3 Tips for Getting Conversation with Visitors Going
For re-enactors, living historians, and the like, a lot of work goes into the details of bringing history to life for visitors you hope to inspire or educate. Maybe you’ve stayed up all night finishing off that new broadcloth coat or worsted gown. Maybe you’ve driven ten hours to be on the original battlefield, on the same day and same time as the actual battle. Sometimes the public, the very folks you are trying to engage, just won’t come see what you’re doing. They walk around you or snap a picture and walk away. If this sounds familiar, you may be giving off some subtle cues that keep visitors away. Interpretation–the art of engaging people with the people and stories that make history come alive—is an art to be mastered in its own right. However, there are a few tricks that can make your next living history event come alive. Make all the work that goes into doing great living history count: talk to some visitors.
Just say, “Hello”
Even though living history is nothing new, visitors don’t necessarily know what your deal is. They don’t know if you are portraying a character or what’s going on. You have to make the first move and greet visitors you encounter. Period clothing, especially uniforms with period arms and accouterments, set you apart and can be intimidating. Simply saying, “hello,”, “good morning,” or “welcome,” lets folks know that despite the historic attire, you are a regular, approachable human being. This simple step lets folks know that you are available to talk. Body language is important too; we all know what bad service in a store looks like and how it makes us feel. Don’t accidently do this to visitors. Greet folks with a genuine smile. Even if you are seated or working with your hands, look up at people you greet. A friendly greeting breaks the ice and lets people know you’re there to talk, hopefully about the really cool period activity you are doing.
Part of the fun of living history events is hanging out with old friends at the event. It’s easy to circle together and catch up. While this is a lot of fun, it sends a very clear signal to visitors. Football teams huddle for a reason: to keep the other team out of the discussion. Spread out to make space for visitors to join the conversation. Breaking open circles will allow you to greet and invite visitors in, without giving the impression that visitors are interrupting.
Numbers are Intimidating
A whole platoon or more of re-enactors is imposing to visitors. It is wonderful to create the real size and spectacle of military units. It can give folks a perspective on the scale of events we are trying to portray. The weight of numbers that made military units useful is imposing to visitors. Snappy drill and a military bearing, which make for a better presentation, make these portrayals even more imposing. Activities like firings and drill require safety margins, but don’t miss out on a great conversation about what’s going on. To have the imposing spectacle of numbers while interacting with visitors, pull out a handful of re-enactors to go out and engage visitors. These individuals will be more approachable, to explain the demonstration, be it firings, maneuvers, or even cooking mess en-masse. This problem is not unique to military portrayals, any large living history activity—framing a building, washing laundry—can be big and impressive enough to keep visitors away. Here too, take the spare hands from the work, get them out talking to visitors. You’re doing something cool; make sure visitors get the opportunity to know just how neat it is.