career investments you can make. I love the final sentence in her book:

" Now go out there and impress everybody!"

Posted by on 16 May 2010 | Comments (2) | categories: Software


  1. posted by Albert Buendia on Monday 17 May 2010 AD:
    Post now in my delicious bookmarks, Emoticon smile.gif
  2. posted by Wilma Karsdorp on Tuesday 25 May 2010 AD:
    Timing is good, I am preparing a presentation at the moment and this is really useful.
    I will surely follow those links as well. Thanks