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Practical Site Heraldry

by Seamas Mac Daibhid

Last Updated April XLII (2008)
First presented at A Midsummer Knight's Dream —
either MSKD V, AS XXVIII (1993) or MSKD VI, AS XXIX (1994)
Copyright © 2000, 2002, 2008, Seamas Mac Daibhid; all rights reserved.
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Part II: At the Event

You've practiced your voice. You've studied your site. You've packed supplies. (If you haven't done all this, go back and read Part I.) Now the day has come: You must be a site herald.

Heralding in General

Put on your comfortable shoes or boots, and load up your weatherproof pouch. (See the packing list in Part I). If there is a prominent clock on site that your guests will frequently see, such as in the feast hall, set your watch by it. Scout around the site, looking for any last-minute problems: new fences, fallen trees, flooded paths, or such.

Carry an event schedule at all times. Make announcements often. If you make frequent and reliable calls, your guests will come to depend on them, and to look for you—that way, the important calls get heard. At a large and busy event, you should be as regular as a cuckoo clock. Keep in touch with the autocrat, feastocrat, and marshal, so that you know about any changes in the schedule. You'll have to announce those changes, as well.

How to Say Things

Remember your planned route. When it's time for an announcement, go to the first (or closest) zone on your circuit, and follow a familiar sequence from there. The more pattern you show in your announcements, the more the populace will be aware of them and come to depend on them.

Do not make an announcement while walking! If you do, many of your listeners will get an effect like this: (fade in) . . . be beginning in the HALL IN 30 MINUTES! ALL those gentles who wish to . . . (fade out) I have heard such announcements all too often, including, shamefully enough, at a Kingdom Heraldic Symposium. Stand still to speak.

Strike a stance. Pick your planned spot (or the nearest unoccupied space) and stop dead. Your pose and bearing should tell all who see you that you have something to say and that you expect them to stop and listen. People will learn to notice you, which makes your job easier. (I once brought an entire hall to complete silence without a word, by taking a familiar pose at a standard spot.) A good stance also improves the air flow for your voice.

Catch your breath before you begin speaking. You can't project your voice without breath control. If you have stage fright, take an extra deep breath to settle your nerves. If you happen to have stopped near someone who is talking, wait for a break in their speech; they will appreciate your courtesy.

Always use the same opening. Again, familiarity will breed attention. The good standard opening is: Oyez! Oyez! My lords and ladies! For urgent announcements (such as lost children or major schedule changes), follow this with, All gentles, PLEASE attend! If you are indoors, use only the volume the space requires, not your full voice. If you know your voice will command the room, you may omit the Oyez! and simply begin, My lords and ladies.

Pause after your opening. Let people turn their attention on you. If necessary for an important announcement, repeat your opening. Remember, you are the voice of authority—when needed, you may command the attention of the populace.

Don't panic. By now, hopefully, most people are looking at you. Remember how to use your voice. Make your announcement slowly, clearly, and loudly, with your normal voice and plenty of air. Use a natural rhythm and natural pauses; you are a herald, not a truck driver or disk jockey. Don't swing your head from side to side (even if you've seen me doing it). Let the pitch of your voice rise and fall naturally; don't speak in a monotone. If you stumble over words, back up and repeat. Make your message clear. MAKE IT CLEAR!

Leave your persona behind when you make announcements. If your persona is foreign, use your mundane speech; you may have a terrific French or Italian or Scottish accent, but a newcomer might not understand it. The place for flamboyance and style is on the list field (if you have that kind of marshal) or in court (if you have that kind of Crown). Wakie, wakie, wakie! Time for tea and cakie! may be a cute wake-up call (I actually heard this once in Ansteorra), but it doesn't tell the Duke when armor inspection starts.

Finally, say Thank you! so the populace knows you are finished.

Make your circuit faithfully. Don't skip areas because you only see a few people in them. Don't skip a zone because someone says, "We just got the baby to sleep!"—if necessary, make several quiet announcements to cover that zone.

What To Say

Speak formal modern English. Don't be forsooth at the cost of clarity. Don't use slang, even SCA slang; don't say dragon where vehicle would be better. Keep your terminology consistent with the autocrat's; if the map and schedule say "feast hall", don't say "great hall".

For scheduled activities, say something like, Court will begin in 15 minutes, at five-thirty, in the main hall. Always give a location, and preferably give two times: how long until it starts, and what time it will be.

Round times to the nearest five minutes or so. Phrase times mundanely: Say four-thirty, not half past four of the clock or 1630 hours or an hour before Vespers.

Check your watch as you go; if your first zone hears, Court in 15 minutes, and you spend five minutes on your circuit, then your last zone should hear, Court in 10 minutes.

For a scheduled activity, make one or more advance announcements, as desirable; call once more when the activity begins. Start announcements early, to leave time to cover the site; don't start calling Court in five minutes! if your site takes ten minutes to get around. Tournaments, courts, and feasts need more lead time than other activities; people must collect armor, change to court garb, or gather feast gear.

Don't forget—you will need to announce when some things end, as well, such as breakfast or lunch, armor inspection, or competition entry. Breakfast is underway in the hall, and will continue until eight-thirty! or Entry for the A&S competition will close in 30 minutes, at ten o'clock!

When several things happen at once, make one announcement that covers them all. The mass melee will begin in 15 minutes, at eleven, on the field. Mistress Jane's protocol class will begin in 15 minutes, at eleven, in the pavilion. Note that you need to give times individually for each event you are announcing—the person listening for an announcement about the protocol class may have automatically tuned out the announcement about the mass melee.

Sometimes, you will be asked simply to draw the attention of the populace to another speaker. In such a case, begin with your standard opening then introduce the speaker. Oyez! Oyez! My lords and ladies! Please give your attention to the mistress of the lists! If the populace does not attend well, don't call Oyez! again without warning the speaker first—nothing will so unnerve an uncertain public speaker as being startled out of his wits by his herald.

For other announcements, look for a phrasing that is simple, direct, and comprehensive. Will all gentles please move their vehicles to the marked parking area? When giving instructions to the populace, be polite, and remember to say Please. Phrase commands as requests when possible, unless the matter is becoming urgent.

Remember, when the announcement is finished, say Thank you so everyone knows you are done.

When someone tells you a message to announce, take a moment to think about it. Do you understand the message? Do you need more information? If the message is not extremely simple, write it down.

When someone gives you a written announcement, look it over immediately. Does it make sense? Can you read the writing? If it calls for a person, do you know how to pronounce the name? Remember, say names as their owners say them, not as your knowledge of languages says they should be pronounced. Do you have the person's proper title? If you have any doubts about the content of the message, ask for clarification from the person who gave it to you.

What Not To Say

Be tactful. Your job is to communicate, not to insult; if a requested announcement seems unpleasant, rephrase it tactfully or deliver it privately. For instance, say, Will the owner of the black Chrysler please consult the herald? not, The black Chrysler blocking the driveway will be towed if it isn't moved! If there is a problem with one of your event co-workers, don't make announcements at all; let the autocrat deal with it, or carry a message personally.

Don't make unauthorized announcements. When someone asks you to make an announcement, ask yourself, "Does he or she have the authority to do this?" This of course depends on the content of the announcement. People with authority: the autocrat; the feastocrat or hall steward (for feast stuff); the knight marshal or list-mistress (for fighting stuff); your local seneschal, baron or baroness (for administrative stuff); the minister of children (for child care stuff); the chirurgeon (for medical stuff); the Crown, Coronet, or Kingdom Seneschal (for just about anything).

Don't refuse any announcement absolutely. You are only the herald; don't overstep your own authority. If you have doubts, ask the person who requested the announcement whether he or she has checked with the autocrat (or other person you know has the needed authority). If the person arbitrarily insists the announcement be made, consult the autocrat or other authority yourself. You may even argue with the Crown, if you feel it necessary—a part of your job is to prevent embarrassment to Their Majesties.

Making Yourself Heard

It is your job to make announcements, and the job of the populace to be quiet and listen to them. But sometimes—all too often—your audience ignores you. For routine schedule announcements, simply do the best you can to be heard, and go on to your next zone. These calls are a courtesy to your guests, and your guests should be courteous enough to listen without making you beat them over the head. (On the other hand, if someone asks you to repeat a routine announcement, do so willingly and cheerfully, even if they should have been listening the first time.)

But sometimes announcements are more important, even urgent: A child is lost, an injured person needs the chirurgeon, a car needs to be moved, or the Crown is looking for somebody. At such times it is your duty, and your right, to command the attention of the populace.

At such times, use whatever form of opening will get people's attention. For instance, begin with, Oyez! Oyez! My lords and ladies! All gentles, please attend this important announcement! and repeat it until everyone near you is silent.

For such announcements, you function as the voice of authority, and the populace has a responsibility to listen to you as they would listen to the Crown, or the autocrat, or any other authority. Do not hesitate, when necessary, to force people to listen.

Between Announcements

When you get the chance, sit down; get off your feet for a few minutes. Go to some gathering point such as the main hall, the troll booth, or the list field, so that you can be easily found if the autocrat or someone else needs you. If you are taking a long rest break, while there is a gap in activities or while an assistant handles things, be sure to tell the autocrat where you are going, and who is filling in for you.

As an off-duty herald at your own event—or at anyone else's—set an example for the populace. If you hear another herald call Oyez!, then immediately fall silent and turn your attention to the announcement. Please, give other heralds the courtesy you expect for yourself.

More Practical Site Heraldry:

Part I: Before the Event

Part III: Wake-up Without Fear

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