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San Diego Zoo Global Academy, April2018. Photo Pacific rattlesnake.

 Compass imageYou Have the Story, Now Let’s Work on the Telling

By Andy Goodman, Director,
The Goodman Center

In February, we introduced Andy Goodman, The Goodman Center, as a new contributor to the Academy newsletter. (Here is the February issue, if you would like a refresher: SDZG Academy Newsletter-February 2018.)

Having a good story to tell is one thing; delivering it effectively in front of a live audience can be quite another. The Goodman Center regularly provides one-on-one coaching for public speakers, and recently, we’ve seen an uptick in requests for advice—as more and more gatherings feature TED-like talks, use the Ignite or PechaKucha formats (where a set number of slides advance automatically), hold “Fail Fests,” or convene “Fast Pitch” competitions that challenge presenters to tell their stories in precisely three minutes.

As diverse as the stories and their tellers may be, invariably I find myself giving similar advice in almost every coaching session. So, I thought I’d share the most common recommendations with you this month. If you have a story to tell—whether you’re facing an audience of hundreds or just a handful around a table—these tips can help you deliver it with greater clarity and confidence.

Stories live in the specifics.

A presenter I coached recently had this line in her three-minute story: “Our organization brings together existing resources in an innovative, collaborative way.” Uh-huh. I’ll bet they’re also mission-driven, committed to diversity, and engage with the community whenever they can. Jargon like this has no place in storytelling, because it doesn’t help the audience see and feel what you actually do.

When one client told me, “We teach children financial literacy,” I stopped him and asked for an example. He said, “We show them exactly how much money they can save if they buy a large bag of potato chips at the supermarket and bring a small baggie of chips to school each day, instead of buying the single-serving packages at the cafeteria.” To which I replied: “Great. Say that.” Sure, it’s more words, but shorter isn’t better if your audience is still wondering what you really do.

Help your audience travel with you.

When an audience is hearing your story for the first time, they don’t have all the context and color that’s in your brain. And if your storytelling isn’t supported by slides or other graphics, all they have are the words coming out of your mouth and the expressiveness of your delivery. So when your story jumps around in time or space, be sure to clearly denote each move.

Recently, I coached a presenter whose story started when he was a teenager and then jumped to his 30s. His transition sentence between the two eras was three words: “Now I’m 37.” As you read those words here, they may seem sufficient, but in spoken form, the transition is simply too abrupt. I suggested that when he finished talking about his teen years, he should take a breath—letting a moment of silence signal the end of a chapter—and then say, “It’s 20 years later. Now, I’m 37.” By just adding two seconds of silence and four more words, he will help his audience makes the two-decade jump with him.

Embrace the power of the pause.

As the previous tip suggests, pausing between distinct thoughts or passages in your story serves a valuable purpose. The silence creates a space in which the audience can reflect on what they have just heard. It can also denote the end of one section of your story and the beginning of another. As TED Talks and Fast Pitch competitions make the clock tick louder in the speaker’s mind, the common reaction is to talk faster and deliver a nonstop barrage of words. “The right word may be effective,” said Mark Twain, “but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” It’s also worth noting that if you prefer to remain conscious during your talk (which I highly recommend), stopping to take a breath every now and then is a good idea.

When using statistics, cite sources.

Stories and data can coexist peacefully—in fact, a good story can help make data stick—but if you’re going to drop in numbers, be sure to quickly cite the source. In this era of burgeoning “fake news,” audiences are more skeptical than ever—so saying something such as “There are over 83,000 places where you can legally buy a gun in America” is more likely to generate the response “Says who?” than the jaw-drop you were hoping for. But if you add, “…according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives,” you give your data point the authority it deserves.

Your first and last words matter most.

Google “audience attention span graph” and you’ll see a series of images that essentially deliver the same message: an audience’s attention is highest at the beginning, sags in the middle, and surges upward at the end (but rarely to the same height as the beginning). From my experience, this appears to be true whether your talk is 3 minutes or 30.

So, whenever I coach public speakers, I always tell them to spend a little extra time polishing their opening and closing. Even the friendliest audience will make a snap judgment about you within the first 10 to 15 seconds of your talk, so keep rewriting until that opening is clear and compelling—and memorize your first few sentences (at the very least), so you can look them in the eyes.

Pay no less attention to your closing. Audience interest always spikes toward the end of a talk, and you want to take advantage of the fact that they are likely to remember the last thing you say. As with your opening, don’t stop rewriting until your final sentences offer a clear summary or a compelling call to action. And memorize here, as well, so you’re looking at the audience (and not your notes) at the finish.

Want to learn how to improve your storytelling? The Goodman Center offers a four-week online class, “Storytelling: Tapping the Power of Narrative,” expressly designed for public interest communicators. Each class runs for one hour, and the next set of classes is scheduled for June 4, 11, 18, and 25—from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT); 9 to 10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT). Through a special arrangement with San Diego Zoo Global Academy, readers of this newsletter can receive a 20 percent discount on their tuition. Click here to learn more about the course, and click here to reserve your place in the June webinar.

Academy News

Central Florida Zoo and Botanical GardensSan Diego Zoo Global Academy Puts Puts the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in the Spotlight
The Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens are part of the Academy’s collaborative learning environment!


Administrator's Users Group Webinar                 
Please join us for the Administrator’s Users Group Webinar, hosted by Academy partner CypherWorx. The next webinar is Wednesday, April 21, at 11 a.m. PDT.

Register for this webinar here.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Central Florida Zoo and Botanical GardensThank You for a Great AZA Mid-Year Meeting in Jacksonville
San Diego Zoo Global Academy thanks the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for this year’s AZA Mid-Year Meeting in Jacksonville, Florida—and sends a special thank you to the team at the Jacksonville Zoo for their hospitality. While San Diego Zoo Global Academy is an online training solution, we never forget—and always look forward to—connecting in person with Academy participants and industry colleagues at AZA’s gatherings. As Gary Priest, curator of animal care training at San Diego Zoo Global Academy, has mentioned in his Academy newsletter columns, the Academy continues to grow in new directions with training opportunities for our industry, and the gathering in Jacksonville fostered great conversations related to these efforts. Conversations included the online training regarding venomous snakes and the related development of a prototype “snake box,” with animal welfare and employee safety driving the design (see Gary Priest’s article below). Other conversations were on the topic of the new Upside-Down Leadership book by Don Janssen as an important perspective on management and leadership (learn more about Upside-Down Leadership here). Other conversations focused on innovations in the works, though all were focused on the objective of making a positive impact on operations and collaborating with our colleagues in the AZA community.


Academy Modules in Summer Course at MSU
San Diego Zoo Global Academy online modules will be a key component of the Zoo Animal Biology and Conservation course offered this summer at Michigan State University. Thank you to MSU for this collaboration. Please click on the image below for an enlarged view and course details.

Summer 2018:IBIO 368


Academy Contributors

Innovation and Rattlesnakes

CompassBy Gary Priest, Curator of Animal Care Training,
San Diego Zoo Global Academy

The path to innovation is often a winding road. This month, I learned a valuable and humorous lesson—taught to me by a female southern Pacific rattlesnake.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is adjacent to acres of coastal sage scrub habitat, and rattlesnakes are an important part of this ecosystem. In fact, two of the seven species of rattlesnake occur naturally at the Safari Park. For over 40 years, Park rangers or keepers have safely captured and relocated venomous snakes found on the Safari Park’s grounds.

As part of his early operational orientation, Shawn Dixon, our new San Diego Zoo Global chief operating officer, casually wondered how staff members are trained to perform this potentially dangerous work. While more than 40 years without incident is an excellent record, we quickly realized that perhaps the organization should offer a more formalized, consistent, step-by-step venomous snake handling training and certification program through the San Diego Zoo Global Academy, which would automatically track and record each certified employee’s training.

The process began with a review of our document, Safety Protocols for Working with Native Venomous Snakes at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We also reviewed the functional but outdated snake collection and transport boxes that we had used for at least 20 years. This effort led to the development of a new prototype box—complete with a built-in veterinary restraint function and the ability to release a snake through a porthole, without the need to touch the animal or expose the employee to unnecessary risk after the initial capture.

snake boxes

We needed to film the complete process of the collection and relocation of a rattlesnake. We agreed that the Safari Park rangers would call me when a rattlesnake needed to be captured. When the rangers called with their first venomous snake of the 2018 season (a female southern Pacific diamondback), they already had the snake in one of the old boxes. The animal care manager for herpetology, Brett Baldwin, and I jumped into action and met at the Park within two hours. The rangers had the snake secured in a quiet supervisory office space, where it waited for our arrival.

We brought the film equipment, the new prototype snake box, and the personal protective equipment that Brett would wear while I filmed the collection and relocation operation for the new training program. Fortunately, the snake was amazingly casual about being handled throughout the afternoon. As we worked, we also learned a great deal about the new prototype box. After filming the collection and placement of the snake in the new box, the last step was to film the animal’s release. We drove our mellow snake up into the 800-plus-acre Safari Park bio-reserve for its late afternoon release.

We got into position for the release. I was on my hands and knees, with the camera about four feet in front of the release porthole. Brett took position to open the slide gate with his hook. Using the hook, he pulled the restraint wall forward, toward the snake and exit hole.

However, the confinement created by the restraint wall actually seemed to provide the snake with a very satisfactory situation. She did not want to leave the box! After a time, Brett tried coaxing her out of the box by gently working his snake hook through the exit hole and looping the snake’s body. He managed to get both the tail and the head out of the box, through the exit hole. But with each attempt, the snake doubled back to return to the comfort and security of the box.

Our complete failure at releasing the animal back to the wild was becoming apparent. With the snake now comfortably resting her head in the exit hole, Brett and I made eye contact. There was nothing left to do but have a good laugh—and we did.

snake release

In hindsight, the snake’s behavior was completely predictable. Rattlesnakes prefer protected and confined spaces. The new restraint wall worked perfectly, but it had the unintended consequence of making the snake feel completely secure right where it was. Ultimately, Brett resorted to the “old way,” by using the snake hook to pull her out of the box through the open lid. She was now free to go—leaving an embarrassed and laughing snake expert and animal behaviorist in her tracks.

Fortunately, I think the fix will be an easy one to make. Instead of a porthole, the entire side of the snake box will be hinged at the bottom and will drop forward. When the restraint wall moves toward a future snake, the animal will be gently ushered out of the box and onto the ramp—and into the wild beyond. The great news is that we are developing a box that seems to do a good job of enhancing keeper safety and animal welfare.

Academy director Jon Prange and I took this story and photos to the recent AZA Mid-Year Meeting in Jacksonville, and other zoos expressed interest in the final version of the box for their operations. The next step will be sending the prototype box back to the Zoo’s design shop for some important modifications that we possibly could have anticipated in the first place.

I hope that the crew has a sense of humor!

For more information about this article, or great news, please contact Gary Priest, curator of animal care training, San Diego Zoo Global Academy gpriest@sandiegozoo.org.


Helpful Hints

San Diego Zoo Global Academy's Idea Hatchery

The Academy's collaborative learning environment is already "hatching" innovative ideas: let's continue to make it easier to do. You get the idea—or, should we say, you've got the ideas—so, let's collaborate on innovation! Please share your online training ideas at: sdzglobalacademy@sandiegozoo.org.


Zoo & Conservation News

As an added Academy benefit, you can view the latest San Diego Zoo Global Zoo and Conservation News here.


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