I have given hundreds of talks about birds over the years in a great variety of venues. If I speak to the Boy Scouts or the local Master Gardener’s club, the talks are pretty straightforward as the attendees aren’t very experienced in birdwatching. The same with women’s social groups, retired teachers, senior citizen gatherings, and the local grange; I just try to make things entertaining. A PowerPoint presentation with a bunch of nice slides of birds usually does the trick.
Talking to the Audubon Society takes a bit more preparation because these folks are more experienced. They aren’t experts, although there are always a few who are pretty darn knowledgeable. So the talk has to be a bit more refined. I have also been keynote speaker at two bird festivals in northern California, the Snow Goose Festival and the Swan Festival where many of the attendees know their birds.
I’ve given lots of lectures on cruise ships on birds as well as ecology. The audience tends to be fairly sophisticated and intelligent, usually not about birds, but in general they are smart. And since I have cruised around the world and talk about birds of the area, it takes a lot more preparation since I’m not as familiar with birds of the Icelandic coast or Malta as I am with birds of California.
Then I have given talks on my research to scientific groups – the American Ornithological Society, Cooper Ornithological Society (since combined), and the Wilson Ornithological Society which takes far more preparation because then I was talking to experts in the field, some of whom have far more expertise than I did. And they are not afraid to challenge you. After all, that’s what science is about. But it’s intimidating. I gave two lectures at the International Ornithological Congress as well, in Berlin, and Moscow. Even more intimidating because the best ornithologists in the world attend these meetings. But they were good experiences and made me a better scientist as well as speaker. This year the IOC is meeting in Vancouver B.C. if you want to go.
I rarely get paid an honorarium for any of these talks although sometimes my expenses are covered. When I do get offered an honorarium, I usually turn it down because organizations like local Audubon groups don’t have much money. I did accept a box of prunes from a senior citizen group one time, but that’s another story.
I mention all this about speaking because I get lots of inquiries from students, mid-career people, and retirees about becoming an ornithologist. I ask them to read pertinent information pertaining to ornithological careers on my website at www.ornithology.com/careers and one of the things I mention is to take as many writing and speech courses as possible. As an ornithologist (scientist, engineer, teacher, pick your profession) it is important to be able to communicate, both to your peers and the general public. Actually, being able to communicate clearly is a good goal for any career.