An animal activists' handbook
10. speaking to SCHOOLS and other groups
Speaking in schools is important work. Young people are often more able to relate to new ideas and opinions than adults because their minds are more active and questioning. Don't forget that today's teenagers are tomorrow's parents, employers and teachers.
Teenagers are surrounded by exciting, fashionable images. You need to bear this in mind if you want to grab their attention and hold it long enough to get your message through. It's no good simply reciting a list of facts and figures, you need to make the subject 'come alive', or your young audience will switch off. You need to promote animal rights issues as important, sensible and modern.
This is essential. If you turn up ready to give your talk confident that you can explain your subject as you go along, you will be in for a shock. Ronny has made this mistake herself and knows what it feels like to come unstuck in this way! You need to sit down for a few hours with a selection of books, lots of scrap paper and an inspiring friend.
Work out the objective of the talk. Is it about animal rights in general?, bloodsports?, responsible pet care?, veganism/vegetarianism? The chances are that the teacher you contact in order to arrange the talk will have specific ideas about the subject matter, because they will want to relate your talk to the current sujects the class are studying. The vegetarian diet is part of the national curriculum for schools, so this is probably what the teacher will want you to talk about. Make certain you know what the teacher's requirements are. You can't just talk about anything you like.
Work out the essential message which your audience should be left with, eg., 'there are lots of arguments against eating meat and it is easier than you thought to give it up.'
Once you are concentrating fully on this, list the points you want to make. Write anything that comes into your head, no matter how trivial it seems. Then go through these points, scribbling out any which you change your mind about. Arrange these points under general headings, for example;
Animal rights - unnatural, crowded living conditions, painful slaughter, killed at young age, use of growth hormones
Environment - pollution, waste of land, deforestation
Human rights - third world starvation
Diet - meat is unhealthy, an animal-free diet can be healthy and fun
Work out how you are going to structure your talk. Which issue should come first? How will you explain each issue as you go along? How will you motivate your audience to take action? How will you use visual aids to back up what you are saying. Can you make use of an overhead projector, slides or better still, a video? (see resources chapter)
Then write your talk. Edit and re-edit until it feels right. Keep asking your friend for advice and pay attention to what they say. Something which sounds witty and persuasive to you might sound really naff to them. If you know any teenagers, read your talk out to them and ask them their honest opinion. Check that your talk is the right length. Speak slowly and clearly and time yourself. Otherwise you could end up either rushing through your talk in a flustered state or waffling desperately. Fifteen minutes is a good length of time to aim for. The teacher will probably advise you on the expected length of the talk.
During your talk, you will need to make sure that your audience fully understand what you are saying or you will be wasting your time. Assume that your audience have no prior knowledge of animal cruelty, but don't patronise them by talking to them as if they are stupid. The tone needs to be just right. You can explain complicated issues quite simply if you paint pictures with your words. If you say, "imagine if a hundred of you were suddenly crowded onto a school bus with no seats and driven around for two days with no stops for refreshments or the toilet and you were given no explanation about why you were being treated that way. Imagine how uncomfortable, frightened and upset you would all feel. That's what it must be like for animals being transported abroad."...you will immediately encourage your audience to relate the suffering of animals to their worst nightmares. You will gain their understanding and sympathy. Simply saying, "imagine a hundred sheep being transported a long distance in a lorry with no food or water," will not have anything like the same effect.
After you have finished talking, it is important to open up the discussion by asking your audience if they have any questions. This will be the most nerve-wracking part of all if you haven't done the necessary preperation. In every audience there is always at least one 'smart arse' who is determined to try and make you look stupid. Teenagers can be experts at this! Assume that there will be such a character in your audience. Consider all the possible questions which they could come up with. What we suggest is that you and your friend write down a list of these questions, then consider each one in turn and come up with a short, smart answer to it.
When you actually come to give your talk, pay attention to your appearance, most of all your clothes. If you walk in in a grey suit, your audience will be bored before you open your mouth. If you dress up in your most outrageous clothes, they will think you are weird. Clothes say a lot about a person and if you want your audience to like what you say, you must make sure they like the way you look. We suggest you wear clothes which are relatively fashionable, but which you feel comfortable in. If in doubt, wear jeans because everyone can relate to jeans and they never go out of fashion!
You can choose whether to stand or sit while you give the talk. Most people feel more comfortable sitting down and there is no point in making yourself feel uncomfortable or you will start to become nervous. If you sit, make sure you sit upright. Don't place a barrier between you and the audience. It is better to sit on a desk that at a chair behind it. Consider your body language. Make sure that you appear relaxed and open, not closed and defensive. Keep your hands relaxed, your shoulders wide and your feet still. Avoid fidgeting as this will distract your audience and possibly irritate them.
The way you talk is as important as what you actually say. Working class kids won't be impressed if you try too hard to sound like a BBC evening news reader. Remember that you are giving the talk because you have strong views about animal rights and you want your audience to be influenced by your views. Don't speak in a flat monotone, use your voice to express your feelings of concern, anger, humour and encouragement. Be careful though to avoid going over the top, or it will seem as if you are making fun of your subject. You are a campaigner, not a stand up comedian!
Eye contact is essential. If you read your talk word for word from pages of notes, you will appear intimidating or amateur. It's best to memorise your talk beforehand and then take cue cards along with you on the day, on which you have written a summary of each argument. Arrange them in order. Glance at your first card to refresh your memory, talk about the topic, then move on to the next card and its topic. Continue until the end of your talk. This method works like a DIY autocue and it ensures that you can maintain eye contact with your audience, yet not risk accidentally leaving out an important point.
When you finish speaking and come to invite questions from your audience, treat each question seriously and thank each person who asks a question. If you ridicule a question or refuse to answer it, you will appear aloof and smug and the audience will lose their respect for you. Don't worry about attention-seeking troublemakers. You won't be left alone with the kids. A teacher will be present and they will deal deal with such a pupil for you, by asking them to be quiet or sending them out of the room if necessary.
If you follow these points, your school talk will be a success and you will come away feeling elated and proud of yourself. This chapter is intended as an introduction to the subject. If you are really keen to concentrate your efforts on school talks, we recommend that you send 2.50 to Viva! for a copy of their 'Guide to Speaking in Schools' pack. It is excellent and goes into a lot more detail about this subject. See resources section.
1.) Be prepared
2.) Be careful about your appearance
3.) Relate to your audience
4.) Encourage participation
5.) Use visual aids
6.) Respect the views and needs of the teachers
7.) Relax and enjoy yourself
Campaign Against Cruelty An Animal Activists Handbook
available for £4.99 (plus p&p) from Vegetarian Guides, or order it from all good book shops.