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General Guidelines for a Successful Small Arms Demonstration

By Jim Schatz

The Definition of a Successful Demonstration:

“A successful demonstration is a day where no one at the demo gets hurt, all the guns work as designed, you hit all your targets and, if you are a salesman the customer leaves with the intention to buy your product, in that order. Strive for perfection!”

Safety is the first concern but preparation is the key to a successful demonstration!


(We now continue the helpful hints that the author started in SAR Volume 3 Number 11)

•20. Always, always, always, demonstrate the capability of the weapon in your competent hands before letting the attendees shoot the weapons! The inexperienced customers (with your particular product or possibly any like it at all) cannot be counted on to demonstrate to themselves and the other attendees the capabilities and superior aspects of the weapons (i.e. accuracy, controllability, etc.) during their time behind the guns. It is paramount that you show them the potential in the weapons.

•21. Help the attendees do well with the weapons. While it’s great that you can shoot the weapon like an expert, it is even more important that the attendees feel confident with their ability to shoot well with the products that you are trying to sell them. Therefore, if the customer is accepting of it do not hesitate to offer the group, before shooting begins, training on proper shooting positions, sight alignment, trigger control and other shooting fundamentals to enhance their results down range. Shoot at ranges where the customers can do well and see their results. 15 meters is more than adequate for pistols, submachine guns and defense shotguns.

Example 7:

The deal was struck, the purchase order all but signed. The unit commander was placed on the firing line with the prospective buzz gun in hand in a stance not suitable for a squirt gun let alone a 900-rpm bullet hose. Actually easy to control with the right firing stance his first burst shot the light out of the roof of the indoor range and nearly knocked him on his,,,, wallet. The proud rep and adoring subordinate watched as the boss laid the loaded weapon on the deck, commented that the gun was uncontrollable for his officers and walked off the range. The sale that almost was.

Lesson: Not everyone’s a shooter. Often the attendees, especially the decision-makers, need a little coaching to shoot the weapon properly. Be alert and watchful for this and tactfully provide input were necessary.

•22. Don’t attempt to make shots or perform feats of weapons “magic” unless you have at least a 90% chance of success. Missed shots and stoppages during demos are both embarrassing and counterproductive to your effort to “wow” the crowd. Don’t overestimate your abilities and never forget about the ever-present “Murphy factor” (What can go wrong, will go wrong!). Go for the safe and sure shots as opposed to the long (low percentage) shots.

•23. Use “reactive” targets (targets that react to being struck by projectiles) for immediate target feedback. Most people can’t see bullet holes in paper targets beyond 15 meters! Use approved steel targets, balloons, exploding targets, cans, canned soda, cinder blocks, clay pigeons, food color filled jugs of water, and even fruit, etc. so that the impact of the rounds on target are clearly visible to the shooter and/or observer. White targets with other than black (orange) pasters show the dark bullet holes better than black or dark colored targets.

DO NOT use glass targets during demos. Tracer ammunition is also great when it can be used especially for distant targets but ask first to avoid starting fires, an act that will not get you invited back real soon. Clean up your target debris before departing the range and if you use them do not leave unexploded exploding targets on the range.

•24. Never, never, never clear more than one stoppage in a weapon during your demo! If it malfunctions a second time, don’t add insult to injury! Clear and ground the weapon and move on to another one without comment or acknowledgment. Act as though it was a planned interruption or, better yet, did not occur at all. Problems do occur during demos but the observer often misses them. Don’t attract attention to these screw-ups or stoppages by repeatedly trying to clear the stoppages or by mentioning the problem to the entire crowd.

Always have another gun close at hand that you can immediately transition to in the event that the previous weapon malfunctions. In that way the problem with the previous weapon is easily overlooked by all in attendance. For critically important demos for a particular item have a second gun available, just in case.

Example 8:

This was painful to watch. An experienced and popular manufacturer’s rep whom we shall call Rex was demoing for a large crowd an otherwise very reliable weapon recently selected for a sizeable government contract. Even a few of the proud procurement people and testers were in attendance. From the reputation of the weapon everyone knew it would go well. As the crowd watched 2-3 rounds were fired from a string of hundreds and then silence. For more than five minutes, for what seemed like an eternity, Rex and numerous assistants tried to revive the gun to no avail. It was later found that the weapon had a loose 1-cent roll pin that kept the weapon from firing. This gun had been used previously for other purposes to include armorers training and the offending roll pin was repeatedly removed and reinstalled and not replaced as new and thus shifted on its own during the first couple rounds. The contract still went through but a painful lesson to learn regardless.

Lesson: Use nothing but your best weapons for demos. If you are not 100 % confident in the gun it will make you regret using it. When in doubt replace or repair them before use. And beware of a gun that is “good to go” as prepared by someone else. Control your destiny and take the time to prepare your own guns.

•25. Remove malfunctioning weapons from the firing line after they are cleared as soon as possible. Avoid trying to “fix” malfunctioning guns in front of the attendees. Having a similar back-up gun or guns available in the event of an irreconcilable problem is always a great idea when feasible and pays excellent dividends in the end. Your assistant can take the gun off range and away from the attendees to fix the gun covertly if necessary?.

•26. When you conduct a perfect, malfunction free demo let the attendees know about it! Already knowing in advance that the answer will be “no”, ask if anyone had any stoppages during the shoot. When no one does, it’s always impressive to say, “that’s typical of the quality and reliability of this weapon, 2,000 rounds fired and no malfunctions”.

•27. Close out your demo with closing comments. Invite the attendees to stay after to go over the weapon in greater detail if necessary. Remind them to take literature and your business card. Thank them for their attendance.

•28. During the demonstration, periodically reapply lubrication to the weapons after about 200 to 300 rounds, especially with the select-fire, sound suppressed, weapons with tight tolerances or those with a past record of sensitivity to lack of lubrication.

•29. Always leave a copy of your inventory list by serial number of the weapons you have out with you that day with someone else back at the office or at home in case the weapons are lost or stolen.

Example 9:

Think it can’t happen to you? Two manufacturer’s reps were headed out on a road trip to conduct demos and training at various locations along the East Coast. During a brief stop their vehicle was broken into and a single case containing 22 handguns was stolen. Upon realizing their loss the two reported the theft to the local authorities. As bad as that was things would have been appreciably worse if they could not have provided details of the guns that were stolen, especially the serial numbers, to the officials. A travel list of the demo guns carried separately from the weapons saved the day. Some of these weapons were recovered in the hands of bad guys in the commission of numerous crimes only days later in a city 1200 miles from where they had been taken.

Lesson: Safeguard and record what you have with you in case someone else gets it.

•30. Always “clear”, inventory and secure your weapons prior to and immediately after the close of the demonstration.

•31. Be honest with the attendees. No one likes a be-s-er, especially when he or she is trying to sell something. If you are caught in one lie (a small white lie or otherwise) you will loose all credibility with those in attendance. There are many people that you will run across at demos that are as or more knowledgeable than you are about firearms and related subjects, maybe even your own product. Therefore, never underestimate the customer. If you don’t have the answer to a question, say so and promise you will get them the answer as soon as possible. If you promise something to a customer, come through with that promise ASAP or at least explain to the customer why you cannot.

•32. Always carry basic spare parts and the tools necessary to replace these parts to the range with you, along with cleaning equipment for the unexpected occurrence. Firing pins, bolts complete with all parts, trigger mechanisms, suppressor wipes, assembly hardware or pins can be quickly switched in the guns should a problem, loss or breakage occur. However, DO NOT try and fix the weapon in the full view of the attendees. Don’t forget batteries where applicable (for tactical lights, lasers, Aimpoints, etc.)

The attendees will expect the weapons to work perfectly without parts replacement during the demo. However, we all know that the weapons we use for these demos are used hard year after year at shows and other demos and breakages do occur and cannot always be predicted. Few weapons are used as hard as regular demo weapons where shooters keep coming with loaded magazines one after the other sometimes without interruption for hours on end. A good idea is to replace the key parts, those most likely to cause stoppages (i.e. extractor or extractor spring), before an important demo, just for good measure. It’s money well spent and is made up on the first weapon sold. When in doubt, replace the part!

•33. Attempt to arrange your demonstration in a manner that allows the semi-automatic only and lower recoiling weapons to be fired before the select-fire or heavier recoiling weapons. Heavy recoil and fully automatic fire tends to temporarily impart “the shakes” in the muscles of many shooters making accurate rifle or precise pistol shooting extremely difficult. If possible, start with the pistols, then semi-automatic rifles, and then pistol caliber select-fire weapons. Save the shotguns, heavy caliber (.223 Remington and .308 Winchester) select-fire rifles and belt or box- fed machine guns for last. A low velocity 40mm grenade launcher like an M79 or M203, like a pistol requires excellent trigger control and follow through due to the slow exit velocity of the projectile and should therefore be fired before semi-automatic or select-fire weapons or the shotguns.

•34. Before firing your demo, take a second to slow down your mental processes. Relax! Concentrate on making accurate shots on target with each trigger pull. Avoid unnecessary hand or body movement that is not absolutely essential to the task you are performing at that moment. Take your time and avoid mistakes at all costs.

Example 10:

Watch the talented professional demonstrators and learn from their actions. Watch the Gunter Schaeffer’s from HK GmbH, the John Satterwhite’s from Beretta, the Shane Healy’s from FN Herstal, and the Reed Knight’s (in business suit and all). Not only are they well prepared and intimately familiar with the weapons but they handle them as though they were an extension of their own body. No wasted hand movement, all motions have a clear purpose. Each target is hit with apparent ease and they progress through the demo with visible confidence. They make the gun stand out and sing so much so that the attendees are both impressed and entertained. And they look the part and are dressed appropriately, except for Reed who always overdresses for demos!

Lesson: Prepare, practice and stay focused on the immediate task at hand.

•35. Where possible, coordinate with a fellow demonstrator to have one person narrating while the other shoots or handles the weapons. The narrator’s comments are used to direct the attention to the key things that the shooter/demonstrator is doing that may not be readily apparent to the untrained eyes in the audience and would be missed if not mentioned. This method works particularly well when addressing a large crowd, a very influential group or when using a public address system. The demonstrator and narrator can switch places during the demo to keep things interesting.

•36. Don’t shoot unproven or untested items received from some other person in a demo before trying it out first. Sound like common sense? More than one unfortunate guinea pig (sucker) has volunteered to “dress up” his product with “high speed, chrome go-faster” accessories from another source without first testing them. Nothing stays with you longer than wishing “If I had just not shot that gun with Billy Bobs suppressor”! Right before or during a demo in front of onlookers and prospective customers is no time to field test accessory items. Mr. Murphy works overtime just waiting for opportunities like these. The author has personally seen many examples of non-compatibility between otherwise safe and reliable firearms and untried add-ons that caused reliability, accuracy and even safety problems. Try this one on for size.

Example 11:

A major manufacturer decides to allow a sound suppressor manufacturer, a good one, to demo his weapons with the can makers’ latest product. The weapon is excellent, the can is excellent, they fit and looked great together but they needed to be tested together before a public debut. They weren’t. In front of a large crowd containing numerous potential buyers of a new weapon struggling for acceptance, the suppressor maker’s demo team begins an embarrassing show of poor preparation and dismal reliability. What they did demo over and over again was mostly the correct immediate action drill for the host weapon. The suppressor was most effective, extremely quiet each time the trigger was pulled and the weapon failed to fire from a previous stoppage. If this wasn’t bad enough the demonstrators also broke cardinal rules number 23 AND 24 above and repeatedly cleared and tried to fix the stoppages/problems on the range to no avail. The demonstrators looked at the weapons, then looked at the gun maker. The gun maker looked at the suppressor makers then at the grounded guns surrounded by live rounds ejected during constant clearing drills. The crowd watched it all. The guns never did decide to run that day.

Lesson: Try it as though you were buying it. Don’t take someone else’s word for it. Test it extensively before you need to shoot it in a demo and until you and your most trusted assistant are satisfied.

•37. If you are demoing to customers that speak a language different from your own, ensure you have someone available in advance to interpret for you during your demonstration, especially the safety briefing. Learn three key words or phrases in the customer native language before your demo. “Stop”, “Cease fire” and “Commence Firing”.


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