Sunday, December 19, 2010

Heritage interpretation and public speaking

One of the topics that overlaps with public speaking is heritage interpretation. Interpreters are people who who explain natural or cultural resources for visitors at places like parks, nature centers, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, and tour companies. Interpretation also includes writing and graphic design of exhibits and signs.

The National Park Service does interpretation as part of their mission, like the snowshoe nature walk through Yosemite shown above. They have a very useful publication on the Foundations of Interpretation. In their discussion of its history they mention a book by Larry Beck and Ted Cable, Interpretation for the 21st Century: fifteen guiding principles for interpreting nature and culture. Those fifteen principles (which apply equally well to inspirational or motivational speaking) are:

"1. To spark an interest, interpreters must relate the subject to the lives of visitors.

2. The purpose of interpretation goes beyond providing information to reveal deeper meaning and truth.

3. The interpretive presentation - as a work of art - should be designed as a story that informs, entertains, and enlightens.

4. The purpose of the interpretive story is to inspire and to provoke people to broaden their horizons.

5. Interpretation should present a complete theme or thesis and address the whole person.

6. Interpretation for children, teenagers, and seniors - when these comprise uniform groups - should follow fundamentally different approaches.

7. Every place has a history. Interpreters can bring the past alive to make the present more enjoyable and the future more meaningful.

8. High technology can reveal the world in exciting new ways. However, incorporating this technology into the interpretive program must be done with foresight and care.

9. Interpreters must concern themselves with the quantity and quality (selection and accuracy) of information presented. Focused, well-researched interpretation will be more powerful than a longer discourse.

10. Before applying the arts in interpretation, the interpreter must be familiar with basic communications techniques. Quality interpretation depends on the interpreter’s knowledge and skills, which should be developed continuously.

11. Interpretive writing should address what readers would like to know, with the authority of wisdom and the humility and care that comes with it.

12. The overall interpretive program must be capable of attracting support - financial, volunteer, political, administrative - whatever support is needed for the program to flourish.

13. Interpretation should instill in people the ability, and the desire to sense the beauty in their surroundings - to provide spiritual uplift and to encourage resource preservation.

14. Interpreters can promote optimal experiences through intentional and thoughtful program and facility design.

15. Passion is the essential ingredient for powerful and effective interpretation - passion for the resource and for those people who come to be inspired by the same."

There is a National Association for Interpretation which also has a blog on Interpretation by Design (graphic design basics for heritage interpreters).

I learned about interpretation when I heard Jane Rohling speak on Sharing Nature and Culture in Words & Pictures at the October meeting of the Boise Nonfiction Writers group.

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