Like how there are many ways to reach out to a school principal and plan for an awareness session on ecosystems, there are many ways to conduct them too. They depend on the region, culture, medium of instruction, age group, the resource person’s core values and skills, and the content. It involves public speaking skills too. There are very good resources that are available online, and as books, which provide tips on public speaking. The 10 points covered here are very specific from my experience after conducting 300+ hours of awareness sessions and education programs in schools.
Begin with why
By ‘begin with why’, I don’t mean to tell students that, we are here because of World Environment Day, or because of an organisation’s outreach wing. I mean the ‘real why.’ For example,
“Every minute, the equivalent of 36 football fields of forest is disappearing globally. If we understand our relationship with the natural world and the ways we can involve in conservation, this might reduce. That’s why we are here for a session on…”
If I am asked to choose one core value before entering a class, I will choose empathy, without any second thought. By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
"When we are empathetic towards students, we will ensure there is enough time for interaction. We will treat students equally, and with respect. Spiels will reduce."
All these add while taking the message of environment conservation to students.
"When you are putting heart and soul to the topic, students feel it,
and they pay attention. Period."
Get students on your side
A few years back, when conducting a six-month conservation education program in schools, I asked three questions to students on day one of the first month before introducing myself or the program. They were, “Do you like to watch films on nature?” Do you like to play games? Would you like to create art? ” I could hear the students’ raise their hands as quick as possible. I knew that I have got them on my side, and I have got a strong base to build their experience. So,
"Getting students on our side before we begin the session is crucial for learning to happen."
Follow a simple format
An experienced filmmaker once told me that, “As communicators, we must handhold the audience and take them on a journey into a film.” It is the same while conducting awareness sessions too. One of the simple formats that has worked for me in a multicultural setting, irrespective of the region is,
“Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them you told them.”
This format has to be weaved into a narrative that begins with an introduction that perks the curiosity of the audience. Please don’t begin by saying, “I am going to tell…”
Pay attention to transition
Environment and conservation is a complex subject with so many layers to them. In such a context, it is important to connect topics coherently so that students feel they are taken on a guided tour. Remember, it is not about the information. It is about the experience. Here are a few transition examples that I use during a talk on why I do what I do.
Tigers are the apex predators in a forest. Turtles have got flippers. The gestation period of king cobras are…The list goes on. Students feel tossed up when they hear words like ‘apex predators’, ‘flippers’, ‘gestation period’ etc. They are jargons. Jargons are thorns!
"It’s best to avoid jargons while interacting with students. If you have to use them, explain briefly what the word means, give them an analogy and demonstrate them."
For example, “Turtles have got flippers. They can be compared to our own hands. Like how we use them to swim, Turtles use flippers to swim in the oceans, cover their nest and move on sand.”
"The power of silence cannot be explained by words. It has to be felt."
To feel the power of silence, watch Emma Gonzalez's March for Lives speech here.
Use less words in the slide deck
Students already put in a lot of time reading in class for days at a stretch. So, let us not make them read powerpoint slides too.
"Use visuals. Go with less words, or no words at all."
End well with action points
Closing an awareness program with pointers on what students can do is extremely important whether your session is on tigers or tarantulas, even if it is not in your mandate.
"Any program can be linked to daily environment-friendly practices and volunteering opportunities that students can participate to further their interest in environment."
Leave room for interaction
If your scheduled session is an hour, leave sufficient time for interaction. For example, I use documentaries most times which are around 20-minutes, and I speak for ten minutes following the screening. After this, I leave the remaining half an hour for interaction with students.
Finally, document your session. I record videos of my session and review them later to see where I can better myself. We must understand that, a successful awareness session is,
"A combination of planning+content+medium+timing+skills of the presenter+involvement of the school."
During this time, we must not project ourselves as knowledge givers, but empathetic facilitators with a goal towards enabling students to understand the importance of environment and conservation in the best way possible.
Suggestions, feedback and better ways approach a school are welcome. Thanks!