Keep these five techniques in mind when developing or polishing your outreach skills.
We each learn differently based on our learning style, multiple intelligences and past knowledge and experience. We learn best when we experience a teaching approach that matches our unique learning profile. For this reason, educators need to use a variety of teaching strategies to assure that they are meeting the needs of their learners (audiences).
Explanation of Teaching Continuum (pdf, 5 pp., 145 KB)
A presentation is a spoken communication made in a prepared and formal way. You can give a presentation to one person or hundreds of people or thousands. The skills required can be learned and are very much the same regardless of the size of the group. Water management professionals are often called upon to give a wide variety of presentations. You may be asked to:
- Give a progress report to your supervisor.
- Demonstrate to a group of contractors how to install a BMP.
- Speak to a civic group on how to reduce NPS pollution.
- Show your commissioners how county money is used to leverage more money.
- Pique the interest of local farmers in renting your no-till drill.
- Conduct a workshop for 40 educators.
- Persuade legislators to support an increase in cost-share monies.
- Explain a new procedure to employees.
- Teach a group of scouts how to do water quality monitoring.
- Deliver a keynote speech at an annual meeting.
- Give a dedication speech for your new outdoor education area.
With such diversity, a broad range of skills is needed. Developing great speaking abilities is not unlike learning a new sport. Every sport has basic skills that you have to master individually as well as combined together in a game. Basketball players, for example, have to learn to dribble and pass the ball, shoot foul shots and lay-ups, grab rebounds and defend the opponent. While they may excel in some skills, a certain level of expertise is needed in all areas to have an overall successful game. In addition, ballplayers need to integrate their skills with others to work as a whole, i.e., as a team.
Learning to become an effective speaker is similar. In the beginning it can be just as frustrating as learning to properly dribble or throw a basketball. However, after learning a few basic skills, and, most importantly, practicing them, things usually improve. But to really learn to present well takes constant practice and mastery of the basic skills and the ability to weave them together as a whole, i.e., into a presentation.
Audiovisuals include any teaching tool used to focus attention, emphasize, clarify and reinforce key points. Visuals, in particular, are important presentation tools because humans are visual creatures we process visual information (pictures, graphs, etc.) 60,000 times faster than text and retain it up to five times longer.
Well-planned and well-executed audiovisuals can do many things for the audience:
- Capture attention and focus attention
- Reinforce (but not repeat verbatim) the verbal message
- Clarify information
- Accelerate learning
- Increase retention
and for the presenter:
- Help organize the presentation
- Increase presenter credibility
- Help manage time and help maintain control
- Help keep presenter/audience on the same track
Water resource professionals provide outreach activities and programs for both youth and adults in outdoor settings. These include, for example, pond clinics, field days, water festivals, teacher workshops, camp programs, land lab activities as well as Earth Day, Arbor Day and other special events. Outdoor experiences serve as a powerful vehicle for first-hand learning and a means for helping youth and adult learners make connections that are personal and relevant. Whether learning best practices for pond management and soil erosion or the effects of water quality on organisms found in a stream, learners can become more engaged and successful through the use of hands-on experiences in the outdoors.
While the principles of good education serve equally well inside and outside, several strategies for outdoor learning can make these experiences more rewarding for both the learner and the leader. The following guidelines can help you as you explore the outdoors with learners young and old.
Becoming an effective presenter or teacher is a process, not an event. It takes many years of practice, focusing on one skill and then another and another, building your repertoire of presentation techniques, your style and your confidence. The best way to improve is through self-evaluation and comments by friends, colleagues and experts.
Adapted with permission from Soil and Water Conservation District Outreach: A Handbook for Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, 2003.