The Danger of Demos

23-Sep-08 – 10:03 by ToddG

At the range last night, an instructor giving a private lesson reminded me of a teaching truism: demonstrations can help you, and demonstrations can hurt you.

In this case, the instructor wanted to prove something to his student. He sent a 25yd bullseye target out to fifty yards and emptied a magazine at it. When the target was brought back in, there was a single hit on the paper. What happened next? The student wanted to give it a try. But the instructor kept trying to dissuade him. He said things like “it’s impractical” and “it’s impossible for someone at your skill level.” The student insisted, fired the same number of rounds, and got three hits. Rather than praise the student, the instructor was clearly annoyed. The next time the student messed up on a drill, the instructor told him, “You’re the worst shooter I’ve ever seen.”

I’m always very skeptical of an instructor who does not (or cannot) demonstrate the skills and drills he is trying to teach. Not only is a good demo an effective way to show students how the drill is to be shot, but it also inspires confidence in the students and proves that what you are asking them to do is reasonable and possible.

Nonetheless, many instructors shy away from doing demos because they’re worried about looking bad. The truth is, if you demo enough drills in enough classes, you will eventually screw something up.

Get over it. No one is 100% perfect every time. Students don’t expect or need you to be perfect. They’ve all made mistakes, fumbled draws, dropped shots, etc.

The trick is to keep your ego out of it. Don’t keep shooting the demo over and over again in front of the students trying to get it perfect … this just wastes their time and makes you look desperate. Don’t try to set a personal best record on each drill. Shoot things at a pace that allows your students to understand what you’re doing. There’s a fine line between demonstrating your competency and showing off. Demonstrating your competency bolsters the student; showing off usually leads to embarrassment.

And it should go without saying, don’t ever tell a student he’s wrong or bad just because he did something better than you. Your job is to make your students as good as they can be, not “almost as good as you.”

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 7 Responses to “The Danger of Demos”

  2. Demoing also has one drawback that you didn’t mention. Although I agree that 99% of the time it’s a good thing to demo, the student will oftentimes try to conduct the drill at the same speed/rhythm that you the instructor just did, which can be counterproductive, particularly if the student isn’t capable of this level of speed/hits.

    By Rich on Sep 23, 2008

  3. Agreed on both counts. I’ve sometimes set personal bests in the past when demoing (sp?) and wanted to yell at the student for not realizing how good that particular run was. I’ve since cooled off and avoided significant embarrassment by adopting ToddG’s method of a smooth, controlled pace that I know will get excellent results unless I seriously flub.

    That being said, after I demo at a fast-for-the-student pace, I demo at the EXACT pace I’d like them to begin the drill, usually repeating that pace. This does two things for me – one, I hit more accurately and again significantly reduce my fumble factor, two I show them that the drill is in the realm of the possible, and three I show them that I can do the drill at the speed I ask them to time and time again. Sure, it has me shoot a demo three times, but from my experience people like to see things 2-4 times before they want to try it themselves. YMMV…

    By MHCPD on Sep 23, 2008

  4. “You’re the worst shooter I’ve ever seen.”
    Reading that kind of comment makes me genuinely angry. Under the circumstances described, it was even worse.

    Whenever my department hires new deputies, I hold an all-day individual training session for each one, regardless of their experience or apparent shooting skill levels. The first live fire at the range consists of my shooting as tight a group as I can. I do that to establish my own bona fides as someone who can “walk the walk” and isn’t afraid to put his own skills on the line. Then I have the student shoot a group at the same slow pace I did. If the group is good, I praise the student and know that she has at least a basic ability to deliver accurate fire if necessary. That often helps break the ice between us and reduces the nervousness caused by the student’s being forced to perform under the pressure of being the single focus of my attention.

    If the group is poor, I run the student through a drill that is all but guaranteed to produce a decent group. If the result is better than mine, I emphasize it as a confidence-builder (“See, you are capable of shooting well, and despite my much greater experience, you even managed to do better than I did.”) I’m never afraid to acknowledge when I’m beaten (as during a dueling tree competition, for example), and I’m firmly convinced that doing so actually enhances my overall credibility with my students as someone who will treat and evaluate them fairly. Instilling pride and self-confidence in shooting students is, I believe, one of the most important things a firearms instructor can do. It not only enhances the learning experience, it helps develop the student’s desire for more training and practice. The instructor’s demonstrations can show the skills to strive for, but the occasional failure can be used to illustrate the “No one is perfect” lesson and the need to keep trying.

    By JohnO on Sep 23, 2008

  5. While not a firearms instructor, I do teach adults in the technology arena. I couldn’t agree more with JohnO that as an instructor (regardless of course work) you need to establish credibility with your students, but at the same time convince them that learning is a life long experience. Every day, each and every one of us improves our skill level.

    One of my favorite lines I use when ‘setting up the ground rules’ for a class is “You guys aren’t the only ones who get to learn here: Teacher does too”. And I truly believe it; instructing someone else on a topic enhances the instructor’s ability to perform the same tasks.

    Instructional settings are irrelevant. It can be a range, a college lecture hall or professional conference workshop; respect goes both ways, and it goes a long way.

    By JoeB on Sep 24, 2008

  6. Really great commentary, guys!

    By ToddG on Sep 24, 2008

  7. Your job is to make your students as good as they can be, not “almost as good as you.”

    Exactly. In a nutshell.

    By Xavier on Sep 28, 2008

  8. I think demos are an integral part of teaching a physical skill. Simply explaining what you expect leaves too much room for interpretation on the student’s part.

    I have also never seen a motivated student who got better as a result of being brow beaten by an instructor. Verbal abuse is not only unprofessional, it’s counterproductive.

    By Claude on Sep 29, 2008

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