Best Demo 2013

The British Interactive Group is somewhere between a professional association for science communicators and a self-help group. They host the excellent (as in ‘everyone who reads this blog should sign up’) BIG-Chat email list, and run an annual ‘Event.’ Which is sort-of a conference, but … well, you’ll just have to go to experience it.

Too late this year, though, as it’s on in Glasgow right now. Tonight’s shindig was the annual Best Demo Competition, which is sort-of a performance competition and sort-of a soapbox session for trotting out just plain neat ideas. There’s no more terrifying audience for a science communicator than the members of BIG… and no more forgiving an audience, either.

I’m missing the Event this year, but thanks to the lovely folks at Science Made Simple there was a live stream of tonight’s performances, and you can view it for yourself. Be warned – the audio is patchy (it gets better in the second and third segments), and there are many drop-outs. So it’s almost like being there, if you imagine yourself drinking heavily before showing up. Which would be traditional.

Some cracking ideas, some lovely performances, and some stuff that plain doesn’t work. Great combination.

Part 2:

…and the results (with a few extra demos because… because Best Demo):

Congrats to everyone who signed up to take part. Keep reading below for Elin’s thoughts on entering from last week…

A BIG event

The annual conference of the British Interactive Group, the BIG Event, is just around the corner. This fixture on the science communication practitioner’s calendar is usually a flurry of interesting sessions, entertaining sideshows and moderately serious events such as the AGM. Over the years BIG has been growing up. I remember the heady days when you could camp behind the observatories at Herstmonceaux, and whole sessions were improvised on the fly. Things are far more organised, these days. Meanwhile, I’ve gone from being the wide eyed, wet nosed young graduate to someone approaching ‘old guard’ status at what I can only describe as an unreasonably rapid rate.

The event reflects how much the sector has grown. More delegates come along from a wider range of sectors. It is still different, both fresh and refreshing, and harbours far more ‘silly’ than you’d expect from a conference, but I can’t help thinking it is all a lot more, you know, serious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the sector is to be valued and have much needed injections of hard cash then being all proper and professional will surely help, but I accept wholeheartedly my professional responsibility to be lighthearted at the same time.

A highlight of any BIG event is the Best Demo Competition. I love watching Best Demo but it has been, inexplicably, several years since I last entered. Having stumbled across a nice, new and simple demo within the last year I decided to sign up when the round robin email calling for entrants came knocking. To my surprise, I find that this year there is a limited capacity, that not everyone who wants to take part gets themselves a slot. I made the cut, secured my slot, and suddenly I’ve begun to feel an awful amount of pressure. That decision of mine to do something simple and whimsical no longer feels like the right thing to do. There’s a high risk of total demo failure leaving me looking and feeling a fool.

Last year many of the demos were incredibly well thought out, rehearsed and one had months of training behind it. I’m feeling inadequately prepared. You see, when I last took part, I threw something together, picking up props as I left the office and hacking around ideas about what I might do on the train on the way. I’d hate for someone better prepared to have not made the slot whilst I might turn up on the day with something roughly strewn together. So on a sunny Sunday afternoon with a couple of weeks to go, I find myself feeling the urge to start working on my set.

What I ended up doing of course, is writing this blogpost to let you know I should be thinking about it instead.

I’ll let you know what I eventually decide to do, but not just yet. I’d hate to steal my own thunder and I hope at least some of you might be there.