2Win! Global Blog

You’re Overwhelming Prospects: Use the Tell-Show-Tell Method in Software Demos

[fa icon="calendar"] 12/19/2019 11:58 AM / by Ross Jacobson

Ross Jacobson


It happens all the time. We show prospects how easy and helpful our software can be, but the feedback is that, “it seems too complicated.” How can that be? 

The features of modern software, which may seem simple to us, can easily appear too complicated during a product demonstration. Prospective clients are not only making sure your solution is right for them, they’re also trying to determine whether their team can learn it quickly.

We’ll walk through the problems most encounter with typical demonstration methods, and then show you how to convey the power of your solution and its simplicity using the Tell-Show-Tell demo technique.

The Typical Demo Scene

You take command of the keyboard and dive into one of the most differentiating and feature-rich areas of your software.  Twenty minutes passes as you demonstrate the depth of your unique capabilities by showing feature after feature and explain option after option.  Then, you say, “So, what do you think?” The prospect responds with “It seems a little (pause)…complex. Maybe in the future we could use that functionality but, we have a long way to go before we are ready to implement something like that.” Ouch!

When you overwhelm someone, they lose the capacity to focus, pay attention and, think critically. The more information you deliver, the quieter and more defensive people become. They may even tune out or get agitated as you plow forward. Your intentions are good, but they’re getting increasingly defensive as they saturate with new information.

The Invisible Clock

People associate simplicity with brevity, and they associate time-consuming things as overly complicated. The prospect’s mental stopwatch started the moment you began demonstrating order entry and didn’t stop until you came up for air twenty minutes later. So, in the prospect’s mind, it just took twenty minutes to perform a critical task or review a dashboard. Their impression is that your software is complicated!

What Really Happened

OK, let’s be real. It won’t actually take a full twenty minutes to perform a critical task or review a dashboard, and the prospect doesn’t consciously equate that twenty minutes with the efficacy of the software. But their perception was that a simple process was too complex and took too long.

During that twenty-minute demo segment, you invested time setting up the scenario, explaining the operation of the software, highlighting benefits, and exploring options within the software. Hence, a three-minute operation – performing a critical task or reviewing a dashboard – became a twenty-minute demonstration.

Tell–Show–Tell, Don’t Show–Show-Show-Tell

We call this demonstration method, “Show–Show-Show-Show–Tell.” It is the number one mistake made during software demonstrations. It starts with fingers on a keyboard and continues with a long narration of a relatively short process. There is no context (Tell) at the beginning of the demo sequence. The solution screens become the backdrop of the software’s story, and its benefits are buried in the complexity of your demo as you walk through the system. There’s a better way.

Your prospect’s invisible clock starts running when the first screen comes up and doesn’t stop until the last screen disappears. To eliminate their perception of complexity, we simply need to recalibrate the watch.

Imagine the same demo scenario conducted in a new way: 

FIRST, step away from the keyboard and tell the audience what they’re about to see. Explain the steps and key features you’ll show in the form of a short story that typifies the work being demonstrated. Prepare them to look for one or two key benefits. This process might take sixty seconds, but that’s okay – their mental clock is not running yet. 

SECOND, with a clear breakpoint, you step to the keyboard and the first screen appears. You walk crisply through a short, simple demo of the demo topic, and quickly flag benefits, as you perform an operation in real time.

FINALLY, take the last software screen down, step away from the keyboard, and recap the benefits of what the audience just saw. The prospect’s mental stopwatch has stopped and now shows an elapsed time of something like three minutes. “Wow, this software seems pretty easy!” Now you can iterate on additional, unique capabilities of that area of the software. 


“You can’t demonstrate flexibility until you demonstrate simplicity”.  ~ Niel Powers – 2Win! Master Instructor 


Making the Shift 

The concept of moving from a Show-Tell-Tell approach to the Tell-Show-Tell method involves these elements: 

  • Take a typical demo scenario and split it into thirds. 
  • Move the context (setup of the demo segment) to the front, and move the benefits to the back. 
  • Don’t touch the keyboard until the context is established, and step away from the keyboard to avoid starting your demo too quickly. 
  • Demo the solution (Show).  Time actually spent in the software is reduced, and your audience perceives your solution as simpler and easier.
  • Finish by “sticking the landing” and in a simple sentence, delivery the key benefit (closing Tell) of what you just demonstrated.

Is This A Trick?

No. The Tell-Show-Tell method gives the prospect a more realistic view of the actual operation and functionality of the software. For example, can you imagine someone who enters sales orders from customers actually stopping at each step to explain what they were doing and the benefits of each step? If they did, it truly would take twenty minutes to enter an order and their customers would leave them in droves!

Why it Works

The prospect is trying to determine how if the pain of moving to your software is worth their time and expense. Let them experience the speed, simplicity and key differentiators. A typical demonstration in the Show-Show-Show-Tell format is not at all illustrative of what stakeholders want to experience for a decision of this magnitude. 

Consistently using Tell-Show-Tell differentiates you, your solution and your company regardless of capabilities and feature wars.

Learn More About Demo 2Win! Training


Ross Jacobson

Written by Ross Jacobson

The co-creator of the highly successful Demo2Win! program. Ross’ grass roots approach to communication and education keep our team and our programs realistic and relevant to you our client. Ross has also delivered hundreds of workshops over the years and is a highly skilled facilitator.

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