The Demo


I have been one in a crowd of what seemed like a thousand people watching Bill Gates give a demonstration that failed miserably. When I was in software support, the biggest fear was giving live demonstrations.

One day, many years ago, I flew down to Omaha to install a new system. The account had been having a lot of problems so there was some level of friction between the customer and the local account team.

Knowing this I had the local account team send me the user’s requirements and I configured a system image accordingly and then fully tested it in our labs. When I arrived at the customer site I installed the system image and walked over to a terminal to test it out. I was there for no more than a minute when a crowd (well only 5 people, not a thousand) came over to watch what I was doing. The customer. I warned them that I was just testing but they were eager to watch, and well, see progress. I dropped a cheque into the reader and it proceeded part-way down the track and stopped. A moment of silence to allow the realization that it didn’t work to settle in. There was a group sigh from the crowd.

In the end it turned out to be a hardware failure and when that was fixed all went well.

I was reminded of this experience as I watched a failed demo today and as the demonstrator melted into a blithering puddle of excuses and rationalizations I understood his condition and felt sorry for him. We are a big account, and this was an important meeting.


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