John's Jottings

148. May We Present - October 2018

Posted on September 30, 2018 at 2:30 PM

The other week we were discussing how exhibitors introduce their layouts to visitors: letting them know what the display represents, its scale and gauge, historical period, geographical location, what’s going, the control systems for locomotives, signals and other moving items, what special features to look for, and so on.


“Some layout teams seem to assume that every visitor has an encyclopaedic knowledge of both real and model railways,” Graham suggested. “They think it would be inappropriate, if not insulting, to attempt to tell visitors what they already knew, either by labels, or by the spoken word.”


“But the public can be so pig-ignorant,” Peter told us with all the conviction of a person who is close to being just that.


“Others go to the opposite extreme,” Jim countered. “There are acres of printed sheets with text, diagrams and photos, plastered on fiddle-yard screens and below the front of the layout. They cover every detail of the layout that you could ever think of asking about, and some that you’d never even thought about before. But there is far more information than anybody could take in at a single reading. And people who do try to read it all get in the way of visitors who actually want to see the layout itself.”


“Then there are extensive descriptions in show guides that make War and Peace look like a short story,” Jane added, with a smile.


“I’ve seen one layout that has a series of hand-outs,” Felicity reported. “There’s one leaflet for each aspect of the layout. You take from the dispensers the ones that interest you.”


“There’s one layout that’s bang up to date, with an LED matrix screen that lists services, while another is old-fashioned, using lights behind stencil signs,” Jim commented.


“Some layouts explain what’s happening by means of flip cards or monitor screens,” Ken went on. “But that only covers train movements. It can’t cover aspects like construction techniques.”


“Perhaps that’s where IT comes in, with an endless loop of photographs, movie clips and text to explain the different aspects of the layout. If it’s sited as part of the fiddle yard, then its viewers are not in the way of those who want to watch the trains and examine the scenic details.”


“What about touch-screens and mobile phone links?” Bill wondered.


“And finally there are real humans. The best modify their patter to respond to the age, knowledge and interest of each group of visitors, and quickly spot when their commentary is not required.”


“It’s always a compromise,” our chairman suggested. “There are so many variables to consider, not least the expectations of the audience. Those attending a single-gauge show with a large number of specialist traders are probably quite knowledgeable. Visitors to general and local shows, where layouts predominate, may well welcome a friendly guide. And for novices attending their first show, isn’t a knowledgeable companion desirable?” And we had to agree him on that one.

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