Using volunteers usefully

23 07 2013

I was surfing BIG chat and a contributor pointed me to a RI Christmas Lecture video.

If you are going to use a volunteer they should be used for a reason. I doubt the presenter or the producers of this show could give us a reason for using a volunteer here beyond ‘well isn’t that what’s expected in an interactive science show?’

There is no reason that I can think of to use a volunteer in this instance. The use of a volunteer doesn’t bring anything extra to the demonstration. In fact, the announcing the need for a volunteer, the selection, the time it takes for the volunteer to come out and the need to instruct the volunteer serve only to take attention away from what is important in the demo.

If the balls could be triggered by some trick then a volunteer might have been necessary- to show there was no subterfuge happening on stage.

If the balls weren’t enclosed in a perspex box a volunteer might have been used- to react to and highlight the force and number of ping pong balls flying around.

If the presenter had needed to do something else, like hold a close-up camera, whilst the event was triggered then a volunteer would have been useful- as an extra pair of hands.

If you watch the presenter and the volunteer they are both a little embarrassed afterwards as they both know the volunteer has been asked to do something trivial and unnecessary. It’s a shame because it’s a nice demo…

The lesson to be learned here is simple: if you are going to use a volunteer make sure you know why and how they are going to be used. And if you can’t come up with a good reason to use a volunteer then don’t!




4 responses

1 08 2013
Elin Roberts

Interesting point, but I wouldn’t use this demo to highlight it. There are plenty of occasions where volunteers are used ineffectively. The only part that made me feel awkward was the presenter over explaining what he wanted the volunteer to do, a little patronising.
Who wouldn’t have wanted to set that off? Offering that opportunity to a volunteer was generous. On this occasion, I think a volunteer was justified.

7 09 2013

Hi Elin, I totally agree that there are many worse examples of volunteer handling out there than this one. And yes, it could be seen as generous. But by being generous and involving the audience member we lose sight of the demo. And how generous really is it to give someone a totally non-challenging task and, as you say, patronisingly over explain what they need to do?

3 06 2014
David Hall

Good points. For me I think people still like to get involved – however simple the activity – and in this case I think the demo’s probably “spectacular” (and short) enough to keep the audience’s attention. It’s a bit of fun and little more than that – and I think it was pretty obvious from looking at it what would be involved (which is also, I think, quite important). (Whether it was worth the huge amount of time it must have taken carefully setting it up in the first place though, I’m not so sure. Reminds me of the film canisters demo..!) And I quite like the simplicity of this demo.

3 06 2014

Hi David
I like the demo too. I’d just like to see it done without a volunteer if the case is going to be kept on. With the case there’s no need for a vol- let the demo speak for itself. J

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