After years of using my mammal skull collection for education, I feel comfortable at this point talking with anyone about the adaptations these animals had for surviving. I even enjoy these discussions and look forward to greeting people who might be interested in learning some of the differences in tooth design, eye placement, and nose function, not to mention a sense of hearing.
Formalizing a Program
Until now, I had always used these skulls in an informal, meet-and-greet, one-on-one situation. But then last October our supervisor at White Tank Mountain Regional Park asked us about delivering a formal program using the skulls. The idea sounded exciting. It sounded fun!
Until I realized I had never before developed a real program for the skulls!
But since the program date was not until February, I knew I had plenty of time. As the weeks progressed, I perused old notes that attempted to put together a respectable program in case we ever needed one. None of them, I realized with increasing apprehension, came close to a full-length, comprehensive presentation.
Chuck and I have had a successful reptile program that we developed long ago and modified over the years. But for some reason, we had yet to figure an engaging program for the skulls that would interest adults and involve children to keep them intrigued. But what kind of audience were we to expect?
“There might be four people or as many as 15 to 20,” our supervisor emailed after I asked. “Usually parents bring their children.” But it didn’t really matter how many attendees would be present; we felt it was necessary to put together a formal program regardless.
I’ve read that it’s good for the mind to get out of its comfort zone occasionally. I’ve also read that too much stress is not good for the body. And stress was mounting for me the week before the presentation date as I still was not satisfied with the outline I’d attempted. I changed and added to it daily, becoming increasingly stressed and progressively crabby.
“It’ll be fine,” Chuck reassured me. “You know enough about skulls to get through this easily.”
Yes, but it’s still important to have a seamless presentation that engages the audience and includes both Chuck and me sounding like knowledgeable interpreters rather than floundering novices. There’s a huge difference, I felt, between engaging people individually and informally and actually presenting a program in front of an audience.
On the night before the big day, I frantically revised and re-worked the program, still feeling like it was not what I wanted it to be. On the day of the program, while Chuck calmly arranged the education room to accommodate an unknown number of audience members, I continued tweaking parts of the presentation.
“What if no one comes?” I wondered aloud.
“That’d be okay,” said Chuck. And he was right. But after all the work involved in putting this program together, I wanted to test it.
And then a man and his young daughter entered the room and sat down in the second row. “Don’t you want to sit up front?” I asked the girl, but she appeared shy. “You can help with the program!” At that, she and her father relocated to the front and she began chattering articulately about her father and his occupation as an archaeologist and all the things he had taught her about wildlife.
I couldn’t help but smile. This could be fun, I thought. And I began to relax as we interacted and several other families entered the room.
Then it was time to begin. As we proceeded with the program, we asked the young audience members to tell us what they knew about mammals. We then provided them with pictures of each mammal and asked them to place each picture in front of its corresponding skull. Time passed quickly, and I realized I was having fun. Always the good communicator and confident speaker, Chuck calmly delivered his part of the program, soliciting kids to add their knowledge. As my nerves relaxed, I completed the ground work of the program and then began re-entering my comfort zone as I delved into the differences in skulls, relating these to the lives of the animals.
Yes. It’s good for the brain to get out of its comfort zone occasionally. But it also likes returning to familiar ground!