An interpretive naturalist prepares for a Saturday afternoon nature walk at the Regional Park. Into her pack go binoculars, magnifying lenses, a puppet, an mp3 player loaded with bird calls, insect collecting jars, historic photos of the park, a stoat pelt, paper and crayons for bark rubbings, plaster casts of animal tracks…She heads out on her walk looking like she’s going on a week-long tramp.
They illustrate your points, engage the senses, and provide interactive opportunities for participants.
Or are they crutches for a lame presentation that can’t stand on its own?
Years ago, a colleague challenged me to do a programme with no props at all. Now, you might think this would lead to a pretty awful programme, and it could if you did your ‘normal’ programme and simply left the props out. As an interpretive challenge, though, it is liberating and illuminating.
Like all challenges, delivering a ‘naked’ programme requires creativity. Rather than focusing on the things you can’t use, you need to focus on what you can use.
• Your voice—without a puppet or costume, consider how your voice can create characters and fun. Let your visitors fill in the visual details of the characters in their own minds. Sing a song, whisper a secret, shout your excitement, make a bird call.
• Your body—Turn yourself into a tree, act like a caterpillar, soar like an albatross. Pick up a worm, roll your eyes, dance a jig, smile.
• Your visitors’ imaginations—instead of those historic photos, have visitors imagine the past, with your verbal descriptions to paint the picture for them. Ask them to remember an event in their past, think of their favourite food, or describe their homes.
• Your visitors’ bodies—don’t drag along that model of an insect, turn your visitors’ own bodies into insects and have them scuttle along the path. Have them sprout like seeds, curl into balls like slaters, jump like wetas.
• Your visitors’ senses—forget bark rubbings, have visitors close their eyes and compare the feel of different tree barks. Listen for the natural sounds around you, feel an icy stream. Stop and smell the roses.
• The world around you—never mind magnifying lenses, have visitors lie on the ground to see the forest from a bug’s eye view. Show them how to take photos with an imaginary camera and ask them to take pictures for a ‘slide show’ at the end of the programme. Keep your eyes and ears open for interesting things happening along the way.
Once you consider all you can do without props, you’ll begin to wonder why you ever bothered lugging them around. It’s a valuable skill to practice. Get good at it, and any visitor question can become an opportunity for a fabulous interpretive programme, no matter where you are or what’s in your pockets.
Indeed once you learn how to do a naked presentation, you may never go back!
So go ahead. I challenge you. Interpret naked.