Want to bomb your next reptile talk? Here’s 5 key elements to make sure you do.
As some of you may know, I have been asked to be a guest speaker at the 2012 Canadian Reptile Breeders Conference next week. This is a huge honor for me but it’s also a little frightening. Yes, frightening; you see, it’s been almost 5 years since I have done any public speaking regarding reptiles, let alone speaking about one specific species in-depth. When I was originally invited I of course jumped at the opportunity. Now just 8 days out I realized something.
I thought to myself. ‘I am going to fail completely miserably and make a fool of myself.’ Not being one to fail through any fault of my own, I sat down, took some brief notes, then spoke with a very close colleague whom I bounced ideas and jokes off of; they encouraged me and I felt better. Then later something huge hit me.
Many people in our community have vast amounts of knowledge regarding not only certain species, some have intimate knowledge of entire ecosystems of reptiles. Why are they not speaking to the public? FEAR of FAILURE.
I have spoken both one on one and in front of crowds of hundreds who filled amphitheater seats. That was years ago though, I haven’t done it awhile. I feel that old nemesis sneak up behind me and grab my throat. Why would I fail? What could go wrong? Plenty can and may go wrong. As is my nature I obsessed over this making lists of mishaps and what have you. Then I gradually narrowed that list down throwing out all the irrational fears and settling on 5 key elements to insure that you bomb your next reptile talk.
- Talk in a monotone voice having absolutely no enthusiasm about your topic
- Making dry topics (taxonomy gives me a nosebleed) worse
- Don’t rehearse (you’re an expert after all why rehearse)
- Don’t leave time for questions before the next speaker is due to come up
- Expect everything to go exactly as planned
Now then notice I said irrational fears earlier. Not all fears are irrational especially to those who have them. Some people have a very real fear of public speaking and while there are thousands of quotes both witty and otherwise there’s in all reality only one way to get over this fear and that’s to face it head on and do the darn thing. Here’s a site dedicated to the topic that’s pretty interesting. Fear of Public Speaking.
In the end, I am still woefully prepared for my talk and I will be spending this weekend building, rehearsing, etc., what about you? You have the knowledge I know you do because you’re reading this.
So let’s look at how to avoid the 5 bombs shall we? If you’re into the species that you’re talking about you will be passionate about it and barely able to contain yourself. This is great because then we can eliminate bomb number one. This ties directly into bomb number three though, without rehearsal you may have some habits which you don’t even see.
One of my favorite lecturers when I attended community college had the annoying habit of the ‘fig leaf stance.’ This is where someone stands in front of their audience, their hands folded one over the other as if holding a fig leaf like we see in religious paintings of Adam and eve. Rehearsing in front of mirror will allow to see the gestures that might come off as odd. You should be excited but you don’t want to start doing the running man on stage either (especially if like me you got the moves like spastic Jell-O).
Making it FUN!
How in the world do you make dry topics (taxonomy) not dry? Make a joke, nothing intricate or disparaging to anyone but make light of the subject. Everyone enjoys a laugh. In my case, I am well-known for saying that taxonomy is a nosebleed subject because of all the technicalities involved with it. I freely admit that and I say so during my talks which generally gets a chuckle or two and since it’s the first subject we cover it sets the mood that we are all here to have fun.
Don’t rush the talk. Breath and answer questions as time allows. Typically most people will sit through a talk and ask questions at the end. If you feel like you might be losing some interest, pause and get some audience interaction by asking if anyone has any questions on the topic you just covered.
You show up with your slide presentation and computer only to find out the promoter forgot to tell you they only have an analog slide machine! The computer crashes, the disk gets damaged in baggage claim, the list goes on and on. The Boy Scouts have a motto “Always be prepared” well no one can be prepared for every eventuality that will come about. You can do your very best to prepare though. Make sure you and the promoter are speaking regularly to clear what and how the presentation will be presented. If the proverbial S*** hits the fan, breathe deep and keep rolling. Let me give you a personal example of this very subject.
I am standing in front of an audience of 200+ kids and their parents at a day camp and extolling the virtues of snakes in the wild. At this particular time I am holding a Kingsnake which my partner and I have been working with for years. I am being gentle and not waving my hands around or anything just letting the snake slide through my hands. Next thing I know, WHAM! The snake has taken hold of my forefinger on my left hand and is presuming to attempt to swallow it. I don’t panic, but it does hurt. Now I have two choices freak out completely in front of 200+ people or use this.
I continued thus. “See folks, this is why we advise that you don’t handle any snake in the wild. By the way snakes have six rows of teeth…” After I was done talking about dentition (teeth) and not handling snakes I excused myself and went to take the snake off my finger; came back a few minutes later and apologized. The audience was excited and told me that they were impressed how I overcame the incident. Use the ‘accidents’ as springboards for your talks.
You are now fully equipped to do your own reptile talk and we’d love to hear how it goes. If you’d like to share a happy accident such as mine we’d love to hear that too. Here’s to educating the public about our fascination as this is the only way we will ever truly reach beyond our own clique borders and disseminate the truth, not the fiction that is typically portrayed in mass media. Get out there and share your knowledge; your community needs you.Herpetoculture House