Product Demos Mistakes: How I Messed Up 30+ Product Demos as a Junior PM and How You Can Avoid It
Want to learn how to avoid common product demo mistakes?
“What is this?”
“What are you showing me?”
“Can you go a little slower?”
Definitely not the kind of questions you want to get in a product demo. But this was my reality when I first started giving product demos as a Junior Product Manager. I gave dumpster-fire demos.
A few years and 100+ product demos later, I’ve learned how to give killer product demos that keep my stakeholders engaged right until the end and get them truly excited about my vision.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through the five major ways I messed up product demos as a Junior PM. And how those mistakes helped me master the art of product demos as a PM.
Let’s get started.
What are product demos and why should PMs care?
I used to think product demos weren’t that important. And that it didn’t matter how you demoed a product because it just spoke for itself.
I was dead wrong.
Product demos are a sacred practice for product managers. Here’s why:
- You get to connect and build trust with your stakeholders by literally showing them incremental progress of the product.
- Product demos are a chance for you to talk about technical challenges the team overcame, which boosts stakeholders’ confidence in the team and raises team morale.
- They’re a chance for you to frame the latest product development to stakeholders in a way that gets them further bought into and excited about your vision.
Product demos play a critical role in the long-term success of your product. But to reap the benefits of product demos, you need to know how to do them well.
Let’s take a look at the first major way I messed up product demos as a Junior PM before I became good at them.
Product demos mistake #1: Speaking, moving my mouse, and changing windows too quickly and abruptly
During the first 10 product demos I gave as a Junior PM, I was nervous, talked way too fast, and sped through the demo like a bobsled racer.
I later justified it with the hypothesis that talking fast made me sound more confident and knowledgeable.
But my tornado-like product demo left my audience of stakeholders confused and frustrated:
“Wait, how did you get there? Can you slow down?”
“Can you go back to the last screen? I couldn’t see what you did there.”
Although I was staring at the product for several hours a day, my stakeholders were not.
Many of them were seeing certain parts of the product for the first time. Some of them weren’t tech-savvy and needed to be walked through the flows much slower.
I also learned it’s hard to follow what someone else is doing on their screen, especially when it’s something new. So you really need to slow your roll.
For my next few product demos, I spoke slower and moved my mouse slower. Funnily enough, it made me sound more confident and knowledgeable!
And I noticed my audience was less frantic and better able to follow along.
Speaking slower had the added effect of reducing the number of filler words I used — a massive distraction during presentations.
However, my less tech-savvy stakeholders were still struggling to follow along. So I experimented with running a commentary of what I was doing on my screen to see if it would help:
“Let’s enter an address here. I’m going to click on this Address Lookup button and a small window will pop up. Let’s type in a postal code and hit search.”
I was slightly worried that what I was saying was too obvious and my stakeholders would feel insulted that I was dumbing things down for them. But all it did was make it even easier for them to follow along in my product demo.
As it turns out, manipulating your screen slowly and running commentary of what you’re doing significantly improves audience retention.
How to avoid product demos mistake #1
To recap, here are my tips to combat mistake #1:
- Speak slowly and avoid filler words.
- Move your mouse and switch screens slowly.
- Run a commentary of what you’re doing on your screen.
Next up is the second major way I messed up product demos as a Junior PM before I mastered how to do them properly.
Product demos mistake #2: Not being enthusiastic enough
In my early days as a Junior PM, I wasn’t excited to give product demos.
They were just something on my to-do list that I dreaded. And when you’re not excited, it’s impossible for your audience to get excited.
Until one day:
“Give it a name.”
I’d finally agreed to practice giving a product demo to my boss, a product demo master.
“A name? How about MAX? Like Multi-Applicant solution X?”
…I asked, unsure of why you would ever name a piece of software.
“MAX works. Now show some pride in MAX and sell it.”
I gave a practice demo to my boss and felt like myself for the first time. I talked less formally and smiled sheepishly every time I said “MAX.” I even talked about a technical challenge we’d overcome while building MAX, truly proud of my team.
“Now do the exact same thing for the stakeholders next week.”
The following week, I showed MAX off to my stakeholders as if it was the latest Apple watch.
My excitement infected the room and had the effect of holding all six people’s attention until the end. I got more questions than in any other product demo and they were mainly positive.
I would’ve never guessed that naming a new product feature would have such a domino effect.
How to avoid product demos mistake #2
Here are my tips to combat mistake #2:
- Smile while giving a product demo and crack a joke if you need to — it’s contagious.
- Say things like “I got really excited when I saw this.”
- Show that you’re proud of what you’ve built.
Now let’s take a look at the third mistake I used to make while giving product demos as a Junior PM.
Product demos mistake #3: Not checking whether things work before doing a product demo
I can’t tell you how many times things have blown up on my screen while giving a product demo.
One time I forgot to test a certain user flow before a product demo and ended up hitting an ugly screen with a bunch of errors.
Another time I thought it was a good idea to have my team deploy a quick fix thirty minutes before one of my product demos, only for the deployment to break something else I was demoing.
“Is this going to work for us? How do we know?”
In just a few clicks, I’d lost my stakeholders’ confidence in the product.
The worst part was that I wasn’t able to recover after a situation like that and swiftly move on with the demo. I’d freeze or get flustered and then nervously try to reassure them — it just wasn’t a good look.
As I learned, checking whether things are working before giving a product demo includes something as simple as making sure you’re able to connect your laptop to a projector (for in-person demos).
Yup, I’ve messed that one up, too.
Thankfully, one of my developers was able to run over with the correct cable. Still, not a good look.
So what I started doing was planning out every step of my demo.
I’d run through every scenario I was going to show and made sure nothing changed in the environment until my demo. I’d even prepare the exact data I was going to enter during the demo to avoid any unexpected issues.
And unless I was feeling extra confident, I avoided showing anything brand new I wasn’t certain would work perfectly.
All this preparation helped me deliver smoother product demos mainly because it made me more relaxed. So I could focus on being enthusiastic during the demo and building connections with my stakeholders.
But remember: software is never perfect and you’re bound to occasionally run into issues during a product demo. The goal is to simply prepare the best you can so you can avoid these situations as much as possible.
And work on recovering gracefully from an awkward situation.
How to avoid product demos mistake #3
To sum up, here are my tips to help you avoid mistake #3:
- Run through every flow you plan to show in your demo multiple times, including any data and screens you plan to enter or show.
- Make sure the environment is stable for your demo and avoid last-minute fixes.
- If something breaks and you run into an issue, don’t get flustered — address the fact it’s an unexpected issue, say you’ll look into it, and move on with the product demo.
Bonus tip: if it’s a small issue that’s not that noticeable, don’t even mention it and just keep demoing. Chances are, your audience didn’t see it and it’s not worth drawing attention to.
One last tip for you…
I hope reading about the major ways I’ve messed up product demos as a Junior PM has been helpful (and at least a little bit entertaining.)
To wrap up, I wanted to share with you one final tip to help you master product demos:
For most of my career as a PM, I didn’t use a slide deck for my product demos — until recently.
But that’s what truly took my product demos to the next level.
On top of making your product demos look more professional, a nice presentation deck helps frame what you’re demoing to your audience. I find it can also create a bit of suspense for what you’re about to show, which leads to excitement.
And what I’ve learned is that the most underrated aspect of a successful product demo is your ability to get your audience excited.
About the author
Lena Sesardic is an intrapreneurial product manager who’s spent most of her career building new products in the Fintech space. She shares her transparent thoughts about product management, career growth, entrepreneurship, and personal branding on LinkedIn and on her website lenasesardic.com. Lena is a big advocate for entrepreneurship, having gone on her own 19-month entrepreneurial journey in 2020.