The Interpreter's Handbook
Methods, Skills, & Techniques

Illustrated and Non-illustrated Talks

You have just attended a campfire talk, and something about it simply did not stir your enthusiasm. The speaker appeared to know his subject, but still the whole program seemed flat. The period before the talk started was tiresome, and the person who served as master of ceremonies was rather ordinary. He had tried to inject some pep into the crowd by leading the group in song, but wasn't too good at it and they didn't seem to respond. Still he had tried. His announcements had been pretty lengthy. They took up a lot of time and left you wondering when he was going to present the speaker of the evening. Finally, the speaker was introduced, and the program moved along for another hour. You had a sense of relief when it finally ended, and you could stand up and move around.

What was wrong with the talk? Perhaps nothing on which you could really lay your hands. To the trained interpreter, however, many things were obviously wrong. The chances were that the speaker hadn't done his "home work" before the program. He had failed to observe several of the little things during his talk that should not have happened. Also, the MC was definitely a part of the problem.

Planning and presenting a talk, whether at an evening campfire program in the out-of-doors, inside a big auditorium, or during a demonstration is not a simple thing. It calls for more than just the ability to stand before a group and talk. As one of the most important functions in any interpretive program, contributing largely to success or failure, it deserves most careful review. Let us examine the various elements involved.

A campfire or amphitheater program, using color slides or film, calls for a bit more thought and preparation than one given in an auditorium. So many more things can happen out-doors than inside.

In either case, the speaker and MC should arrive at least 30 minutes before program time. This allows time to greet the people as they arrive and to:

Check all equipment in advance. Do this carefully, as a break down in the middle of a talk due to carelessness is inexcusable.

Be sure all projector lenses are clean. Projected in large screen size, lint and dirt of any type are very distracting.

Be sure sufficient projection bulbs are on hand to replace any that may burn out. Each bulb should be replaced shortly after its guaranteed life has been reached, and a record of projection time for the bulb should be kept with the projector. This almost insures there will be no burn outs during the course of a talk. Don't gamble with old bulbs, even though they still burn.

Always check extension cords and plugs to see that all are in good shape.

Check the screen for dirt, spots, etc. If a roll-up type, check for dead moths that may have been trapped the last time the screen was used.

Be sure the projector is correctly pre-focused and that the picture does not "bleed" off the screen. With automatic focus on most still projectors, this is all that will be necessary to insure sharp pictures through the talk.

Be sure that pointers, light arrows, etc., are in place (if the speaker plans to use such). The best pointer has a flourescent tip which glows when the projection light hits it. Flashlights with light arrows are easily made or can be purchased.

If a campfire is a part of the program, be sure the fire dies down before the projection portion begins. This will help insure a bright picture image on the screen.

Many campfire and amphitheater programs are preceded by music. If music is used, be sure the selection is appropriate and designed to harmonize with the theme of the talk to follow. One wouldn't use stirring marches to introduce a talk on flowers!

Let us now look at the MC. His job is very important. If he does it well the speaker will receive a relaxed, friendly audience, and a lot of problems he might face will likely never arise. If he fails the speaker may be faced with an audience having a "make me interested" attitude.

When program time arrives, the MC takes over the stage. A number of things should be considered regarding this part of the operation.

The speaker (interpreter) who is to give the talk should wait off stage, and keep watch to see that all is going as planned. For example, if a campfire is being used, it is usually a foregone conclusion that someone will appoint himself to the job of feeding the fire. The speaker should watch this to see that a bonfire isn't blazing at projection time.

The MC should introduce himself, but in a simple way. No long sounding titles and experience backgrounds are necessary. He should be friendly, enthusiastic (but not too bubbly), and obviously hoping the audience is enjoying itself.

He can use a number of "ice breaker" devices to get the crowd into a good mood, but these should not use too much time. He must remember the old adage that "the mind can absorb as long as the seat can stand!" There is a talk yet to be given, and seats tend to become hard!

After the "ice breaker" can come singing. By all means the MC should be able to carry a tune if he is going to lead. Too often an MC is put in front of an audience to lead singing when he simply cannot do it. The crowd may be sympathetic toward him, but he has definitely lost them when they feel sorry for him. If your MC cannot do this job reasonably well, don't have him try! Better no songs at all than a dismal failure! Use familiar songs—not the latest hit parade selections. The old favorites are always good, and it is often surprising how many in the audience will know them.

This is the time for any "action songs" by the audience. It also gives the children a chance to work off some energy before the talk begins, and they are likely to be a bit quieter at that time. Action songs should come early in the singing program, with more relaxing ones used later to settle the crowd. The MC certainly doesn't want to turn over a foot-stamping, hand-clapping crowd to the speaker! Programs given in an auditorium are more formal than those in the out-of-doors, so singing may not be chosen.

Any announcements of the next day's interpretive events, etc., can be given after the singing.

The MC should make the introduction of the speaker short and to the point, announce his subject for him, and be ready to help in any way possible as the speaker does his job.

So much for the MC. Various persons have various approaches, but the duties discussed above are basic.

As would be supposed, the speaker should have several things in mind as he prepares and presents his part of the program. Suppose you are going to talk. Here are a number of points you should consider:

First decide what sort of message you wish to present. There should be a theme to your subject. This will allow for good organization of subject material. A good title is important, especially if thought provoking and not too involved.

Develop a talk that can be illustrated; not illustrations that are looking for a talk! What often happens is that a speaker will decide he will cover, let us say, the subject of mammals. So he goes to the slide cabinet and picks out all the slides on mammals he can find. Then he arranges them in some sort of order, and decides what he is going to say about them. Actually the process should be reversed. He should first decide what he wants to say about mammals, and then choose slides to illustrate the points he wishes to bring out.

Choose slides as background, illustrative material and not something that must be explained. If a scene or slide chosen must be explained before it is understandable, it is a poor choice. There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule, as you may wish to use charts, etc., which need some interpretation.

Be sure the slides chosen portray the mood you wish to develop.

Choose only good color shots, and not a wide range of color values. It is very poor technique to show the viewer a series of good color scenes, and then suddenly confront him with a slide of poor quality. The difference is too obvious, and he will certainly not be too complimentary in his thoughts at that moment. Try to retain approximately the same color density for all slides chosen. Light color to dark color and back to light is a bit disconcerting.

Select slides that are properly framed. How often have you seen pictures projected where the slide frame has slipped, showing a white area or something equally disturbing? Check all bindings for possible slippage if the slide is mounted in glass.

Don't use a slide you will have to apologize for. Choose film that is in good condition.

Don't use large numbers of slides. This is not a "slow motion" movie, or as one naturalist once expressed it, "galloping postcards!" Neither should there be too few, requiring some to be on the screen too long.

Have at least one key thing in mind that the chosen slide will illustrate.

If maps or charts are used, be sure they are sharp and the color is used judiciously. Too many colors on the same map or chart are confusing. Be sure, also, that the map will project large enough for everyone to see its details.

Don't expect the slides to carry the talk. This is not a travelogue such as one can use after a summer's vacation trip.

The talk should last not more than 35-40 minutes, so select numbers of slides accordingly. Keep in mind that you will want to close out the talk when the audience wishes you had gone ahead—not after they start wondering when you will quit!

If possible, use a viewing table for the final layout. As a final precaution, be sure all slides are free of dirt and dust.

Some speakers prepare a talk in outline form before trying to fit the slides into place. This is usually quite helpful. Some actually write out the talk beforehand. This is time consuming, but many speakers find it essential.

With the talk now planned and organized, you can turn your attention to the actual presentation. In general, you should divide the talk into four basic elements:

Strike a spark with the opening sentence. You may have a blase audience, and must try to get attention at once. They aren't likely to be all ears and eyes, just waiting for your message. Possibly they may even have a bored attitude; some persons may be a bit sleepy, especially those who have been traveling. An opening remark of "One of the problems in the National Parks today is that of preserving the Giant Sequoias" sounds all right, but people will likely sit up and take notice is you say "We are about to love the sequoias to death!" There is the classic story of the visiting minister in a small country church with a sleepy audience and a hot morning. He opened his sermon with the observation that "this is a damned hot morning—at least that is what I heard a man say outside a few minutes ago!"

To have real meaning for the listener, the subject must in some way touch him or his experience. It is difficult to take facts, no matter how interesting they may seem to you, and make your listener react to them unless you tie them to his personal interests.

Don't take too long to get at the meat of the subject. Some speakers try to say the same thing over and over again in a different way. They ramble. By all means stick to your theme, as this is the message you are trying to get across. Don't get all involved in your subject and try to tell everything you know about it. Select the most important aspects of it, and restrict your comments to them. Use examples that are to the point, but use some. The phrases "for example" or "for instance" are attention getters. Be judicious about the use of jokes. Don't fill up your talk with jokes that are obviously planted. The listener likes to laugh, but he likes to hear something of interest, also. Jokes should be used to highlight or explain some point you wish to make—not merely to get laughs. Be sure the jokes you use will not offend anyone.

Encourage some sort of action. What do you want the listener to do? This is the whole point of your presentation. This is the place for your punch thought. If you want him to look, see, visit, explore, experience, preserve, conserve, study—this is the time to emphasize such.

The actual presentation of your talk involves so many things that one could fill a book with them. Whole courses are given on the art of public speaking, so no attempt will be made here to compete with them. However, there are a number of things that should be stressed:

Have a friendly introduction. Make your audience feel that you appreciate their being at your program. Watch your location on stage. This is especially important if you are using a microphone, as there may be a feedback from the speakers if you are not positioned properly. A necklace type microphone, or one that transmits, is by far the best to use, as it allows freedom of action on your part.

If using slides, stand well to one side of the screen. This is so you will not block the view of anyone. Keep in mind that those sitting down in front and to one side have difficulty seeing the screen unless you are well out of the line of vision.

Avoid references to the slides, unless there is something you want to be sure the viewer sees. Too many speakers have the very bad habit of saying "Here we see..." or "This slide shows..." or some such statement when the slide comes on the screen. You should have your talk so well in mind that you could go on without slides if the projector should happen to fail. The slides are merely background material for the things you are saying.

Use a pointer to indicate any object on the screen. Do not try to describe its location. When using the pointer, don't "stab" but move it fluidly. Be on the side of the screen best suited for use of the pointer. A right-handed person should not be standing on the left side of the screen, and vice versa. Signal for your next slide a second or two before actually needed. If you wait until you have completed your thoughts on the previous one, there is apt to be an awkward pause before the next slide appears.

Slides should normally not stay on the screen longer than 20-30 seconds before changing. There may be occasions when you will need one longer. If possible, remedy this by adding a second slide on the same subject.

Carefully pronounce words that are sometimes difficult to hear clearly or to grasp.

Use familiar examples to put across a point, even homely ones.

Keep the language simple; don't get academic or involved.

Leave the dramatics to professional actors. Some drama may safely be injected into the talk, but care should be exercised.

Be courteous in what you say. By all means, do not make wise cracks about persons.

Be enthusiastic, but not bombastic, and by all means don't be an obvious "know it all."

Likely there will be times when you will need to give a different kind of illustrated talk, such as one in which you use hand-held objects. Various types of situations arise where this may happen. For example:

An object is brought to you. This necessitates an impromptu talk to properly interpret the object.

You may want to talk about objects you discover on a guided walk.

You may have an "on-site" assignment where an object or objects can be used to tell visitors about the feature.

You may wish to demonstrate how something works.

You may want to give a formal talk before an audience using hand-held materials. This type of presentation is commonly considered one of our most helpful means of communication with groups. It is also quite often the least understood in terms of how best to accomplish.

In planning such a talk, whether before a formal audience or an informal trail group, there are a number of things to consider:

Choose a subject for your talk that can be shown.

If possible, choose a subject that may fall within the experience of the visitor.

Organize the material to be shown in logical sequence. This will make it much easier for your listener to grasp.

Outline the talk visually, otherwise you will likely miss several important points. There will not be slides available to help you remember.

Keep your presentation somewhat in story form.

In giving a talk using hand-held objects, several factors should be considered:

Be sure the background is suitable. Check the objects to be shown for color and shape. The background should be contrasting, if possible.

Lay out all objects in order of sequence for showing. This enables you to keep your mind on what you are saying.

Hold each object steady as you speak. It is difficult for viewers to see detail of a moving object.

Turn the object slowly, if necessary to change its position. This allows visual relationships to be grasped by the viewers.

If shown at night, good light on the object is a necessity. Without good lighting any details you wish to show cannot be seen. You can, however, use a hand specimen of some type as an "attention getter." The audience will listen intently to what you are saying in order to find out what is in your hand and what you intend to say about it.

If on trail, at demonstrations, etc., let the visitor examine the object being shown, if practicable.

Take care in handling live objects. Visitors can get disturbed if your live object should happen to be a reptile.

Handle potentially unsafe objects yourself. Normally you should not use them, but if you should need to do so, do not let the visitors handle them.

Watch the object part of the time as you show it, thus focusing attention.

Slowly point out features of the object. If before a seated audience, use a pointer if one is available.

If the object has a use, show what it is or pantomime the use.

Appeal to the viewer's imagination where possible.

Be sure that any children present can see what is being shown. Too often we gear presentations only for older people.

It may be that you are not using slides or other materials in your talk. Perhaps it is not illustrated in any manner. If so, in addition to the points that pertain to illustrated talks, the following should be considered:

Always face the audience. Your voice will not reach many if you speak across stage. While this is no problem when using a microphone, it is vital when you depend entirely on your voice for audience contact.

Speak at a slower speed than you would normally use indoors, if your program is being given outside. It is more difficult to project your voice out-of-doors, and words tend to blur.

Don't speak in short phrases. They make your presentation jerky, and, as a result, distracting.

Always remember that what you are saying is familiar to you, but likely not to the listener, and you cannot show him.

Stick to a "story" approach. It is difficult to carry the audience over distractions that may arise. When these occur, people may not connect what you have said with what you are saying unless the tie-up is easy to grasp.

Use some gestures. They can be seen even by the light of a campfire. If you don't, you will appear too stiff.

Have a place for your hands. This seems one of the biggest problems to most speakers. Putting them into a trousers pocket isn't the answer either!

Don't slouch or lean on a podium. Stand reasonably upright. Be relaxed, but not too casual.

Don't walk around too much. Pacing the floor like a caged lion is definitely distracting.

Watch the audience as you talk. Don't watch something about the 10th limb up in a tree, or on the ceiling of the auditorium. Some speakers find it difficult to look into the faces of the audience. They say they are nervous enough just giving the talk, let alone having to watch faces out front. Yet, each person in the audience likes to feel that you are talking directly to him. Try this. Simply look over the crowd when you come on stage (or before) and select four or five persons in various parts of the audience who seem to have friendly faces. Then talk to those people in a conversational way, and nervousness tends to quickly disappear. As you turn your gaze from one of your chosen people to another, the audience will feel that you are looking at them individually and not at one certain person.

If at a campfire, don't have the fire too high. Not only does it distract, but it may become too hot for those persons seated nearby.

If at a campfire, don't add fuel during the talk. It breaks the thought you are developing. If fuel must be added, have someone else chosen in advance to do this job.

In closing your talk, here are points to remember:

When you come to the end of the talk, bring it to a close. Don't draw it out and let it drag. Anything said after the message has been brought out is anticlimax.

Close out with a "punch" thought, if possible.

Close out "on time." Many people have allotted a specific amount of time to hear your talk. If you advertise the program to last an hour, limit it to that. Children are often brought to evening programs and the parents want to get them home and into bed.

Invite questions upon completion of the talk. Several persons will probably want additional information.

Be courteous in answering questions. This may be the only opportunity for some of the audience to talk to you, especially if you are in uniform. Some people are a bit reserved when talking to a uniformed person for the first time.

Don't obviously want to leave as soon as the program is over. If you are in too much of a hurry, you have the wrong job! Never let haste cause failure to be friendly.

There are, of course, several devices that can go far toward making any talk more interesting. One of the most effective is the use of fluorescent light and fluorescent chalk. All that is needed is an easel set up on stage near the screen, with the light mounted on its top, a pad of plain paper and a number of different colored chalks. The light can be turned on at any time during the talk, as it is only faintly visible to the audience. If you wish to draw a chart or perhaps sketch something to supplement what you have on the screen, you can do so in any combination of colors. Under the fluorescent light the chalk glows in the darkness, appearing like so much magic on the paper pad. Also the entire drawing can be done prior to the start of the program and the light turned on when needed. This device in no way impairs the slide projection, and can be used to enhance the quality of your presentation.

An aid that should be considered when developing campfire talks, or other talks where electricity is not available, is the portable sound system. Several battery powered types are available at reasonable cost.

How do you determine when a talk is well presented? There are a number of ways in which a speaker's performance can be checked. A rather complete critique was developed at the Mather Training Center (a National Park Service facility where training is given in interpretive skills) and is quite helpful in evaluating either an illustrated or non-illustrated talk. This sheet follows:

Speaker's AttitudesPointsComments
1. Enthusiastic?

2. Confident?

3. Courteous?

4. Friendly?

5. Relaxed?

Overall impression of the talk by the Evaluator, Total Points Scored _____.

Point Scores: 0— 20 —Weak
21— 40 —Fair
41— 60 —Average
61— 80 —Very good
81—100 —Outstanding

Additional points for consideration, if talk is illustrated by color slides (Same grade scale as for above):

1. Color quality?
2. Composition of slide?
3. Position on screen?
4. Condition of slides?
5. Quantity of slides?
6. Slides used effectively?

0—3 —Weak
4—9 —Fair
10—15 —Average
16—20 —Very good
21—24 —Outstanding

General Comments:

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 01-May-2008
Copyrighted by Southwestern Parks and Monuments Association
Western National Parks Association