We were looking forward to the Microsoft events because of the funny videos made by the company when Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer led the show. When Gates left, so did much of the fun and humor at the events. But at this week’s Build event, Scott hanselman , a Microsoft Partner program manager, got some of the fun on a main note that wasn’t the main note, played like a sitcom.
It was one of the sexiest shows I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some gorgeous ones over the years.
I think the Hanselman approach, which seems easy but is not, is now best practice. So let’s talk about making demos interesting and more informative.
The problem with demonstrations: they are often boring
Demonstrations are problematic at events as Build because most audiences don’t care what you look like at any given time. People’s needs, abilities and responsibilities are often very different at large events, which means that the main demonstrations do not attract the majority of what is usually a diverse audience. Even so, many members of the public still need to know the nature of these tools and how they might interact with other tools, platforms and projects or future work.
Disinterested people participating in these demonstrations can get rid of email or social media instead of paying attention. And when you attend a remote event, the fun is even worse, making it easier to disconnect even when you need to understand something.
Keeping the public’s attention can be problematic. You should cover the material in a way that is interesting to a wider audience, while drawing the attention of users who will be interested in what you say. Appealing to both groups would seem impossible, but Hanselman has shown that this is not necessarily the case.
Hanselman’s opening speech this week in Build It wasn’t a main speech, it was a demonstration (like no other I’ve ever seen). Background note: Microsoft is one of the few companies that maintains a video production studio. This ability allows you to produce content that looks like it was created for a very good quality TV show.
Using this capability, the company created what appeared to be a sitcom in which the audience is driven through a collaborative coding effort using various Microsoft tools and a diverse set of platforms (such as Linux) to create a product.
Although this was vaguely written and turned into scenes (the transitions were a bit ugly), it seemed natural and surprisingly fun. More importantly, for Microsoft, it showed how a variety of things like Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub, along with their coding tools, could be used to quickly create a complete offer during the 30-minute program, including troubleshooting.
(However, they did not create marketing materials or discuss distribution.)
Real programmers (it’s been decades since I’ve been a programmer) were involved and excited about what they saw. It was also clear that non-coders or former coders like me were watching and learning, rather than losing interest and disconnecting.
For Microsoft, the mission accomplished.
What event organizers often seem to forget is the purpose of an event: educating, informing, generating interest, and ultimately generating sales and stimulating the use of the products they present. Often, the team organizing an event is only concerned with filling time and giving visibility to anyone with a title. This practice results in a great waste of time and money for both event organizers and participants.
While consuming resources (I’m a big believer in understanding it right or not at all), Hanselman’s approach led to a long-running demonstration that entertained, educated, and showed how a wide variety of business tools and how they could be used in a collaborative environment to build a high quality product.
In a world that is more conducive to streaming events than their in-person alternatives for the foreseeable future, this approach to creating integrated demonstrations that are fun and entertaining while remaining informative should be good practice. At Microsoft Build, Hanselman and his team showed how to do it.