Learning Objectives

Identify how a demonstration can be used to enhance a presentation.

Tesla coil generating a lightning bolt

A Tesla coil can be used to demonstrate principles of electricity, but it also looks really cool.

Demonstrations to Generate Interest

A demonstration can serve two different purposes in a speech. First, it can be used to generate interest and “wow” the audience. Showing off the features of your new product, illustrating the catastrophic failure of a poorly tied climbing knot, or launching a cork across the room during a chemistry experiment are all ways of capturing the audience’s attention. Demonstration should not be gimmicky, but should add value to your presentation. When done well, it can be the most memorable moment from your speech, so make sure it reinforces the central message of your talk.

Demonstrations to Explain a Process

Demonstrations can also be used to show how something is done. Consider for a moment the difference between reading the instructions on how to perform CPR, watching someone perform CPR, and trying CPR on the training dummy while watching someone demonstrate the steps. As evidenced by the huge number of online videos illustrating how to do something, there is great value in watching while you learn a new task. If your presentation includes a process where seeing will improve understanding, consider including a demonstration.

Plan for Mishaps

Because you have a limited time to present, make sure your demonstrations are succinct, well-rehearsed, and visible to the entire audience. Be prepared for the demonstration to fail and have a backup plan in place. It is better to move forward with your presentation than to fret with trying to get your demonstration perfect or fixed. However, if you are providing a demonstration of your new product, make sure it is as error free as possible. If you can’t be positive the product will perform as expected, it is better to skip the demonstration.

To Watch: Camille Schrier, Chemistry demonstration

Camille Schrier graduated from Virginia Tech in 2018 with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology and a minor in chemistry. For the talent portion of the 2019 Miss America competition, Schrier demonstrated the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide with potassium iodide. For our purposes, what’s most remarkable about Schrier’s performance is the fact that she manages to do the entire demonstration within the competition’s 90 second time limit, setting off the chemical reaction while simultaneously describing the science behind it. It’s unclear whether the audience understood any of the chemistry at that speed, but it’s an impressive feat of preparation and performance (and enough to earn Schrier the title).

You can view the transcript for “Miss America Winner Virginia Camille Schrier’s On Stage Science Experiment for the Talent Portion” here (opens in new window).