Article Category: Speechwriting

How to Master the Demonstration Speech

The demonstration speech is one of the fundamental types of presentations.

Demo speeches are ubiquitous. They are assigned to students in high school and college. They are a staple in corporate and other adult training environments. They are among the most common speeches given in Toastmaster clubs.

Due to the popularity of this speech form, the well-rounded speaker must master the demonstration speech. Despite this, many speakers don’t know the basics to delivering an effective demonstration speech. Do you?

In this article, we present a demonstration speech outline which gives the best chance for success, and discuss the necessary elements for a great demo speech.

Definition: The Demonstration Speech

A demonstration speech is a form of informative speech where the speaker’s primary purpose is to teach the audience how to complete a task (or process), and this is largely accomplished by demonstrating the task (or process) through a series of steps.

A demonstration speech is a form of informative speech where the speaker’s primary purpose is to teach the audience how to complete a task (or process).

Demonstration speech topics are numerous, including all of the following:

  • How to prepare a recipe (as in standard cooking shows)
  • How to operate a software application
  • How to tie a knot
  • How to calculate a mortgage payment
  • How to swim the back stroke
  • How to process a purchase order
  • How to throw a frisbee
  • How to compose a photograph
  • How to line dance
  • How to write a limerick
  • How to set up a blog
  • How to make origami
  • and many, many more

The Demonstration Speech Outline

Just as there are many demonstration speech topics, there are many ways to organize a demonstration speech. You will rarely go wrong, however, if you apply this basic speech outline:

  1. Start with why
  2. Give a brief overview of the entire process
  3. Go through the steps, one-by-one
    • For each, describe it, then show it
  4. (Optional) Discuss options, extras, or variations
  5. Allow time for Q&A
  6. Summarize briefly
Each of these six steps is described below.

1. Start with why

A demonstration speech is about training the audience to perform a task or complete a process. Just as with any educational task, it helps tremendously if your audience is motivated to learn.

This is why it’s important to tell your audience how they will benefit from the knowledge you are about to share. Once your audience knows why they are learning this new task, they will be motivated to learn.

Will learning this new task or process help your audience:

  • Earn or save money?
  • Earn a promotion?
  • Build their range of skills?
  • Save them time?
  • Make their life easier?
  • Provide enjoyment or satisfaction?
  • Make them happy?

There are many ways to motivate your audience, but one of the best ways is to open with a story. Paint a picture of how their life will improve with this new knowledge.

2. Give a brief overview of the entire process

Before you dive too deep in the details, it is essential to present an overview of the overall task or process.

  • A brief, high-level overview of the steps involved provides a mental framework for the audience upon which they can hang the details as you provide them later in the speech.
  • When learning a new task, some people in your audience will fear that it is complicated. An early overview assures your audience that it is not overly complex. For example, “We’re going to discuss how to cook a quiche in just four easy steps…”
  • If you fail to present an outline, it’s difficult for your audience to see how the steps will fit together later on. The audience won’t have the necessary context.

A great way to present the overview is with a diagram illustrating the steps of the task at a high level. You can refer to this diagram throughout.

Along with the overview, you should also list the prerequisites needed for the task, and any assumptions you are making. For example, what is needed before one begins this task? What supplies or resources are assumed?

3. Go through the steps, one-by-one

From a speaker’s perspective, one of the best things about a demonstration speech is that the core of your outline is prepared for you: you simply need to go through the steps of the task in sequential order.  (Occasionally, you may decide to present the steps in a different way, but be sure to let your audience know that you are breaking a convention.)

Keep the series of steps as simple as possible. Break the process down to the most essential steps that will lead your audience successfully from start to finish. There’s no “best” number of steps, but keep the number of steps as low as possible. Don’t present a 19-step process unless your goal is utter confusion.

Defer optional steps for later in your presentation (or, for the Q&A). It is best to avoid complicating matters on the first pass.

For each step, you should:

  • Explain the purpose of the step (why is this step necessary)
  • Explain the step in simple, straightforward language (what needs to be done)
  • Show how to complete the step (how should it be done)

4. (Optional) Discuss options, extras, or variations

Now that your audience has seen the task or process demonstrated from start to finish, you can (if time permits) provide some additional options or variations.

For example, if you are explaining how to cook a certain recipe, start with the basic version first. After that’s done, you can discuss alternate ingredients, different flavours to try, and other ways to build on the basic recipe.

5. Allow time for Q&A

Many types of speeches benefit from taking questions from the audience and answering them, and a Q&A session is particularly well-suited for a demonstration speech. This allows the audience to seek clarification on any of the steps which were unclear.

Depending on your topic and the forum in which you are speaking, you may choose to take questions at the end, or you may invite questions throughout your demonstration. Either way, monitor your time.

6. Summarize briefly

Finally, you should summarize the process briefly, and recap the benefits which your audience will realize if they perform the desired process or task.

How to Elevate Your Demonstration Speech

Once you’ve mapped your topic onto the basic speech outline given above, there are many ways that you can elevate the quality of your content and the manner in which you present it to maximize the effectiveness for your audience:

A. If you can, get audience members doing it.

Your options for audience participation are often determined by how long your presentation is, the setting in which the demonstration takes place, and the availability of supplies which can be shared by the audience.

Having said this, it’s great if you can get the audience participating in the demonstration. Actively engaging the audience and having them perform the steps will improve the likelihood that they will remember the steps and be able to carry out the task or process independently long after your presentation.

If the situation doesn’t allow for you to involve the whole audience, try to get one or more audience members to help you out as volunteers.

B. Visuals are critical for a demonstration speech.

Nearly every demonstration speech can be made better by incorporating appropriate visuals to accompany your verbal descriptions and instructions.

You have many options:

  • Your body is often the best visual.
    If your speech is about some physical task to perform (e.g. throwing a ball), then the most important visual is your own body. You can demonstrate each of the steps individually, and “animate” the process at various speeds to enhance the demonstration.
  • Physical props make it real.
    There are two main types of props: “real” and models. Real props include the actual objects that are used when performing the task. Models include both “fake” versions of the real objects, as well as scaled-down versions.
  • Use photographs or diagrams as necessary.
    If your body and props aren’t sufficient, use photographs and diagrams. As you present these, it sometimes helps to immerse yourself in the photograph or diagram to animate the action that would be involved.

Whatever visuals you choose to include, be sure that your audience can easily see them. If they cannot see your visual (if it is too small, or their view is obscured), their understanding will suffer.

C. Extend your demonstration by providing follow-up resources.

A single demonstration — whether it be a 5-minute speech, or a 5-hour training session — is often not enough to guarantee that the new knowledge is learned perfectly. To improve the likelihood that your audience will successfully practice the task or process, it helps to provide resources they can use after your demonstration is complete.

This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Websites, books, pamphlets, or other expert sources which they can consult for deeper information, or more advanced training.
  • Handouts you prepare which summarize the steps in the process, as well as diagrams or photographs which illustrate key details.
  • Contact details so your audience can ask questions in the future as they try to apply the knowledge you have imparted.

What do you like or dislike about demonstration speeches?

Do you have any tips to share about how to give an excellent demonstration speech?

Or maybe you’ve witnessed some particularly good or bad demo speeches?

Please share in the comments.

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Comments icon16 Comments

  1. Andrew,

    Which other resources (books, mainly) would you recommend for the demonstration speech?

    Juan Amorocho

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I don’t know of any books which focus entirely on this presentation form, but there are several which provide assistance with some of the needed skills.

      On the training side, Telling Ain’t Training comes to mind to help with structuring the demo to enhance “learnability.”

      On the visuals side, any number of books on slide design would help. In particular, slide:ology is excellent.

      1. tristsan says:

        hey Andrew i’m working on a demonstration speech for MMA submissions and this is very helpful thx

  2. I struggle with giving demonstration speeches. As an IT guy, figuring out the tech level of the audience can be infuriating. Especially when there’s a large variety.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I understand your struggle. Demonstration speeches can be very difficult to plan if your audience comes in with vastly different knowledge levels. I’d recommend aiming at the low knowledge end with your content (so you don’t leave anyone behind), but then interact with the audience to determine if you can move through the early steps at a quicker pace (to avoid boring too many people).

      I’m hoping to provide help with this challenging issue in the audience analysis article series.

      Are there any aspects beyond audience analysis that you particularly struggle with?

    2. Eddie says:

      Joseph, unless you are absolutely sure your audience is full of IT “freaks :)” or scientists, you speech should not be too technical. Play it safe and consider your audience more from the “human” perspective. Even IT people want to entertained.

  3. John says:

    My #1 piece of advice for a demonstration speech is “show ’em the finished product first”. Think about a cooking show where they show you how to bake a beautiful cake. The first thing they show you is not the list of ingredients, but what the finished cake looks like!!

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      This is great advice, John.

      It is consistent with “Paint a picture of how their life will improve with this new knowledge.” In the case of a cooking show, the finished product gets the audience dreaming about how good it will taste… and thus how their life will improve.

  4. Eddie says:

    For me the most important element is that the “Demonstration Speech” starts with a “hook”. I usually start with a question, quotation, etc. As mentioned earlier here, you can start by showing the product, but I would leave it for a little bit later, so the audience get a sense what to expect. Let them play with an imagination for a bit. Also, I know this is a very specific type of speech, but I love stories, so I would definitely try to incorporate some short story to support the product. Short story how to use the product, how to overcome some challenges etc…

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Starting with a hook, telling stories, and building anticipation are solid techniques which can be applied to any speech, including demonstration speeches. These techniques can be used to tweak and enhance the basic speech outline given in the article.

  5. The goals of your demonstration speech could be: to show how to do something, how to make something, how something is done or how something works. The most easier thing is choosing to demonstrate something you know about.

  6. Davis Nguyen says:

    I wish more people followed your outline. Demonstration presentations should be fun and easy, but some of the ones I’ve seen have been terrible.

    Some move too fast (they assume we know something when it should be explained).

    My favorite ones and teachers do this is to start with the end product and say: “this is what we will want to do today” and then walk us through this.

  7. anne borman says:

    This is a terrific web site! Many thanks.


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  8. Sherre says:

    What I dislike about demonstration speeches is when speakers who are so comfortable with their talk that they speak too rapidly. I presume they believe that what they are sharing is as simple to understand for others as it is for them.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Indeed, Sherre. Presenters are often guilty of “The Curse of Knowledge” — they know something so well (and for so long) that they have forgotten what it is like to not know it.

  9. Becky says:

    Excellent outline and easy to follow. I was looking for additional tips for the kids I teach, and these work well! Thanks! 🙂

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