Speaking in schools: what I’ve learnt so far

Towards the end of my first year at University I joined the Royal Geographical Society Geography Ambassadors Scheme, and it’s one of the best things I’ve done at Uni.

At school I had attended lots of talks by visiting speakers or students who had done exciting things during or after their school years. These talks were on expeditions or interesting potential careers, and I often left feeling inspired. Their passion for their topic was infectious. Hearing from older students made me apply for an expedition to the Amazon jungle in 2011, after which I came home and started to give talks about my experience. It was an easy thing to ramble on about because I had such incredible memories to share, and I started to get a taste of what public speaking is about.

During A levels I developed a drive to learn more about the state of the ocean, and pursued this further during my gap year. As I learnt more about the issues, I also became involved in some research looking at the public perceptions of the marine environment and realised that a lot of the public don’t know about the issues, or really care. So since then I have combined my passion for marine conservation, and the desire to tell everyone I meet loads about fish, with the buzz I get from standing up and giving a talk and the need to help fill this gap in public knowledge about the sea. The aim is to try to inspire some love and concern for the oceans.

That’s where the RGS Ambassadors Scheme comes in. When I got to Uni I wasn’t sure what the platform would be to continue with this, as I didn’t fancy the Debating Society, and standing on the street chatting to anyone who will listen about the state of the ocean didn’t seem like the way forward either. A friend told me about the Scheme and I signed up and went along to the training day. Since then I have given an A level fisheries management lecture, a Year 7 lunchtime talk to an Inner London school about why we need the sea, a couple of conservation expedition talks and lots of interactive classroom sessions, all marine conservation based.

A washing line full of fishy thoughts
A washing line full of fishy thoughts

I’ve learnt from every talk or session I have done and these are some of the things I’ve realised.

What I’ve learnt about speaking

  • Passion about a topic is cool. Not to all teenagers, but I’ve found a surprising number have approached me after a talk or lesson to ask how I got into it, what subjects I took etc. By not being afraid to show you love the fish you’ll definitely get through to some of them, and encourage them to speak up about interests that may be forming in their school lessons and pursue them further.
  • It’s scary, but that’s what makes it so great. I have been nervous before every talk or session, but also buzzing after every single one.
  • Science communication is about making the information accessible to everyone. Start with simpler background info, then be sure to link closely to what the teacher has taught, and then include some more challenging elements to push the brightest students.

What I’ve learnt about students

  • Kids can come out with some great answers. One task was to complete the sentence ‘we should look after the sea because…’ to which one child scrawled ‘they iz anmls’.
  • Up to a certain age, kids are not afraid to ask questions. I did a lunchtime talk to about 100 Year 7s, and was bombarded with questions about why we can’t build walls under the sea to protect certain areas, why turtles eat plastic bags and what do squid eat. Ask an A level class if they have any questions and most of them will sheepishly avoid your eye.
  • Pencils are a better reward for answering questions than you might think. ‘I love Geography’ pencils = golddust.
'They iz anmls'
‘We should look after the sea because…They iz Anmls’

I haven’t got a particular career plan just yet, but I hope that talks will feature in it somewhere. Planning a talk, standing up to present it, taking questions and chatting to people afterwards gives me such a buzz, and it seems like that’s not something I should ignore.


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