There are so many knowledgeable beekeepers who don’t know the first thing about teaching. Despite their passion, the interesting subject matter and years of experience the information is lost on their audience. So, how can we better share our love of bees and educate our community? Read on for some helpful tips on how to give great beekeeping presentations.
Use Visual Aids
Having something visual helps to engage your audience and gives them a better understanding of your subject matter. Photographs are by far the best visual tool for teaching. I used my photos to create a honey bee educational poster set that I use constantly in my classes and talks. It’s fun to see the audience react with amazement to the macro images of tiny bee eggs and light up with glee when I show them the photo of festooning bees hanging in a cooperative chain. I use photos to share the wonder I feel on an almost daily basis working with bees. (Click here to read more about my poster set).
Not only do visuals keep your audience interested and learning, they can be used to structure your presentation! My poster set, for example, has a list of talking points and fun facts on the back. The set is numbered in the order that I normally present on the subject matter. When I am presenting and I am ready to move on to the next point, I pull up the next image and it reminds me of what I want to say. If I need help, I can glance at the back while I am speaking. I also like to use power point style presentations in this way, but be careful not to put too much text into digital presentations or you might put your audience to sleep. They don’t need to read what you are saying, they would rather see a photo of what you are talking about.
Many beekeepers like to bring hive equipment with them when they present. This is a great visual aid and in some ways it can be more engaging because your audience can touch it. I especially love to bring some frames of empty comb for people to see in person. An even better idea is to bring live bees in an observation hive. I use this simple transportable single frame observation hive for my presentations.
Know Your Audience
Are you speaking to mostly new beekeepers, children, the non-beekeeping public? Get a sense of your audience! Ideally, you will know some of this information ahead of time. If you’ve been asked to speak at a church or community group it’s fair to assume this will mostly be the non-beekeeping public. If you are presenting to your local beekeeping club, you will likely have a mix of experienced and beginner beekeepers. If you are not sure who your audience is made up of, a good way to do find out is to ask them questions and get a show of hands. I like to do this before I even begin. I’ll say, “How many of you have bees?” or “Who’s interested in starting beekeeping?” Use this information to help shape your presentation. When speaking to new beekeepers, don’t forget to explain basic concepts before delving into more complex issues. When speaking to the public try to keep things light and interesting. Non-beekeepers love interesting factoids about bees.
Relate To Your Audience
Once you have an idea of who you are talking to, you should try to relate to them. New beekeepers love hearing about the mistakes experienced beekeepers made when they were starting out. It reassures them that their mistakes are not unique and hopefully helps them avoid the mistakes you made. Experienced beekeepers are always interested in your system for managing hives: what you do to prepare for spring, how you deal with varroa mites, what kind of equipment you use and why. Every beekeeper develops a way of doing things and it’s fun to hear what others are doing. You can liven up this topic by inserting some entertaining stories about your beekeeping experiences, too. General audiences want to know why you started keeping bees, what your day to day work is like and how they can help. Tell them to plant flowers or put out a water source for bees. Make them feel like they can be apart of this world even if they don’t want to keep bees.
Make An Outline
Structure is important. Draw up an outline of what you’d like to speak about and bring it along so you don’t get too off topic. I’ve seen too many great beekeepers get up to present and put everyone to sleep with long, overly complicated meandering talks. Beekeeping is a very complex subject and it’s easy to drone on too long about one thing or another. Try to be concise and insightful. Write down some points or facts to help guide yourself as you speak. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your audience, if they aren’t smiling and nodding every once in awhile, you need to spice up your subject matter. You might try asking them a question or telling a short, funny story.
I teach a lot of kid’s classes and the more I teach, the more I realize adults and children are not so different. Everything I have stated above definitely applies. Having visual and tactile aids are a must! Bring posters or make a short photo slide show you can share. Try bringing comb for them to to touch, live bees in an observation hive or drones they can pet. Walk into the classroom in your bee suit and let them squeeze the bellows of your smoker. Kids especially respond to presenters who engage with them. Ask them questions, “Who likes honey?” or quiz them on fun bee facts, “How many eggs do you think a queen bee can lay in a day?” When it comes to structuring your talk, try to be flexible with the information you plan to give them so that you can elaborate on things they seem to find interesting or shorten up your points when they are losing interest.
One trick that I use for children is to include games and short activities. This breaks up the information they are trying to absorb, but it also helps them remember what they learn. I ask the kids make a buzzing noise while holding their mouths to their arms so they can feel the vibrations bees make to communicate with each other. I have them pollinate imaginary flowers with glitter. I challenge them to find the queen in one of my poster images, a game I call “Queenspotting”. A game which is also extremely popular with adults, with whom I play regularly on my Instagram account. If I notice attention is waning I will skim over some of the subjects so that we might do another activity. This wakes the kids up and gets them interested again. I always end my class presentations with a longer game that teaches kids about how the beehive operates on the whole, called The Story of Bees. I sometimes use this to motivate kids to listen, telling them about the fun game we will soon play and warning them that they won’t understand it if they are not paying attention now.
Photos by Cam Buker.