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This chapter is from the book

Pattern: Lipsync


Also Known As

Milli Vanilli


Live examples may sound like a great idea, but they too often lead to the Dead Demo antipattern. Instead of demonstrating a tool or technique live, record your interaction with the tool beforehand as video and play it back during your presentation.


Recording a demo has a raft of benefits over doing it live:

  • You can edit for time, speeding up necessary but boring sections or compressing the length of long-running processes.
  • Instead of concentrating on getting a persnickety example to work, you can talk over the top of the running demonstration with full concentration.
  • You can pause or replay confusing parts or purposefully come back to a branching point. Frequently when showing tools, presenters need to show variations in workflow based on contingencies such as errors. Lipsync demos give you full control over the tool in the preparation stage and enable short snippets of video to explain small nuances. Using the demonstration itself as a Context Keeper works well because it automatically contextualizes the point you’ve returned to.
  • Because the recorded demonstration is running inside a presentation tool, you can overlay all the animations, transitions, and decorations you could ever want atop the video, adding even more context.
  • In your lab, you can construct and capture complex scenarios that you can’t predictably produce live (such as specific but rare error conditions) and then dissect them for your audience.
  • Live Demo is one of the most difficult presentation patterns to implement well.
  • Recording the demo reduces stress dramatically; if you make a mistake, start over or edit the recording. Although some attendees genuinely appreciate watching a presenter “get out of the ditch,” that adds pressure to an already stressful situation, especially if you never intended demonstrating ditch-escaping tricks in your presentation.
  • Lipsync reduces any dependencies your talk has on technology such as Wi-Fi, a troublesome piece of software, or complex multiapplication or machine requirements. The more moving parts a demonstration needs, the more parts that will break in front of a crowd.
  • Lipsync works especially well when you want to want to show technology that frequently changes. You can expose features without worrying about the technology’s stability.


It’s a mistake to use Lipsync to fake a live demonstration because doing so will destroy your credibility if the audience catches on. Instead, use it as an advantage. The audience can see that communication channels are available when the presenter doesn’t have to concentrate on talking and coping with a live demo simultaneously.

One possible negative consequence of Lipsync versus the Live Demo pattern is the inability to improvise your demonstration based on audience requests. If this is an important requirement, it might lead you toward Live Demo. However, we suggest an alternative that requires a bit more setup work but gives you the stability and stress reduction of Lipsync with the improvisation of Live Demo, especially for easily versionable things like source code.

The goal is to save the state of the tool being demonstrated at various checkpoints along the way. The tool and what it’s used for will determine how these snapshots manifest. For example, for a written document, you can create numbered folders with saved versions. If you are writing source code, use the same version-control tools you use for projects to save tagged versions of your demonstration. If the audience asks for some variations in the recorded demonstration, check out tagged version of the code that corresponds to that demo and turn the presentation into a demonstration. This technique gives you the best of both worlds because you’re free to wander as far as you would like to satisfy the audience yet can resume the presentation at the point where the digression started.


If the tool or technique you’re showing is computer-based, screen-capture software might be built into it. Otherwise, it’s available for all platforms either for free or at a low cost. The only requirement is that it be able to record some or all of the screen as video; the fancier screen-capture applications allow you to choose whether to include audio, the cursor, highlighting, and so on.

Once you’ve recorded your demonstration, it’s trivial to add it to a slide in your presentation tool; all modern tools support embedded videos, along with a variety of animations for appearance, disappearance, and effects. For showing a software tool, we prefer a full-screen capture that completely fills the slide. While the demonstration is running, it would appear to a casual observer that the application itself—not a recording of the application—is running full-screen.

Make sure you know the capabilities of the presentation computer or tablet and the projector(s). Running video can tax hardware heavily and sometimes reduce a beautiful demo into a flickering mess.

When you “shoot” the screen capture, turn off all notifications and close distracting applications. Irrelevant pop-up notifications and the like make a video look slipshod. You should also hide the “lint” from your desktop, such as the task tray on Windows or menu-bar services in OS X. If you don’t, audience members will start wondering which applications you have that they don’t. It’s a needless distraction.

If something distracting does occur and you can’t get rid of it, use the duct tape of presentation tools: the borderless white box. A carefully placed box can hide all sorts of things, either temporarily or permanently.

Related Patterns

The Dead Demo antipattern is the motivation for this pattern.

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