Giving Presentations is Easier than You Think!
Liz McEntee, Namibia 2004–2006
Remember when you had those interesting guest speakers come to school? You know, people like the woman with the animals, the D.A.R.E. officer, or someone's parent on Career Day. What made them so interesting was that they brought something unique to the classroom and conveyed it in a way that was different from how our teachers taught. Even if they had never given a presentation before, we loved having them there because they were out of the ordinary…and, best of all, it meant that we got a break from doing the "normal" schoolwork!
By default, we RPCVs are those interesting guest speakers. Chances are good that if you're speaking in the general community, most members of your audience haven't been outside the U.S. other than to visit major landmarks and stay in hotels with other tourists. In contrast, not only did we visit a country outside the U.S., but we lived there. The majority of our day-to-day interactions were with people who were from that country and not working in the tourism sector. The villages of many PCVs can't even be found on a map.
Giving a presentation is easier than you may think. First, you need to find an audience. If you're like me, you don't want to call places at random and ask if they need a guest speaker. However, you probably know people who teach or work with a group of individuals who would want to hear about your PC experience. By sending out a simple e-mail to your friends and colleagues offering to give a presentation (and explaining what the Third Goal is), the opportunities to present will come to you.
Once you have a presentation lined up, you may feel nervous or strange about going into a classroom or other venue to speak, right? You may feel some personal pressure to enlighten the audience with your vast knowledge of the Peace Corps, your host country, and your service area of expertise. Remind yourself that at some point during your service you conveyed American culture to people in your host country, whether formally or informally. You knew then what sparked your audience's interest—with kids, you were more likely to talk about American music than the U.S. welfare system—so just apply that same knowledge here.
There are five things that I've found make a presentation great no matter who your audience is:
- Flaunt your "show and tell" skills. Didn't use up every last bill or coin before COSing? Bring some of them with you. Currency goes over really well with any audience. Have some clothing that you bought or that was given to you? Bring it, or better yet, put it on during your presentation. It will bring out a few giggles. Flags and "traditional" items are great too. Basically, anything hands-on will get rave reviews.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. If you have access to a computer for your presentation, put together a slide show of some of your photos. Tell your audience what they're going to see (where you lived, where you worked, what animals you saw, etc.) and if possible, set it to music from that region. If you don't have a computer available, mount some pictures on a poster board or two.
- Never underestimate a simple "hello." By teaching your audience a few words or phrases in your host country's language, they'll feel like they're multilingual. Write out a simple "Hello, how are you?" dialogue on some poster board, with each speaker's voice in a different color. Lead your audience through it a couple of times and then have them do it on their own. Teaching hand gestures and dances are also great ways to get the audience to participate.
- Leave enough time to fit in a question-and-answer session. That's the time when you find out what your audience is really interested in. That's also the part that will make you laugh the most, since some of those questions probably will be things that you never expected to be asked!
- Who doesn't like getting free stuff? If you send a simple e-mail to the Peace Corps Week folks (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your mailing address and the approximate size of your audience, they'll send you supplies such as stickers, a world map showing countries where Peace Corps has served, and perhaps a promotional CD. I've sent them multiple requests (pretty much any time I had a presentation coming up during the year) and they've sent me a plethora of supplies. Presentation gifts will definitely get some "oohs" and "aahs" from your audience!
In our host countries, we didn't like hearing that all Americans are rich, white, saw celebrities all the time, or lived in one of three cities: New York, LA, or Miami. On the flip side, we don't like hearing from Americans that everyone we met in our host countries was poor, starving, that they hunted for their food, were non-white, or had wild animals roaming around their living areas (which were nothing but mud huts). We have enough knowledge about our host countries to change perceptions and teach our American audiences a few things they wouldn't otherwise know. Trust me, giving a presentation isn't as scary as going off to another country for two years...so give it a shot! Visit www.peacecorps.gov/thirdgoal to register for your free presentation kit today.
Last updated Jan 22 2013
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