Presenting to the Public - A case study

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Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby Richard Marsden » Sat May 11, 2013 4:55 pm

We were asked by the Caledonia Society to present HEMA. They saw us at the Highland Games and liked it so much- they said do it again. The audience were older people, and a slight majority of women.

That day, the SCA were also scheduled to present. How we each presented is telling. Please note.

We showed up early, and we helped set up and also staked out a table for ourselves. We introduced ourselves to the venue coordinator and just about anyone else who made eye contact. There were three of us, John P, Chris N, and myself. Anyone who showed the slightest interest was given a card.

The SCA showed up, said very little to those there, and set up shop as well as a portable court. They brought a large number of people. So much so, that the host was mildly aghast. There was just about as many SCA folk as there were Caledonian guests. The SCA did not show up early, and so the show was started later than intended.

The SCA went first. A herald explained who they are and what they do. Two of their hard-suit people came forward, introduced themselves and had at it. The winner stayed in and a new fighter was brought in, introduced himself and so on. Bang, bang, bang. Over and over and over. After about four bouts the audience no longer clapped and became a captive audience to what was their practice.

Then our turn. Its filmed below. The lighting on camera is not good, but you'll get the idea. I presented longsword, saber, rapier and single-stick with John in under 25 minutes. There are some key things I did that are the right way to deal with the public at large. The SCA did not say hello to us before the demonstration. They were very friendly after.

What we did.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O34F8QGc4rw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0R9fHJVD3nA

1 - Sparring shows up at the end, and under 5 minutes of it. You'll run out of breath otherwise. Besides, HEMA types and the SCA like to watch sparring. The average person is 'so so' about it- especially since they often can't tell what is happening. Make it quick and go a bit slower and less competitively than normal. The audience can't see how fast you move otherwise. They aren't trained for it! I don't do choreographed routines because I think they look fake even to the untrained audience. (The Sienawski choreographed routines would be an exception.)

2 - I talk to the audience. They are the audience and want to be informed and entertained. I am funny. If you are not funny- that's ok. Be sure to talk to them though. The SCA talked at them. Do not worry about getting into the weeds and if you mispeak- just keep going. A HEMA audience and a general audience aren't the same.

3- John and I have a routine down that makes the show go smoothly. This comes from practice and understanding of techniques.

4 - We show some of the flashy stuff. In longsword, the grabbing of the sword and the close-plays are crowd-pleasers. Takedowns usually get applause as well.

When we were done, we turned it over to the SCA who brought on their rapier fighters. They again did a round-robin sparring practice in front of the audience. Later, the hard-suit fellows came out again and with some 2 on 2, did more sparring. Meanwhile, John, Chris and I worked the crowd, sitting at tables and answering questions and just being friendly.

At the end of the event, the host was absolutely in love with us. The crowd loved us. And I made all manner of connections, including with an import store-owner, a furniture supply guy, and some lovely elderly ladies educated in Scotland. We also were given free drinks by the sound manager. The SCA shuffled off and the host was less than thrilled with them.

We were asked if we were available for other events, if we were willing to travel, and asked if we could present on certain aspects that they wanted. We said yes.

The SCA departed, and I hope some of them come see us for what we do. But what did they do wrong?

1 - They did not involve the audience. The audience were captive and forced to watch sparring. I love sparring! I do! But the average person cannot stand over an hour of it.

2 - Too loud. The SCA hard-suit fighting is noisy. Too noisy for the crowd to talk and do other things, which in over an hour of sparring on and off, you can't blame them. Also, the SCA hard-suit fighting is difficult to understand for laymen. I'm not sure if they can work around this or not.

3 - Little interaction between shows. The SCA kept to themselves and did not try and recruit, share, or in any way communicate with the audience. During the filming, you can see them bunched up together and watching. This is a shame. One of the SCA fellows was a guy with a salt-and-pepper beard, a charismatic personality, he fought well and would have been a great resource for the SCA to have him present, talk, or do just about anything with the audience. I felt he was a wasted talent. Not everyone is a good public speaker, but you can get by, and this guy would have been fine for them!

4 - Wrong goal. The SCA came and just did a fighter practice. That's a no-no when invited by a small audience. They should have found ways to recruit and they did not. They came, they fought, they left. Acceptable at perhaps large and all day venues, like the Highland Games, but not so hot for something more intimate with a crowd that want education and entertainment in a 2 to 3 hour stretch.

Part of OUR job is to spread the HEMA gospel and it helps to learn how to do this. Being a good fighter and knowledgeable isn't enough for a general audience. You need to find ways to transmit that information.

Good Luck all! And to all those who dare to publicly speak and present information, my hat is off to you. It can be nerve-wracking for most!
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby Tyler Brandon » Sat May 11, 2013 6:40 pm

Very informative post, Richard. The videos make it obvious you came prepared, knowing what you wanted to show, how you wanted to show it, and what you wanted from and for the audience. I think that we can all benefit from this example when promoting our arts.
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby Richard Marsden » Sat May 11, 2013 6:52 pm

I hope so! I think the SCA can do a better job too, they just need to evaluate what/why they are doing something. I think they had all the tools. People, gear, and some charismatic folk. It just needed to be packaged differently!
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby James Mungall » Sat May 11, 2013 7:34 pm

We've got a demo coming up for the Boy Scouts in June. We won't have a captive audience for it, so I'm not sure which sort of method we'll take. I enjoy getting the kids involved, but we've been recently told that the Scouts aren't allowed to be involved in it--something about not wanting to encourage them to pick up sticks and hitting each other with them...
One of the things that I've found is helpful is to play off of the fact that Hollywood swordsmanship isn't the real thing--kind of like you mentioned the swords not being lightsabers...
(At a Cub Scout demo, I made reference to the film Rob Roy with Liam Niesen as an example of good swordsmanship in film--which I had to quickly retract remembering that the film isn't appropriate for youngsters :oops: .)

As a Caledonian Society president, thanks for putting on a demo for my fellow Scots! :D
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby BPWells » Sun May 12, 2013 6:14 am

I've been around the fringes of the SCA for many years. Your post is spot on and very descriptive of typical SCA activities.

That was a great video that you posted. You are a professional educator, you know how take content and present it in a fashion that people can enjoy, learn from and become inspired.

Within the SCA exist all these local organizations that support the society in general. Within the SCA is a very entrenched social hierarchy...that hierarchy seems be more of hindrance than an asset when it comes to interacting with none members. Some groups are very good at interacting with the mundanes and teaching about history and SCA structures, but not always. This is not to be taken as slam on the SCA, it's a reality of the system.

You are professional educator, it shows in all that I have seen you produce and it's hard to out-teach a teacher.

Good job. 8-)

I have been working with my group of kiddos for 5weeks now. We're going to go and interact with the local SCA this afternoon. My kids are very excited to fence students from another group and it should be a good experience for my fencers.

As a result I have gone over a few details that my group needs to respect when interacting with the SCA fencers. The SCA teaches only a partial skill and their hits are very light in comparison to my teachings. The SCA stops when it comes to in close contact. My kids have been shown simple disarms and grapples. Those are big no no's in SCA fencing. It will be a learning experience for both groups today.
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby Richard Marsden » Sun May 12, 2013 10:09 am

Good luck BP! We filmed our generic Fiore in 15 minutes for you yesterday. I'll send it to you soon as our friend places it on his you-tube channel.

We fenced the SCA fellows in rapier at that event, but under our HEMA rule-set. They seemed to like it and one of their members we've been working with on the side to make a better rapier fighter. Their goals are just different. We allows percussive hits, our lunges are full intent, and we try to mimic manuals.

I'm not really hostile to the SCA in the least and I think even they understand what they do is different from what HEMA does. I wanted them to be better at communicating and they were a contrast to us in their inability to be effective in talking to the 'mundanes'.
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby BPWells » Sun May 12, 2013 10:42 am

Honestly when I first got into Historical fencing...they were the only game in town. They have their system, I do not fault them for it. But the HEMA Format is what I impress upon my students. I see it as a much more complete WMA system, as it includes disarms and close combat.

I'm excited to see the new video...Thank you for putting that together. I will be videoing the kiddos today and by the end of the week I should be able to post it to youtube, assuming I get decent footage...I'll get you the link once its uploaded and ready for viewing. 8-)

Happy Mother's Day.
“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.”
― Alexandre Dumas
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby BPWells » Tue May 14, 2013 7:25 am

I took my students fencing on Mother's Day. It's been awhile since I've had the opportunity to fence and work out against an experienced individual...I'm very Rusty. :oops:

I took 6 of my students and got some good video of two of them (I was continually distracted, as many of these people hadn't seen me in years and wanted to try their blades against me). There were several parents that went with us and they were fairly impressed with the fieldtrip activity.

My students had a blast fencing so many different people and seeing so many different styles. The SCAer's were very supportive in working with my kiddos. Between review of material, presenting new techniques and tactics, I'm usually limited to maybe 20 minutes at each session with each student, in a 2.5 hour practice. I try to focus on correcting any glaring issues that have crept into their fencing. On this activity my students were allowed lots of "one on one" fencing time with a group of fairly experienced fencers, and they were exposed to several differing styles. I focis on Capo Ferro as a good solid intro to rapier. They got to mix it up with a few that were decent in Fabris style and there was an individual that studies the works of Thibault; that took the time to work with my kids.

I created a YouTube account and uploaded a couple videos of my students working with this very fun group. I shot the video segments with my iPhone, so please excuse the quality.

Here is another of my students fencing with an SCA Fencer.

5 Weeks ago none of my kiddos had ever touched a weapon simulator...I'm very proud of their progress.
Last edited by BPWells on Tue May 14, 2013 9:10 am, edited 2 times in total.
“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.”
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby John P » Tue May 14, 2013 9:02 am

looking forward to following their progress
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Re: Presenting to the Public - A case study

Postby Sean Karp » Sat Jun 01, 2013 11:24 am

Thanks Richard.

I'm posting this to my Kingdom & Local SCA lists.
"If you're a guy full of sh** without the gold medal...when you get the gold medal, you're still a guy full of sh**"- Didier Berthod, First Ascent
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