Murphy’s Law of Demos

When I started at Oracle in 1996, I was a sales consultant, part of a college new hire bootcamp program.

We got lots of training on technical stuff, mostly pertaining to how to install and demo the products. In addition, we had an equal part of soft skills training, how to conduct yourself, presentation skills, demo skills, etc.

Image by shareski from Flickr used under Creative Commons

Image by shareski from Flickr used under Creative Commons

I’ve never been much of a presenter. Ask anyone who’s been unlucky enough to see me in person. I always prefer an open (vs. prepared) format with lots of interaction and questions. But, we all had to learn the basics and practice. It’s funny to me that many people presenting, live and online, neglect the essentials of PC management during a demo.

How many times have you attended a demo when the presenter has one of the following happen:

  • The screensaver comes on, bonus points for an “unprofessional” one.
  • The presenter gets an IM, bonus points for something “unprofessional” or if the demo driver actually replies.
  • The demo driver bounces over to check email, bonus points if the email seems confidential or “unprofessional” or if the person answers the email.
  • The presenter navigates locally to reveal his/her file structure, bonus points for easily identifiable confidential or “unprofessional” directory naming.

I’m using quotes on unprofessional because cuts a very wide swath. There are others too, and these are more common in web-based presentations, probably because they tend to feel more comfortable for the demo driver, unless that person is sitting the same room as part of the audience.

I’m sure you have stories to tell. That’s one good use for comments.

As much as I fail at presenting, demoing is even tougher because of the many points of failure. Add a network connection into the mix, and you’re probably sweating bullets about performance too. Had that happen just this week.

If you’ve ever done a demo, you know Murphy’s Law applies. Luckily, I think most audiences expect blips too, making it a bit easier. Look at the Google Wave demo from Google I/O, which has several blips and undeveloped features. Lars had to do some tap dancing when they hit issues.

In fact, I’ve heard people wonder aloud if a demo is staged if it goes off without a hitch. Funny world. I guess people are conditioned to demo hiccups as much as they are to everyday ones, e.g. how often have you called someone for assistance and been told “sorry, my computer’s slow”.

This is one reason why demoing in teams is the way to go. So someone can tap dance, while the demo gets fixed, or not. The classic, “while we wait, are there any questions?” is always a good plan.

Find the comments and share your demo failure moments.




  1. Or the presenter spends 25 mins trying to get the laptop to “recognize” the projector, doing a little Irish jig on the Fn+F8 key. Then there's the audible incoming cell phone call during the critical moment in the PPT. Or the embarassing list of bookmarks on the Firefox toolbar on display….:)

  2. Good post Jake. I had a few hairy moments last week, when I did my Connect demo e.g. when I logged in, it took me to an RSS page, and also when I tried to post some media.

    I quite like the idea of “while we wait, are there any questions?”. I must use this in future sessions.

    P.S. another common thing that happens is that after the demo, the presenter forgets to turn off the webconf, and any stray attendees are able to see where he/she is surfing on the web!!!

  3. Yeah, sorry about the performance issues. I think R&A have sorted those by now. That login redirects to RSS issue is a tough one to solve. There's another guy hitting it in AU, but we can't reproduce it. Seems to be account/cache specific.

    Since I only run OWC from a VM, I'm always quick to quit and shut it down to quiet my MB's fan, but I have seen that happen a few times. Funny stuff.

  4. I love Windows Update's “Restarting your computer is required” popup – the only choices are “restart now” and “restart later”, with the latter scheduling the popup to reappear. Sat through a presentation a while ago (an internal one, luckily) where the guest speaker's slides on the conference room's computer were constantly interrupted by this message.

  5. Must be common to many people in Oracle….what is the law for “not being able to reproduce a bug/error to show someone when you really need to” ?

  6. That’s like going to the doctor or mechanic and your body or car won’t do that thing that’s been driving you crazy. I usually hit that when I’m trying to document a bug.

    Never heard it given a name, what about performance anxiety 🙂

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