Developing Guided Interpretive Experiences
By Jim Kimmel, Ph.D.
Dept. of Geography
Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas
1. Develop interpretive programs based on themes identified in the interpretive planning process.
2. Organize Your Presentation
A. Grabber - say or do something provocative or evocative to grab the audience's attention. Surprise, challenge, or sing a song, - whatever it takes without being silly or contrived.
B. Bridge - link your grabber to the body of the presentation. If you sing a song about the San Marcos River as your grabber, relate that to the problems of maintaining Texas wild rice.
C. Body of the presentation - the theme is the framework. State your theme clearly and fill it in with facts that are relevant to the audience's interests. The facts must all serve to develop the theme. People will forget the specific facts, but will remember the theme if it is developed properly. Don't use more than seven points - five or less is better. Use sensory aids - things people can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Get the audience to do something - lie down at the base of at tree and look up, close their eyes and describe a rock by touch, etc. Use active verbs to create mental images.
D. Conclusion - repeat the theme and summarize how you have developed the theme.
3. Size Up Your Audience.
Ask them the following:
Previous experience with the place
Why they are here
4. Tailor Your Presentation to the Audience.
o incorporate their interests
o relate to their places of origin
o relate to their experiences
5. Do's and Don'ts.
o be enthusiastic
o use the senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, taste
o use appropriate humor (best if spontaneous)
o give them new ideas and knowledge in an understandable way
o use inappropriate technical terms or information
o talk too much
6. Slides Can Liven Up a Presentation
Technology Slide talks are very effective. They provide rich information and hold the audience's attention. We are now in a technology gap. Slides (35mm) are the old technology and digital images are the new. Each has pro's and con's. Slides provide sharp images and deep colors. They are somewhat awkward to use in multiple presentations. They do deteriorate over time.
Projection technology is dependable. Duplication, titling, modifying are possible, but can be expensive and time-consuming.
Digital images, using current projection technology, are not as sharp as slides. However, they are very easy to duplicate, title, and modify and put into professional presentations. Projection technology is expensive and not as sharp as slides. I now use both technologies for images that I think are important.
7. How to Create a Slide Talk.
A. Select a topic that is highly visual (most are), and for which you have slides or can reasonably get them.
B. Develop the theme.
C. Review your slides and select images that support your theme.
D. Group the slides into sub-themes.
E. Arrange the sub-themes to provide the best flow for the body of the presentation.
F. Arrange slides within sub-themes to provide the best flow. Eliminate slides that are superfluous or low quality.
G. Get new images if necessary.
H. View all slides in sequence and rearrange if flow is not exciting and informative.
I. Estimate total time, figuring 15 seconds per slide. Presentations should not be more than 45 minutes. Orientation-type presentations should be 5 to 15 minutes.
J. Eliminate slides if the presentation is too long.
K. Write storyboard cards for each slide, listing the points for narration. Remember the 15 sec. limit per slide!
L. Practice and evaluate. Revise as necessary.
M. Practice, practice, practice.
8. How to Present a Slide Talk.
A. Stand to the side so you can see the slides out of the corner of your eye. They are your que's for the narrative. However, give your primary attention to the audience. Do not talk to the screen!
B. Your narrative should not describe the slide ("These are windmills."). You should explain the meaning and importance of the image ("Windmills are necessary to pump water for stock in remote areas where electricity is not available, but some ranchers are now replacing them with solar collectors.").
C. Make smooth transitions between slides, introducing a slide before it appears.
D. Vary your tone, inflection, and tempo to provide liveliness to the presentation. The audience cannot see you well, so gestures are not useful.
E. Never show a white screen. If you need to have a pause in the slides to explain something without an image, use a blank (black) slide.
F. Never apologize for your images. If an image is not good, don't use it!
G. Be sure you have a spare bulb.
H. Check everything before the talk starts. Be sure all slides are in properly (upside down and backwards). Check all
electrical connections. Be sure the plug is hot when the lights are out. Be sure the screen is in the right place and the
projected is situated properly and focused.
9. Field Techniques.
A. Be the host Arrive at the meeting place at least 15 minutes early. Spend the time talking to the people as they gather.
Find out all you can about them. Provide a warm, friendly, positive welcome. Be clear and specific about the length of the field trip, any possible physical challenges, breaks, potty stops, safety and behavioral issues, and what the visitor should have with them - water, sun block, binoculars, etc.
B. Conduct the trip in a manner appropriate for the group. Pacing, rest stops, selection of topics - all must be tailored for the group.
C. Interpret the place Help the visitor understand the full story of the place. Some field trips may be narrowly focused
(butterflies), but most should help the visitor understand how the place "works." Include biophysical and cultural factors.
Help the place tell its story. Use what the visitor can see, hear, smell, and feel to tell the story. Don't just tell them
the names of things, help them understand what those things do. Be flexible. Seize on opportunities as they come along.
D. Involve the participants Relate the place to their interests. Ask them what they think about things. When they ask a question, help them discover the answer, rather than simply telling them.
E. Know where to stop All nature trails are planned to include specific stops. Use these in your interpretation. If you are leading a road trip, plan your stops.
F. Develop strategies for large groups If possible, set a maximum number for the trip and stick to it. However, that maximum may be large (30 or more). Speak so everyone can hear. Arrange the group into a circle at stops or find a particularly visible place for yourself. Divide the group if necessary. Give one half of the group a task while you talk to the other half. Wear a distinctive hat so you are recognizable (required if in the National Park Service).
G. Handle obnoxious people Fortunately, most nature and heritage visitors are nice people. However, some may be "know-it-alls." Respond positively to these people, and incorporate what they have to say into the interpretation. Often they do know a lot. Never contradict them, even if they are clearly wrong - many of them are looking for an argument. Instead, positively turn what they say into the springboard to provide an alternative view. Never get pulled into an altercation with a visitor.
If they become abusive, smile and apologize. The trip will be over before too long, and this fine person will go home, never to be seen again.
Sources and References
Ham, S., 1992. Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets. Golden, Colorado: North American Press.
Knudson, D., T. Cable, and L. Beck. 1995. Interpretation of Cultural and Natural Resources. State College, Pennsylvania: Venture Publishing, Inc.
Regnier, K., M. Gross, and R. Zimmerman, 1992. The Interpreter's Guidebook: Techniques for Programs and Presentations.
Interpreter's Handbook Series. Stevens Point, Wisconsin: UW-SP Foundation Press, Inc., University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.