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Educate and inspire groups in your community with a Shark Savers presentationPhoto Credit: Hannah Medd
Giving a presentation is an effective way to educate people about sharks. If you are one of the many people who fear public speaking, you are not alone. The following guidelines will help you get going. The most important thing to remember is, have fun! Let your passion for saving sharks override your fear of being in front of an audience. If you are relaxed and enjoying yourself, your audience will enjoy themselves too. It's not that hard, all it takes is preparation and practice.
Create your own presentation (Keynote or Powerpoint are most common)! Many groups are eager to engage speakers for their meetings, so the actual content may vary depending on whether you are presenting to adult organizations such as dive clubs and civic organizations, or to students.
Goals: Whether you are giving a prepared talk, or creating one of your own, you need to have a clear idea of what you want the audience to come away with. Do you want them to donate money? Sign a petition? Join a cause? Learn something new about sharks? Or all of those things? Every slide in the presentation should build towards the takeaway.
Timing: Build your presentation around a set time length, and be sure to leave plenty of time for questions. If you have half an hour, then aim for 15-20 minutes. If people are interested, they may interrupt to ask questions. Allow for that.
Too much information: Avoid brain dumps, statistical tables, and laundry lists of shark facts. People can only retain a limited amount of information, and they tend to remember more if it is presented to them in story form.
Visuals: Pictures and illustrations are great, but don't go overboard unless your presentation is intended to be a slide show. Even then, restrain yourself from showing the same basic image from different angles. Pick the best one, and go with it.
Bullet points: Avoid too many words. Do not use complete sentences. Do not use more than a handful of bullet points per slide. Do not use small fonts, use 20 pts. or higher. Avoid italics, or underlining because they make the text hard to read. You do not want people struggling to read your slides at the same time they are listening to you, you want themt to listen to you without distractions.
Slide notes: Create slide notes to put down the text you want to cover, references on the Internet, and any other information you want to cover during the talk. This won't be visible on the screen, but you can optionally print it out for your own use or for handouts.
Practice, practice, practice: Once you've created your presentation, practice giving it to anyone who will listen, even your dog. If it's a human listener, ask for criticism. Record your practice sessions and play them back. The more you give the talk, the more comfortable you will be in front of a real audience. At first this can be difficult, but hearing yourself will help you identify and correct bad habits, like saying "um" or "so" before every sentence. You can also give your practice audience a feedback sheet so they can take notes while you're talking. Remember, it's better to get negative feedback early on so you can correct it before going in front of a live audience.
Test the audio system: Make sure everyone can hear. If there is no audio system, speak up. Nothing is more irritating than sitting in the audience and not being able to hear the speaker. People have more toleration for bad visuals than they do for bad audio.
Relax: Remember that the audience is there because they are interested in sharks. They thought it would be a good use of their time instead of sitting at home watching TV or surfing the Internet, so chances are they are already disposed to like you and be receptive to what you have to say. While you're setting up, smile a lot, make eye contact with people, have side conversations, joke around. This will put both you and the audience in a relaxed mood.
Never never never read from your slides. You should know your material before you get up to speak. You can point to your slides and speak to your bullet points, but never read from them verbatim.
Q&A-Repeat the question: When someone in the audience asks a question, repeat the question so that everyone in the back row can hear it. Remember that the audience is facing you, and their voices will not project well behind them. This is a great habit to get into because it also gives you time to think. Sometimes you will need to rephrase the question to make sure that you understand it. Then when you've answered the question, ask, "Did that answer your question?"
Managing the audience. Sometimes you will have a person in the audience who has an inordinate need to be the center of attention by repeatedly asking questions or interrupting. Do not let them derail your talk, this will cause resentment among the other audience members who are interested in what you have to say. Politely ask that person to hold their questions, or offer to take a sidebar discussion offline after the talk.
Handling controversy: Saving sharks can be controversial on many levels, even among conservationists. Remember that you are giving a presentation to win people over, and if that is not possible, agree to disagree. Nobody "wins" an argument when minds are already made up. Sometimes the best you can hope for is to plant a seed, that perhaps someone will think about it later and revise their position. However, they won't do that if you've alienated them and made them angry.
And above all, have fun! People love to connect with a cause that is greater than themselves, so giving a presentation can be a rewarding experience for both you and your audience.