Demos: A Down and Dirty Guide for Anyone Planning a Demo

by Mistress Kisaiya Zingara

Legal stuff

Demos are a great way to get noticed and attract people to the SCA. However, there are a few Items to think about before you agree to host one or start planning one. Please note that the SCA and Atlantia have rules about demos. Make sure that you have read these before you even start talking to anyone about a demo!! Here is the major one for you to know:

  • In order to be covered by SCA Insurance, demos must be approved by the sponsoring Group’s Seneschal and a branch may restrict who may represent them to the public.
  • At any demo, a paid SCA member must be present and in charge of the demo.
  • Chapter 3 of the Atlantian Chatelain’s Handbook which is available online has all these rules (and more!) and some great suggestions about demos. It is very useful.

Also please note that many cities and business have specific rules about public gatherings and events. Make sure you know who to contact for permission before setting up somewhere.

That being said, let’s talk demos!

First, you need to know what kind of demo you need/are being asked to do/want to do. Ultimately all demos are a way to get the society’s name out to the public. However each demo will have its own audience and purpose. If you understand this purpose, it is easier to hold a successful demo.

Types of demos:

Recruitment
This the most obvious kind of demo. We go out to the public and try to convince folks to join.  The purpose of these demos should be to show the public what we are; NOT to pressure them into joining us.

Where: These can be held anywhere (within the local laws and common sense please).
What: Bring out the show. These demos are a chance to show folks what we are made of. This is the time for all the pomp and circumstance. You want people to look and say ahhhhh. Plan a good variety of activities that show the wide range of opportunities and fun that is available. Have color and variety to draw the public interest.

PR/Community Relations
This type of demo is to let your local group show people that the SCA is here and is a group of good people. This does not necessarily need to be an in your face kind of demo. The goal of this kind of demo is to leave people saying nice things about the SCA. So you could provide entertainment for a pre-established event; participate in a charity or community activity; or just be a positive presence in the community.

Where: Again, this could be anywhere but often you see these held at movie theaters, restaurants, charity events, or city festivals.
What: This is the demo where you must be aware of the limits of the activity first. Know what the event organizer’s expectations are. Know what the is acceptable based on the type of activity you are participating in. You might not need the color and the pomp or you might need to blow it out of the ballpark.

Educational
This type of demo is one where the goal is to teach the public about a part of history. Usually, we are invited to do this kind of demo at a school or local event (think library). This is a demo that needs to be oh so accurate and age-appropriate. Make sure your activities are hands on, so people can try new things. The goal here is to inspire interest in history and enjoyment in learning by providing an interactive experience. Make it fun but make it authentic.

Where: Often these are at schools, libraries, or businesses.
What: This kind of demo requires a little more supervision. As the organizer you need to know what kind of lesson the organizer is teaching and ensure that your activities are appropriate for topic and age. Overseeing this kind of demo can be harder but also really rewarding.

Acquisitional
This demo is one that is held to get a specific item, whether it is a site, funding, etc. This kind of demo will contain elements of one of the above demos. Again, this one will require a good understanding of purpose and limitation.

Where: Could be any place but often at camp sites or parks.
What: Based on the location and the organizer’s intent. The goal here it to impress and show that we are good people. Know the expectations and limitations of the area and the event.

Misc. notes and ideas 

Demos can be held anywhere and are a great way to get attention. Be creative when thinking about where you can hold a demo. Businesses with medieval themes, movie theaters and playhouses, local city events and festivals; schools; and libraries are often our targets but there are many more options out there. You could offer to teach classes; you could participate in local charities; you could donate services to local groups or charities; you could perform in retirement homes; hold a feast; etc. Use your imagination.

Also remember that fighter practices, art nights, and even meetings when held in a public place are demos of a sort. Anywhere we gather in large numbers, people are interested, so always be prepared to answer questions.

Demo in a Box

It is useful for your local group to have a basic supply box for demos. While each demo is individual, there are some things you will always need. Print out the handouts available on the SCA web site and keep copies available. Help your chatelaine get business cards and have them ready to hand out. Make a group photo album that showcases local people doing cool things. Have a banner for your local group. If you have some basic items always in reserve, it makes it easier when you do have the opportunity to do a demo.

Make sure you plan your demo fully. Once you have identified the purpose of the demo, think about the activities that best support the event. Know who your site contact is. Get your volunteers early and staff it like you would an event. Pre-plan as much as possible:

  1. Will you need tables, chairs, tents, coolers, etc? Who will provide them? Who will set them up and take them down?
  2. What jobs will need to be filled (marshal, MOL, chiurgeon, etc)? Who will that be?
  3. Will you need a press person? Talk to your seneschal about SCA media rules.
  4. Are the activities planned realistic in the needed number of participants? Reasonable for the age range of attendees? Meet local and SCA rules?

Remember that during the organization process your host is making a judgment about our group. If you are unorganized and scattered, that is what they will remember. If you throw something together at the last minute and it is messy and chaotic, that is what people will remember. Think about the image you are presenting to the public

Attending a Demo

If you are attending a demo please remember you are on display. Your group might have a chatelaine but it is still your responsibility to be a chatelaine for the day. If someone asks a question, answer in a friendly manner. If you do not know the answer, find someone who does. Don’t ignore people or fob them off on someone because “it is not your job”. At a demo, that is everyone’s job.

Be on your best behavior. People can pick up on drama half a mile away. No one will be impressed by a group that is full of in-fighting or full of disasters. If you don’t feel like being on public display or you cannot be nice, do not come to the demo.

Make sure all your gear and your garb look tidy and nice. Demos are a time to show people what we can do at our best. Keep trash, mundane items and non-period items out of view.

Amp it up – demos are a time for all the forsooth language, flowery actions, and poetry you have. Be the dream, indulge in the ideals.

Do not sell items. While there are many wonderful merchants in the SCA who sell items many of us desperately need, the first thing a person hears about the SCA should not be a sales pitch. We are a non-profit, educational organization. The SCA is not personally affiliated with your business. If you hand out business cards or merchant at a demo, people will believe that you are a) official and b) that they have to buy things or use or business to be involved. This is inappropriate and could cause you and the SCA headaches down the road.

Make sure the information you have on hand is accurate and that you have plenty of it. Print out handouts and business cards in advance. The SCA website has plenty of pre-written handouts that look great. The Atlantian Chatelain’s Handbook also has some templates. If a local member wants to write one, great, but please have the seneschal ok it first to make sure it meets Society standards. Have some photo albums so people can see the variety the SCA offers. Have people available who want to talk and answer questions.

Be hands on! After a few stories, people can get bored. It is fun to watch a tourney but even that becomes too boring after a few hours. Have activities that your guests can try and participate in. In this day and age of computer games and internet and social networking, people want something they can do. Keep your displays varied. Even if the majority of your group is into one thing, have other options that people can learn about. Variety is the spice of life.

Have a sign-up sheet/contact list for people who are interested in more info and then follow up on those people. Don’t expect people to hunt you down. Give people the info they need and show them how to get involved.

After the demo, get feedback from your event host/site host. See what they felt you did well and what you could improve. Remember to thank them for allowing you to participate. Also, thank your volunteers. Everyone who helps at a demo is doing you and your local group a favor, thank them for their assistance.

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