By Justin L. Ford
The Many Benefits of a Great Demo Team
Do you hear that?
It's faint, but it sounds like a heartbeat.
Is that. . .the sound of your school?
While your students can be likened to the heart of your school, the reputation of your school can be considered the heartbeat. It is the echo of your success. If your “heartbeat” is weak, then your school is likely on the decline to death.
Simply put, your reputation comes from word of mouth. And you should be aware that people will talk about everything! This includes the cleanliness and appearance of your school, what happens on the training floor and, especially, how your students act wherever they go outside your walls.
One of the most potent methods for advertising/promoting your school and spreading a positive reputation is to have a standout demo team. Having a dedicated group of students who are picked to demonstrate their skills at events and festivals is integral to any school interested in growing a larger local presence.
A stellar demo team can be a truly amazing part of your school because it brings with it so many direct and indirect benefits. Besides recruiting new students, it can bring the local media spotlight on your school while also elevating the performance of all other students within your school.
Students not on the team will often work harder for the chance to join. Flash back to high school and you may remember the feeling that hits them. It's akin to when you would try to get the privilege of sitting at the “Cool Kids’” table at school.
Being a part of the public face of the school and performing in front of crowds of people can be an exciting prospect for your team. It doesn’t matter whether the demo team leads Chinese Lion Dance performances, showcases flips and tricking, or is simply a group of your younger students demonstrating their basic techniques. It works for all arts and styles.
Such a team also presents retention power. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to motivate a lackluster student into putting forth more effort and continuing his/her training at your academy. That one aspect of your school might truly connect to a student and become the only difference between them quitting as a beginner and training for many years.
And who knows? Connect well enough and one day he/she may become an instructor or school owner like you!
It's not only for the students who seem to have one metaphorical foot out the equally metaphorical door, however. Even your top students will benefit greatly from having a team they can look up to and be a part of. As we know, everyone benefits from having somebody to look up to in their lives.
There’s a reason superheroes have been so well-received by both children and adults all these years. The worlds and heroes crafted by comic-book pioneers like the late Stan Lee inspire many people to become the best versions of themselves possible, all the more so if the hero they look up to is relatable.
No, demo-team members can't fly or morph into superhuman beings. But they do get to act as “superheroes” to other students. They get to step into the role of your school’s top-tier group others can admire and aspire to join.
Let's look at the keys to a super performance!
Do you ever watch something and absolutely love it for no reason that you can clearly define? You are simply left with a good feeling about what you watched. Believe it or not, that isn’t too unusual.
Most people can recognize negative things in a performance more easily than positive things. Think about how much natural it is to call somebody out on their imperfections and tell them what they need to improve. A lot of horrible bosses in the business world illustrate this quite well, unfortunately. It is simply easier to see what is missing or done improperly.
True perfection often has elements that are nearly imperceptible. That's not to say nobody notices if things are done right, but rather, it is less obvious.
If you go into a restaurant and everything is clean, that can easily go unnoticed as there is nothing to catch your eye. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if there were dirty dishes left over on tables and food spilled on the floor, those messes would catch your eye.
The concept applies to most of our human lives. I'm sure you can easily recall some horribly bad movies seen, foods tasted or experiences had. Weigh those against the memories you can recall that scale between average to great and, usually, you'll find the less-than-stellar memories are more visceral.
Our goal is to create a routine and perform it in a manner so clean — with perfect synchronicity, good focus and power and correct technique — that nobody catches a mess-up or mistake. Allow them to see only the positive standouts: the creativity of the routine and its music choice, the smart choreography, the showmanship, the engagement with the crowd, etc. Allow the audience to leave energized and excited by the professional atmosphere you and your team created.
Building the Team: What's in a Brand?
Extroverts and introverts. That's how humans are often socially classified. They are people who prefer company and those who enjoy solitude. However, even the most introverted person would go stir-crazy in solitary confinement. As human beings, prolonged boredom and isolation don't sit well with us. Even though everybody needs their occasional “alone time,” almost everybody has a problem with spending the entirety of their time completely alone.
People need people, whether they like it or not.
Having a team that represents your school well brings a healthy dose of pride and sense of community to everybody involved with your location, even the parents of your younger students. If you’re proud of the team you are on or the school you are a part of, you’re going to do everything you can to bring out the collective best and help it grow for the better. That means they need to be recognized almost as a brand.
Start by recruiting the best. Your demo team should be the gold standard. They get to represent everybody else in your school, teachers included. If they seem lazy or unorganized, well, you can probably guess what people watching them will think of your school and your level of teaching.
Form a real team. The first key to having a good team is that they have to be a team! The saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” rings true here. A sense of camaraderie does more than simply strengthen social bonds. It strengthens the performance. Keep in mind that it's not just synchronized moves that showcase their camaraderie and professionalism. Giving members a special uniform or team name can help anchor that feeling of unification and accomplishment for making it onto the team.
Determine the team’s size. How big do you want the team? There are pros and cons to both large and small teams.
If you have smaller numbers with more advanced students, it’s easier to wow crowds with more difficult moves while maintaining synchronization. It’s also usually easier to build close teammate bonds between each member.
If you have a large crowd of students from every rank and age, you can impress the audience with powerful basics. It can also convey to an audience shwcase that anybody, no matter who the person is, can achieve amazing things.
All of this goes into choosing the type of persona you project. Neither is wrong. The decision goes to you and what you want to showcase.
Your responsibility is to guide your team to greatness and demonstrate the best of their abilities. That said, you aren't alone in making that happen. There is a dichotomy of obedience and leadership that each team member holds in balance.
Let's look at the most important thing your team needs to know.
Building the Team: Responsibility
Ego. Laziness. Fear. These can become the sins of a demo team. It is all too easy to let a good performance create ego, a difficult routine create laziness, or a planned major demonstration make someone too afraid to perform properly.
The key to eradicating each of these is to anchor the individual team members in the humility of being responsible for their team. And yes, even a seven-year-old can accept a degree of responsibility in this way.
No matter the age, let them (and their parents, if they’re younger students) know that they are responsible for staying on top of their training outside of scheduled practices. They must keep their uniform performance ready, and know what position to be in during the routine.
Now comes the hard part.
Take a moment to think. Breath deep, then actually give them that responsibility! Don’t be afraid to delegate!
You cannot be like the compliant mom in the supermarket who keeps bending her rules each time her child asks for something, then ends up nearly having to take a loan out just to pay for all the candy her kid dumped in the shopping cart!
Let them know there are actual rewards and consequences for their actions. It is just as much their team as it is yours. If they never trained, they all would have some very terrible performances. It’s as simple as that.
Following this, be mindful of who you choose to bring into your performances. If your team is by invitation only, invite students who you know will be able to handle the responsibility or would do well in stepping up to meet the challenge. Some students will surprise you!
Of course, that's not to say younger students can't perform. You can scale the responsibility to the age and ability of your group. The expectations of a black belt are a far cry from the expectations of a five-year-old underbelt.
Let's look at the different ways to make your demo team truly engage the audience and leave everybody captivated by their professional performance.
Choreographing the Moves: Tell a Story
To the world around us, everything we do projects a piece of who we are and what we think. As a school, that’s often used as a form of advertisement, showcasing what your school focuses on.
Each type of martial arts school has a certain look to it that gives a glimpse into what is taught there. It is not molding to a stereotype. Rather, it is understanding what perception you are giving your onlookers and guests. An MMA gym, for example, is going to look very different from a traditional Okinawan karate school.
If you’re an MMA gym, maybe you have concrete flooring, cages or rings for fighting and hanging heavy bags. If you’re a traditional karate school, maybe you have wooden flooring, a shrine to show respect to your style’s master, and traditional training implements like a makiwara (wooden punching post). That isn't an absolute rule. But it is something that a smart business owner will often think about.
There’s a perceivable difference because you are trying to show what your school represents and how your students train. It's the same thing with your performances.
Tell a story with your movements. At very least, you must understand what story you are unwittingly telling.
If your performers take the stage slightly slouched and looking toward the ground, they project low confidence in their abilities. If they walk on with relaxed shoulders, smiling eyes and open gait, they project a feeling of casual passion and enjoyment for what they get to do. If they walk on with eyes focused straight ahead and walk close together, well, that's a team with a mission of success!
As they continue to demonstrate, pay attention to the persona they project, the look in their eyes, the gait they walk with, smoothness and openness of their movements, and the sounds they make all go into their appearance.
As you weave a story for your audience, keep in mind that the most memorable parts for the audience will be the beginning and the end. Like a good book, set the tone right at the start and finish strong!
Matching the Sound: Smooth Sailing
Aren't TV commercials the worst annoyances? Unless you’re using them as the time to grab some snacks or a drink, they can be jarring. You can be totally captivated by what program you’re watching, then be abruptly interrupted at the best part by an ad for car insurance.
It takes you out of the experience.
That’s how it can feel if you have lots of downtime in your public-demo performance as well. That waiting time where you’re switching one group out with the next, or where you wait for the music to hit a certain cue, can be worse than having to wait all summer to find out who shot J.R. in the old TV show Dallas!
To make the performance run smoothly, there should always be something happening. That's not to say the performance needs to look like it was performed by the Energizer Bunny on a double-shot of espresso. You can have slower moments. You can even have the performers stop for several seconds. But be sure that even during pauses, they are still performing.
As much as possible, everything should have a purpose. If you pause, it should be to add anticipation, maybe for the fast combo with the entire team that is about to happen or as the next group is getting ready to come marching in. Transitions matter.
If one group of performers is about to finish its last combo, find interesting ways to have the next group take over the stage. Understand what moves go to which cues in the song. Having a clear timeframe is important in communicating the moves and keeping everything going. If you can tell a student that his/her combo needs to be finished by a certain beat, you are on the right track.
That consistency is important. If we practice the performance 20 times, but we start on a slightly different note or phrase each time, it’s almost like practicing 20 different performances one time each. As you can imagine, mastery is going to be rather difficult in that situation.
Following these tips takes practice and conscious effort, just like many things in business and in martial arts. If you continue to keep these in mind, you and your team will improve dramatically. You’re going to seem more professional. You’re going to be more engaging to crowds. You’re going to get more people interested in taking classes under you so that they, too, can one day join your team of “superheroes.”
Everybody has his or her own individual reason for starting their training. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Power Rangers and the Ninja Turtle are the common names on the list of catalysts for aspiring martial artists.
Do things right and maybe your team can join that elite list!
It all started with a passion. That's what led Justin L. Ford to go on to study multiple martial arts and eventually become Head Instructor of a successful American karate school in suburban Georgia. When not sharing his passion in the classroom, he shares martial arts knowledge via his blog, cupofkick.wordpress.com. He can be contacted by way of email at [email protected]
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