[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

NFC: NFC's public speaking informational article

New article for the NFC site and the world :)

Speaking About Natives
The popularity of exotic species among North American aquarists has
practically swept 
our own native fish into obsolescence. With the exception of sailfin
mollies and Texas 
cichlids, one will be hard pressed to find an example of one of the
hundreds of native 
North American fish in a pet store. Until recent years, trade magazines
almost never 
featured articles about natives, and rarely do so now.  As native fish
enthusiasts, we are 
aware of the broad diversity of colors, sizes and shapes of fish that our
local water systems 
contain. We know of the many fascinating quirks and habits of these
overlooked species, 
and continue to learn more every day.  Our interest also leads us to
awareness of the 
importance of natives to the environments in which they dwell, and the
threatened state 
that many of these fish exist in today. Unfortunately, the vast majority
of society does not 
share our knowledge.  A continued lack of such knowledge and the interest
it builds could 
spell trouble for the well being of native species farther down the road.

Despite the efforts of such groups as the Native Fish Conservancy and the
American Native Fish Association, public awareness of our native species
continues to 
grow only at a snail’s pace.  While the aforementioned organizations have
excellent web sites to increase such an awareness, there exists an urgent
need to carry the 
word of native fish to the public instead of waiting for them to discover
it on their own. 
One method of taking the word to the public is through presentations. 
Through public 
speech, a well prepared enthusiast can do much to further the cause of
native fish. 

However, even the thought of standing before a group of strangers can be
daunting to the 
inexperienced speaker.  Therefore, we have provided this guide to help
all who may wish 
to do so give a successful presentation; be it before a classroom,
aquarium club or any 
other group.  Covered in this guide are preparation and presentation
techniques commonly 
used by many public speakers, that if adhered to, will go far in making
your presentation a 

Preparing Your Presentation
Once you have made the decision to give a presentation, your first step
should be to learn 
as much as you can about those you will be speaking to.  Age, interests,
aims, social class, 
etc. are all important factors that must be taken into consideration when
developing your 
speech. Remember, your goal is to make a connection with your audience. 
What is 
appealing to you may not hold another’s attention. 

Slated to appear before a high school class?  Then avoid using the
scientific names of the 
species you will be discussing.  Such terminology will fly right past the
average product of 
today’s MTV generation. Has the local aquarium club asked you to give a
If so, ask the club’s president what some of the major interests of the
members are, and 
tailor your presentation a little heavier toward those areas. 

If you do not feel like writing your presentation down word for word, at
least create an 
outline that you can follow easily throughout your speech.  The outline
is comprised of 
three sections: the introduction, the body, and the summary. 

Introduction:  The introduction informs the audience of your topic, and
prepares them to 
receive your information.  Begin your presentation by giving the audience
a brief overview 
of what you will be telling them.  Follow the overview with an attention
getting story, fact 
or quote that relates to your topic, leading directly to your thesis
statement.  The thesis 
should state clearly and concisely the main point(s)  you are attempting
to make through 
your presentation.  Wrap up the introduction by giving your audience
another overview of 
the main sections of your presentation’s body. 

example thesis:  For a speech touting the suitability of sunfish  for
aquariums, a good 
thesis will be something like- “Most species of sunfish are ideally
suited for the home 
aquarium.” With that one simple statement, the audience will be able tie
in all of the 
information that follows throughout your presentation. 

Body:  The body is the data-packed portion of the presentation that
supports the thesis. 
Break the body into sections according to subject matter.  Be prepared to
support most or 
all of the information you divulge with evidence, and include the
evidence in the body 
where you are able. 

Creating a well balanced body helps make for a smooth presentation.  If
possible, make 
each section approximately the same length.  However, balancing may not
always be 
feasible for some topics.  Should you find yourself with uneven sections,
 try to work the 
body so that the sections are in order from smallest to largest. 

example body sections:  Following the example thesis, an appropriate list
of body sections 
could be the following: “Species of Sunfish,” “Captive Care and
Maintenance,” and 
“Acquisition of Specimens.” 

Summary:  End your presentation by summarizing the main points and
relating how they 
support the thesis.  Some may feel that giving so many overviews
throughout a 
presentation is overkill, but repetition is what drives the main points
into the audience’s 

Visual Aids:  The old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” holds
true with 
presentations.  When possible, use charts, graphs, slides and other items
to support the 
facts you have opted to share with your audience.  Slides and the real
thing are great when 
you are describing specific species and equipment.  Graphs and charts
will allow your 
listeners to visualize the statistics you are throwing at them.  All will
help improve the 
audience’s comprehension of what you are telling them. 

Quotes:  A few properly selected quotes will add flourish and credibility
to your speech. 
When using a quote to support a fact, tell your listeners where they can
find the quoted 
material.  Doing so gives them the opportunity to follow up your
presentation with 
research of their own.  Whatever your reason for using a quote, make sure
it is relevant to 
the subject at hand. 

example quote 1:  Again using the sunfish topic- “In the book North
American Native 
Fishes for the Home Aquarium, the pumpkinseed is described as ‘an
excellent beginner’s 
fish for those aquarists who are not experienced in the keeping of

example quote 2:  Using literature to add spice to your presentation,
especially during the 
introduction, is not all that uncommon.  A quote such as- “Say, you are
in the country; in 
some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one
it carries you 
down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is
magic in it.” 
(Herman Melville’s  Moby Dick), can be easily used as a lead-in for a
discourse on the 
“magical” wonders offered by native fish. 

Transitions:  Transitional statements between subjects act as guides for
the audience, and 
avoid confusion caused by suddenly switching topics.  They let the
listeners know that one 
subject is finished, and prepares them to receive the information for the
next one. 

example transition:  The speaker is describing the various species of
sunfish, and wishes 
to move on from bluegills to orangespotted sunfish- “...Therefore, the
bluegill’s aggression 
necessitates that it be kept only with tankmates of similar size and
temper.  Unlike the 
bluegill, the orangespotted sunfish works well in many community setups. 
Its small size 
and peaceful temperament...” 

Humor:  Humor helps build a rapport with the audience.  However, it
should be used 
very sparingly, and only after trying it out on others before the
presentation.  Most people 
are not half as funny as they believe themselves to be, and too much bad
humor can have 
the opposite of the desired effect.  Keep in mind that you will be before
an audience 
interested in fish, not amateur night at The Improv. 

Simplicity:  The acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a very important
guide to 
keep in mind when preparing any speech.  Be clear, concise and get
straight to the point 
you are trying to make.  Research shows that the average listener will
retain only five 
pieces of information from any given presentation.  Pronounced complexity
and/or overly 
dazzling visuals may detract from the amount of information your
listeners will retain. 

Begin preparing your presentation in as far in advance of the date you
are set to deliver it 
as you are able.  By getting an early start, you will have more time to
rehearse, check 
equipment, smooth out the rough spots and make any necessary alterations.
 Waiting until 
the night, or even a week, before your scheduled appearance can be
disastrous.  If you are 
not well prepared, your lack of readiness will show during your speech. 
As a result, your 
own credibility will take a hit in the minds of the audience . 

Rehearse:  Unless you are one of those few people gifted with a
photographic memory, 
do not attempt to memorize your speech.  Presentation memorization places
too much 
reliance on script, and may cause an uncomfortable situation, and even
panic, for the 
speaker when his or her brain unexpectedly refuses to turn over
previously stored 
information.  Likewise, unless you’re an old pro, do not just “wing it.” 
presentations often become disorganized and leave important pieces of

An audience will typically respond best to a speaker that appears
knowledgeable and 
spontaneous.  Practice giving your speech beforehand, using all of the
materials you will 
use during the actual presentation.  Do this as many times as time
allows, until you feel 
comfortable that you have a good, solid grasp of the materials.  If
possible, practice your 
speech before a willing listener, who will then be able to reveal areas
needing work that 
you yourself are unable to identify. 

Equipment Tests:  Test, test, then retest all of the equipment you will
use during your 
presentation.  Make sure it is in good working order, giving yourself
enough time to enact 
any necessary repairs.  Keep extra bulbs for projectors, extra batteries
for laser pointers, 
and so on.  It can be quite disturbing when your projector fails you

On that note, develop a backup plan for equipment failures.  Testing your
before hand will reveal most bugs, but will not guarantee functionality
during your speech. 
Prepare yourself for any possibility, keeping in mind the information,
not the graphics, is 
the key part of your presentation.  Do not place so much reliance on your
equipment that 
your presentation will be a failure without it. 

Speaking Before an Audience
It is a well known fact among linguistic experts that people will judge
the credibility of 
others by observing their appearance and speech patterns.  Successful
public speakers use 
this knowledge to their benefit by adhering to the following public
speech principals: 

Though your appearance may not be an accurate representation of your
intellect, how you 
look will give your audience a preconceived notion of your credibility. 
An audience’s 
initial perception of you can effect their willingness to receive the
information you are 
about to give them.  This is not to say that you should wear a tuxedo
during every 
appearance you make, but do avoid showing up in a concert T-shirt and
those old, ratted 
out pair of jeans (no matter how comfortable they are).  On the other
hand, your dress can 
be used as part of the show.  If you are giving a presentation on
collecting fish, wearing a 
pair of chest waders over old clothes and holding a dip net would help
illustrate the proper 
equipment and its use. 

How you speak is even more important than how you look.  Always face your
and make eye contact.  Do not read from your notes or outline.  You are
there to speak to 
the listeners, not read to them.  Notes and outlines should be referred
to sparingly.  Heavy 
reliance on them will be quickly noted by the audience, and recognized as
a lack of 
readiness. Ask those listeners seated farthest away from you if they can
hear you, and 
adjust your voice accordingly.  Some other helpful pointers are the

Relax:  Chances are, if you are standing before a group of people to
discuss native fish, it 
is because you are an enthusiast.  Talking about natives is fun for you,
and that is exactly 
what you will be doing when you give your presentation.  You have the
chance to share 
your ideas, knowledge and beliefs of your favorite subject with others.
So relax! Allow 
your enthusiasm to shine through, and enjoy your moment in the spotlight.

Pace Yourself:  Some people have a tendency to rush through their speech
when facing 
an audience without realizing they are talking too fast.  As a result,
important bits of 
information may be lost on the listeners, who will already be annoyed by
the speaker’s 
rapid pace.  Be aware of your rate of speech, and force yourself to slow
down if you 
realize you are rambling on at 400 words a minute. 

Water:  Cottonmouth is a common malady that strikes many speakers, making
it difficult 
for them to speak clearly, and increasing their unease at standing in
front of a group of 
strangers.  The treatment is simple: water!  Keep a small glass of water
(or any other 
consumable liquid) within reach, and take a sip whenever you feel your
mouth going dry. 
The audience will not be perturbed by the short pauses in the
presentation created by your 

Do not let the audience upset the pace of your presentation.  Answer
questions in the 
times you have allotted for that purpose.  Answering short, easily
answerable inquiries in 
the midst of your speech may be OK, but the ultimate decision to do so or
not is up to 
you.  If you believe stopping to answer a question will upset the pace of
your speech, 
politely defer it until you are done. 

Refer to your audience in the second person “you,”  not the third person
“it,” like some 
speakers tend to do.  Doing so shows conviction in yourself, supporting
your credibility. 

example:  Use the phrase “you should...” instead of  “it would be better

As you are speaking, pay attention to the listeners’ reactions to the
various parts of your 
presentation.  Take note when the audience seems bored, confused,
unamused, or show 
any other bad reactions.  You will then be able to reevaluate that part
of your 
presentation, and hopefully make it more appealing for future audiences. 

Wrapping Up Your Presentation
Once you have worked through all of the information in the body of your
conclude it by reiterating the main points.  Then repeat how they support
the thesis. 
In light of the small amount of information an audience will retain, it
is crucial that you 
hammer in the important data at every opportunity.  For that last bit of
flourish, end your 
presentation with a final, thought provoking statement that relates to
your thesis. 

After your presentation is over, allow yourself to be approached by the
listeners.  Follow 
up on any questions you may have deferred until the end, and ask if
anybody else has 
questions.  Mingle with the audience during post-presentation activities.
 If somebody has 
a question that you are unable to answer, tell them you are not sure, but
if they can let you 
know how to reach them you will find out and let them know as soon as you
are able.  Do 
not leave any question unanswered, and do not answer any questions with
information you 
are not sure is correct.   Not answering questions and fumbling answers
will lower your 
credibility as a speaker. 

If possible, provide your audience with points of contact that will allow
them to ask 
questions after you are gone.  Give them your email address, and the
addresses/URLs of 
organizations that may be of service.  Doing so will be of great help to
those listeners that 
are inspired by your words. 

Robert Rice
Help Preserve our Aquatic Heritage join the Native Fish Conservancy
 at our website  www.nativefish.org