If you make your living as a professional artist, chances are that you’ve been thinking about hosting a Zoom demo this fall. As Covid-19 numbers continue to climb, many art associations are using online events to help stay connected with their members. Individual artists are also hosting their own online demos to drum up art sales or build interest in longer workshops.
By now, most of my readers will know that online demos can be wonderful, inspiring, and educational! They can also be dull, frustrating, and headache-inducing for both presenter and audience.
Teaching undergraduate courses online and in a blended format has taught me a lot about remote facilitating, but artist demos have some special features that make them different from regular Zoom meetings. They are different. They are more difficult! Recently, I facilitated two Zoom painting demonstrations for my mother, internationally recognized watercolour artist Linda Kemp. We spent days testing out various methods of streaming, debating camera angles, and working out our agendas. All that hard work led to two successful events and some clear ideas about how to facilitate online demos.
Here are my top 10 tips in a rather long blog post! Be sure to scroll to the end for a link to Linda Kemp’s demo for the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour! Thanks CSPWC!
1. Join the meeting 15-20 minutes before your start time to greet participants and solve inevitable technical challenges.
If you’re not teaching an audience of undergraduates or tech people, you’re likely to have some first time Zoomers on your call. They will want to arrive early and make sure that they can connect. This is also a good time to warm up the room and get people comfortable and chatting.
2. Give participants an agenda so that they know what to expect.
At the beginning of the session, tell your audience about the components of the demo, when there will be a break, and when they’ll be able to ask questions. This will reassure your audience and help them focus without worrying about whether there will be a break and when. Be sure to build in some discussion time.
3. Lay down some Zoom rules to help your demo go smoothly.
I highly recommend that you ask participants to mute themselves when they are not talking. Once you begin to present your demonstration video, ask participants to turn off their video. While it can be a bit strange to see all of those black boxes rather than smiling faces, your demo video will be clearer and less likely to lag.
4. Don’t try to demonstrate and moderate at the same time.
Have someone you trust take responsibility for managing the logistics of the meeting. Your audience will definitely have issues with Zoom: people will come late and need to be admitted into the room, people will be kicked out due to a dropped connection and want to ask you why, someone with a barking dog will fail to mute their microphone, a hand will be raised on page three of the gallery. The demonstrator won’t have the bandwidth to focus on these technical issues while making art or answering questions.
5. Ask participants to engage with you through the chat feature.
Having your audience ask their questions through the chat box prevents interruptions, allows the moderator to group questions together in a logical way, and encourages participation from quieter audience-members who might not want to ask their questions aloud. Ask the moderator to collect these questions for you and ask them at the appropriate time.
6. Answer some common questions in advance.
Art demo audiences ask questions about materials and methods pretty consistently. It is easy to satisfy their curiosity in advance. At the beginning of the session, show your audience what materials you will use and tell them where they can be purchased. Show reference photos and elements of your set-up. Tell them if the demo will be recorded and if/where they’ll be able to watch it again. Providing this information before the demo itself will help your audience focus on what you are doing.
7. You don’t have to perform your demo live.
If it makes you more comfortable, you can pre-record your demo and present it through the screen sharing function. This is a good idea if you have poor internet connectivity in your studio space or if you want to have more control over the production values of your demo. Pre-recording can help you to smoothly present multiple views of your work or speed through sections of your process (there’s only so much time people are willing to devote to watching paint dry).
If you choose to pre-record your demo, make sure that you carve out time for questions and discussion. Students generally appreciate having opportunities to interact with the artist they are watching.
9. Keep the needs of your audience in mind.
Watching an online demo is not the same as watching one in person. It is harder to concentrate when you are watching someone paint from the comfort of your own living room, especially if you have already spent a full day in Zoom meetings or are unfamiliar with the technology. In-person demos also serve important social functions for the audience; people come in order to meet you, get to know other artists, and spend time with their art friends.
If you are going to present an art demo online, you should provide time for breaks and you must find ways to engage your audience. Consider breaking your presentation up into a number of sections. Offer a prize. Poll the audience. Raise a discussion question. Make time to talk with those who came to see you work and get audience members talking with each other. A good moderator can help you with this.
9. Use your demos as an opportunity to gather information and tell people about other opportunities to work with you.
Make it easy for your audience to sign up for your mailing list so that they can keep in contact with you. Tell them how they can purchase your art or enrol in your future workshops. Ask your audience what else they might like to learn from you.
10. Consider charging a fee for your demo.
Pulling off a professional and engaging demo is a ton of work and artists are too often asked to work for free! The business-savvy artist will charge a fee for providing a demo or use the demo as a specific promotional opportunity. Even if you are providing your services for free, make a plan that will benefit your business.
And now, here's Linda Kemp's beautiful demo for CSPWC: