Sunday, December 01, 2013

Talking About the Environment: My individual presentation to the Uplands Module, Florida Master Naturalist Program


As a Florida Master Naturalist, you are likely to be doing a lot of talking, both formally and informally. The following may help you as you choose how/when/where you employ your skills.

You will be called upon to talk in any number of ways:
  • Answering questions/identifying elements of the Florida natural ecosystem. These may occur one-on-one or to large and small groups
  • Docent-type tours of projects/sites to which you are attached in one way or another
  • Talks to interested groups ranging from civic groups to school classes.
  • Serving as an environmental advocate or volunteer
  • Representing a resource on behalf of a government agency, conservation trust, etc.

Before you begin talking, I suggest you:
  • Identify your areas of interest and expertise. Know your strengths and weaknesses in the field
  • Build and develop a set of reference materials, web sites, apps that address your areas of interests and beyond. Become fluent in how these tools are laid out so that you can use them to increase your knowledge as well as access them quickly for answers to questions you do not know off “the top of your head.”
  • Keep a log or notes on the questions you receive, particularly ones that you had to do further research about. You may wish to create your own set of Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Immerse yourself in natural surroundings as much as you can. Do so in extended periods of time if possible. Stop, be still, use all of your senses. Observe, imagine, contemplate. Don’t be rushed. Nature will reveal itself on its own schedule, not yours.
  • Field trips have their place, but I recommend going alone or with one other person more often than in groups.

Your presentations:
  • Briefly tell your own story. Use an anecdote or two about how you came to love natural systems and want to share your knowledge with others. This is very important to establish your commitment and competence in the subject at hand. You are setting the stage for the rest of your remarks.
  • Identify your audience ahead of time. Speak to their needs and interests.
  • Do not depend on Powerpoint or paper. Be able to communicate clearly, with enthusiasm without those tools. It is hard to crank up a computer when you out in the field.
  • Always have a map of your subject site at hand and refer to it periodically to orient listeners.
  • You do not have to know every last detail about the resource. You are like the maitre’d, you are offering up a menu to an ecosystem or natural resource. Seek to inspire your audience to learn more on their own and to be long-time stewards for natural resources.
  • Summarize your key points at the front end. Be explicit about what you want them to take away from your talks. Do it in bullets.
  • Be conversational. Listen as much as you talk. Don’t get tied up in your script.
  • Develop your anecdotal library and continue to add to it. If something works particularly well, use it again.
  • Touch upon as many varieties of perspectives as you can to shed light on natural systems: photography, science, art, literature, history of ancient peoples who used the resource, politics, management requirements, economic values/impacts, environmental ethics, sustainability, and environmental vs agricultural issues.
  • Do not be afraid of silence. Breathe, Smile, Be yourself. Show your love for the subject without flooding them with minutiae. Avoid being a “smarty-pants.”
  • Always be honest and accurate. You can not know everything. Don’t try to fake it. You may want to offer to get back with the questioner on questions that you can not answer.
  • If you hear a good presenter, study them, and take things from their presentations to use later. They will help you find your own voice.
  • At the end, summarize your talk again in bullets.

On-going continuing education

  • Commit to life-long learning about Florida’s natural resources. Observe and learn from as many perspectives as possible.
  • Do the obvious: read, study, take courses. Know as much of the science as you can absorb so that you will speak with as much accuracy as possible.
  • Speak formally and informally on behalf of natural resources often. Practice makes perfect.
  • When I was working on Lake Apopka, I dove deeply into piles of technical papers, data, etc. After awhile, the jargon contained there became secondhand to me. That can be a problem, because those jargon may not be the best way to communicate. I often would do tests on friends and family who had little scientific background.. If I could make “hypereutrophic” clear to those friends, I knew I had found the language to use for the general public. I found those interchanges invaluable in distilling my thoughts into a series of “elevator speeches.”

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