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Demo design: think first about the audience.

DEMO DESIGN: THINK FIRST ABOUT THE AUDIENCE Over the past five years, Tom McLaren has produced some of the industry's most compelling demonstration software. His roster of clients includes Borland, Symantec, Metier, Ashton-Tate, and Ingres; even Dan Bricklin used to hand out McLaren demos to showcase his own Demo II program. Since we see a lot of bad demos (far too many, in fact), we decided to ask McLaren what it takes to do the job right.

"The reason there are so many bad demos out there," McLaren explained, "is that people don't start by thinking about their auidence. They get caught up in the technology they're showing off and forget to explain the benefits of the product." By ignoring the audience, McLaren adds, developers naturally fall into a second trap: They try to use the same demo to reach too many different audiences. "Of course, that kind of demo turns everyone off."

McLaren suggests that they are four distinct kinds of demos, each defined by what it tries to communicate to a pre-sale or post-sale audience:

* The graphics loop. Used primarily for trade shows and self-running retail demonstrations, "graphics loop" demos are short (no more than ten minutes) and splashy. Animation and high-resolution art are critical elements; in fact, McLaren points out that graphics loop demos are generally written for delivery systems that are "more advanced than the equipment that most customers own." A two-minute graphics loop demo can cost as little as $4,000 to produce, he says, but it's not unusual for the budget to exceed $100,000 for a Comdex-style demo.

* The software simulation. Unlike graphics loops, a simulation is a quieter and more interactive experience. "Two great things should happen," McLaren says: "You should feel confident that you can use the product, and should feel confident that the benefits it promises are true." A simulation demo can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, but it shouldn't try to cram too many benefits into this time period. "It takes a long, long time to trim the list of benefits down to a manageable length," McLaren says. Typical cost of a good simulation demo: $10,000 and up.

* The on-disk tutorial. Tutorials are designed for post-sale customers, McLaren points out; they're extensions of the documentation, not a marketing tool. "Ideally, the on-disk tutorial increases user understanding, reduces technical support calls, and ultimately helps your product gain full acceptance." Good tutorials "should be an inch deep and a mile wide," McLaren says--that is, the demo should provide a quick walk-through of the product without overwhelming the user with too much detail. Typical cost: $15,000 to $30,000.

* The CBT course. The high end of the demo disk world is the computer-based training (CBT) program which usually becomes part of a formal training course. CBT programs do more than provide an overview, McLaren explains. "The demo has to provide individualized instruction and a way to measure performance." Great CBT programs are "a wonderful mix of entertainment and high bandwidth interactivity," he says. Greatness has a price, however: good CBT programs cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 per course to develop.
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Title Annotation:computer software demonstration disks
Date:May 7, 1990
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