Guidelines for Demonstrators

Woodturners fit at many points along a scale of development.  Some are new to turning and others have decades of experience.  And so it is with demonstrators.  This may be your first demonstration, or you may have done many.  The point is that no matter what your level of experience as a demonstrator, there will be turners in the audience who will have something to learn from you.  So your demo can be relatively simple, or it may illustrate an advanced technique.  Either way, the audience will enjoy and benefit from what you demonstrate.

The following guidelines are not comprehensive, but nor are they intended to be daunting for newer demonstrators.  Please take from them whatever is appropriate for the demonstration you are planning to give.

Plan and stage your demonstration.  Not many, even the professionals, can turn up for a demonstration and go from start to finish.

Practice Practice Practice.  Plan what you are going to do and practice your “routine” down to the last detail.  If possible, have a practice run with a mate who is a more experienced turner present.  They may be able to pick up on some improvements to your technique or to your routine.

Staging is the most important preparation.  Make part-finished pieces of your demo so that you can move on to bypass a tedious or repetitive part of the demo.  Or when something goes wrong.  Or when audience questions slow you down. Or, most certainly, to avoid a lengthy period of sanding.

This means practice each stage / or component so that you can use these staged pieces as your notes.  It has happened to all of us – we skip a stage, usually caused by nerves.  Or we make a mistake which ruins the part-finished piece.  When this happens you can then pick up the next one of your staged pieces, explain what happened, and carry on.

Do a dry run in your own workshop to make sure you can do in the time allocated.  Terry Scott: “My first ever demonstration I spent days preparing, which at the time seemed madness, but when I came to the demo I could do it in my sleep.”

Choose the wood you are using carefully so it has no faults that may muck up one of your processes.  Don’t use softer woods like pine that you wouldn’t normally use.

Be prepared – bring everything you need and more.  It’s no good getting to a club to find that they don’t have a jacobs chuck or drill bit of the size you want.  On the other hand, don’t bring too much stuff – this often happens when you’re new to demonstrating; you keep bringing more and more things “just in case” and end up having more than you need and it all just gets in the way.

Before beginning your demonstration, sharpen your tools.  Lay out all the items you will use so they are quickly accessible.

If you can tell a joke at the beginning of the demo do so, but only if you know this will break the ice.  No jokes about people, religion, or sex – keep it clean.

Try to maintain a commentary on what you are doing as you work, as this will keep the audience interested.  Explain even the small things.  There will always be people in the audience who appreciate this new knowledge.  Practice so you feel confident in talking as you turn (but don’t try too hard as this can come across wrongly).

Elaborate on lathe safety.  Observe safe practice yourself, for example stopping the lathe to shift the toolrest.

Don’t try to do something new at a demonstration. You’re not there to learn, they are.  Know what you’re going to do and do it that way.  If this differs from “standard practice” explain your reasons for doing it.

If you accidentally get a catch and have a chunk missing out of your work piece, don’t over-react, just carry on if you can, or move on to the next staged piece, or make and explain a design change.

Slow down – this is important for new demonstrators.  Slow down everything.  That may mean the lathe speed, your actions, how you prepare or mount the wood, and your tool speed.  People want to see and hear the process as much as they want to see the final product.  That’s why you’re there.

Talk to the audience and explain the process.  You’ll find that it’s more enjoyable to turn this way as well.  It also forces you to think about what you’re doing and presenting it to the viewers in the best way possible.

Make sure your viewers can see your tool work.  The camera operator will normally try to ensure this, but you need to be mindful as well.  Try not to turn your back to the audience.  Engage them in everything you do.

Remember that there will be turners at varying levels of experience in the audience.  Explain all your actions even if it seems obvious to you – there will be some who may not know, or you will offer a different way.

Enjoy the experience.   Demonstrating is a great way to improve your woodturning as you need to consider your process, plan your design, and think about your techniques.

After the demonstration ask more experienced turners what they thought and for their comments on any improvements.

Summary of Main Points

  • Have a clear idea of what you are going to do
  • Plan your demo
  • Stage your work if necessary
  • Try and show a complete process
  • Practice – do a dry run
  • Choose suitable wood
  • Make sure you bring everything you need for the demo
  • Sharpen your tools
  • Lay out all demo items for quick access
  • Talk as you work – explain what you are doing
  • Demonstrate safe practice
  • Slow down and work calmly
  • Enjoy your experience
  • Seek feedback

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