Approaches to presenting code demos to a Developer audience

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Presentation Tips

I have been discussing with a few people on the different approaches to presenting code demos to Developer audience at conferences. It is interesting hearing peoples opinions on the matter. I thought I’d start by listing out the different approaches, but I’d love to hear what people think of them.

Typing

Watching a presenter jump into Visual Studio and type away live in a presentation is certainly a sure way to impress an audience and prove you know this inside and out…or maybe not if they slip up.
This is by far the most risky of demos in the session. The amount of times I’ve seen a presenter come unstuck when he can’t see the mistake under pressure and the audience has had to help or worse yet the demo just ends. This is extremely bad if the demo is a series of builds and happens near the beginning of the talk.
It also can lose your audience in scenarios where you are writing lots and lots of code and it always looks odd if you just type a few lines in among pre-prepared code. I think that typing EVERYTHING is overkill and that picking key areas of your project to type is often enough. Like the one or two most important lines of a function.

Recorded Typing

More and more these days I see presenters recording their demos before hand, to eliminate the risk of the demo going wrong. It also means you can get the timing perfect on these areas and then just practice a few times talking to them playing back before the main event. You still should have a live environment, if questions come at the end and you want to jump in and show in more detail in the Q&A.

Code Snippets

Visual Studio has had snippet support for a while now, the ability to create your text block snippets in a pane and drag and drop sections onto the page and narrate each block works well. There’s always that danger that you put them in the wrong order on the day or have too many snippets and confuse yourself.

Walk through code

For more complex projects, some will walk through the finished code rather than build during the presentation. This can be hard to keep the audience following as you jump through areas of code. It’s often very tricky to get the users to focus on areas you are talking to. I find that magnifying the area helps a lot in these circumstances using a tool like ZoomIt.

Code on Slides

I have seen many Microsoft presenters use this technique where they highlight key areas of code in Slides in the PowerPoint deck and animate lines in. It really does ensure the focus of the audience on these exact areas with no distractions of the rest of the coding environment. This saves the blind in the room from struggling in seeing the code in the demos as well. If anything, its a great backup if your demo environment falls over minutes before your session.

Wrap Up

So…what do you like to see when you attend Developer sessions at conferences? What techniques do you use when you present?

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5 thoughts on “Approaches to presenting code demos to a Developer audience”

  1. Last SPC I had a fail-safe demo… just hit F5 and run the demo. Something locked the .csproj file in the background and Visual Studio gave me the death warning “waiting on a process, would you like to continue”. What was to be 30 seconds consumed 4 precious minutes and I started the talk fumbling and lost confidence. Pre-recording all demos this go-round. No gremlins.

    1. Yeah, I’ve had a lucky run. But this time I’m definitely recording all my demos. Do you bother putting them in PowerPoint and let them autoplay or jump out?

  2. Personally I prefer to use snippets if it is more code. Walking through chunks of code is much easier to grasp IMO instead of having the whole code already in place.
    Also as you see typing is very risky. A simple typo can mess up your whole timeline if you just can’t see it in the moment.

    For simple things (and also mostly for PowerShell) I prefer typing though.

    If it is not too much code I also put it onto the slides and have them as backup. This help people who didn’t attend the session and just get the slides.

  3. In common I write the code by myself. For SPC I’ll use a mix of snippets and writing code by myself. For common conferences I prefer writing it by myself because I can involve the audi nice and ask what they’d like yo see and individually make demos as they’re interested in…

  4. Personally I prefer using the code on slides and mix it with some live code writing as well, but to be honest writing live code infront of audience is a stressful task, better to be prepared well.

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