The Curious Case of Live Demos

I’ll go straight to the point: I think live demos in technical sessions are a waste of time. No, no, hear me out, I’ll explain what I mean. Even more importantly, I’m curious to hear dissenting views.

I’ll start with a little bit of background so you’ll understand where I’m coming from. I’m a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and I’ve been training people professionally for over 20 years. For me, it’s all about the penny dropping for the learner. To put it simply: if you don’t get what I’m trying to teach you, that’s on me. That’s on me, and I need to do better to help you understand.

I take on a huge responsibility when I go in front of people and try to teach something. Not only do I need to make absolutely sure that what I’m saying is technically correct, I also need to make sure that the way I’m saying it makes it easy for the learner to understand and subsequently apply. In many ways, that is actually more important than the technical accuracy. Anyone can point to the documentation, but in order for the documentation to make any sense, the learner must have an idea of what the terms and concepts mean in the first place - and that can be extremely difficult to google.

In order to convey a concept, I will be using every trainer trick in the book. I will use stories to connect to the more than just the learner’s technical experience and knowledge. I will be using callouts to point to the important stuff. I will be zoom in on the most important parts. I will change the pace, my voice pitch and use as many ways to exemplify the concept I need to make my point as clear as I can possibly make it.

In order to do all these things, I need to control the learning environment. And that leads us back to my point.

I can’t control the learning environment if I’m doing a live demo or code. The resolution might make it difficult to make out the text. The amount of information on the screen can make it hard to see what I’m doing. The mouse might be difficult to follow. I might need to do many intermediary steps that take a long time. Heck, the WiFi might crap out and make it impossible for me to show anything at all!
I haven’t even touched on my ability to talk while coding either. (Hint: I don’t have one!) I won’t win any accolades for that, believe me.

How is this relevant to speaking at conferences, you might ask? Well, in my view, there is no difference. Speaking at a conference or teaching a five day course - I’m still in my trainer persona. I’m not on stage for me - I’m on stage for my audience.
I’m trying to convey a concept, a conclusion, an idea.

I feel I owe it to my audience to create the best environment for teaching my point that I can. While I’m sure some select people are able to do that live, I fail to see the point. I can’t think of anything my audience will gain from me doing something live, opposed to crafting a detailed teaching moment without any distractions.

If you’re a speaker - what’s your take on this? If you’re a conference attendee - what do you prefer, and why?