Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929




By Dr. George C. Ruhle

This outline sets forth briefly some of the basic principles and characteristics of successful lectures by members of the Educational Division in various National Parks. It has been based on analyses of many lectures, and their reception by the public, rather than by digest of current opinion of experts as expressed in various texts on Public Address.

Purpose of Educational Lecture:

Any person bringing a message to an audience should have a definite purpose in doing so. If he himself understands clearly what that purpose is, he should be able to state it in words. No man should appear on any speaking platform unless he has a definite message. The most general purpose of educational lectures in national parks is to impart enlightenment as to facts and interest in the subject material; this should be the beacon guide which every park lecturer should follow. Every lecturer should have something to say – not just “have to say something.” No lecture should be attempted unless it possesses a genuine value.

Points of a Lecture:

The lecturer must furnish ideas which should be of general interest, bright, and alive. lie must express these in effective words, possessing a logical, naturally unfolding arrangement which is forceful, climacteric. The style of delivery must be pleasing or the whole structure collapses.

No person can lecture on a subject satisfactorily unless he possesses a well-rounded special knowledge of his subject. This must be of such a nature that it is of itself of general interest to a mixed audience or, through the effectiveness of the lecturer, can quickly arouse the interest of such audience.

A public address should be rhetorically and eloquently beautiful. Literary excellence is of such power that it can impart even immortality to words spoken. A popular lecturer should be pleasing not only to the intellect but to the ear. Intelligent people use reasonably pure English, and if that of the speaker’s falls below that general level, he merely disgusts. He may be tolerated if speaking on the general level, but in order to inspire, his speech must sparkle; must rise in superior excellence. This statement must not convey the idea of advocacy of use of lengthy or technical words for such practice will only tire, or publish the asininity or affectation of the speaker. Intellectural snobbery (talking down), born of a feeling of superiority (superiority complex) and an endeavor to shine in eyes of the audience is absolutely taboo.

The arrangement of a lecture should be logical, scientific. A speaker is essentially a guide showing the way through a labyrinth of thoughts, ideas, and facts. Many of our lectures are extremely limited in time, and come on such occasions where it is necessary to awaken the enthusiasm of the hearers. A smashing, tingling first sentence often accomplishes this — sometimes this must tie together the events or atmosphere preceding the lecture with what the lecturer has to say. It is well to summarize what one has said in a lecture at the close. The last sentence ought to leave the audience in an elevated state of mind — must be sufficiently sweeping to leave the hearers exuberant, exhilarated, and effervescent.

Delivery is as important as the message itself, for it is the medium which conveys the message to the audience. Enunciation, voice, gesture, appearance — all must be given due consideration. If the audience labors to catch words, all effect is lost. The voice must have proper volume, pitch, cadence, tempered with burning earnestness. No meaningless gesture should be permitted to creep in lest it mar the performance. A speaker should appear natural and relaxed, except where tension is needed. The eye is quicker than the ear, the presence of the speaker should set the audience at ease so it is not swept away in sympathy for his timidity or weakness of endeavor, but is unafraid to follow his guidance everywhere. The beginnings of communication lie in a command of the whole body; alertness of body is an exterior expression of mental alertness. The whole general attitude of the speaker is revealed in delivery. Quality, force, time, and pitch are the elements of delivery. In general, a public speaker must use a slow rate of speech to be clearly comprehended.