The Rat Fan Club

How to Make a Rat Presentation

by Debbie “The Rat Lady” Ducommun


            Speaking before a group is said to be one of the greatest fears for most people, and I’m not writing this with the idea of turning all of you into public speakers, but there might come a time when you have the opportunity to help educate a group of people about rats, and hopefully this article will help some of you to try it. The most common opportunity to talk about rats is to a small group of children at a school, library, or club, and talking to children tends to be less scary than talking to a group of adults. Starting out by talking to children is a good way to gain experience and become more comfortable making presentations.

            Most of us won’t have the opportunity to talk to a really large group of people. I wish! Even when I make a presentation it is usually to no more than thirty people, about the average size class. Probably the largest group I ever spoke to was at an elementary school in Indiana that paid my way to visit in 2003 with maybe 150 kids. I definitely worked much more than usual to prepare my presentation for this group. I made an outline of topics to cover, and a list of stories I could tell that would show that rats were smart, brave, and loving. When making your first presentation, you will want to also plan in advance the topics you want to cover, but don’t try to write out word-for-word what you will say. You will be talking about rats, a topic you know well, so trust that the words will come.

            When preparing for a presentation, the first thing to figure out is, who is your audience, and what do you want to tell them? The presentation I make to a kindergarten class is completely different than a class of veterinary technician students, or even to a sixth-grade class. You need to tailor your presentation to the audience, and the younger they are, the more simple your message needs to be. For young children, your topic might be “rats make good pets, and all pets need proper care.” For grades five and up, your topic might be “rats are just as smart, brave and loving as dogs,” and include the importance of early socialization. For adults, you could add in the facts about live rodents being sold in pet shops for snake food and why this needs to change.

            No matter the age of your audience members, everyone loves a story, and stories are one of the best ways to engage an audience and get your point across. Stories are also easier to remember than plain facts. So, every presentation can benefit from at least one story. You can start practicing by telling the stories to friends.

            Here is my favorite story to tell:

            In 1994, a newspaper in Germany ran a story about Birgit Steich and her sons, 7-year-old Gunther and 4-year-old Klaus, who lived in Stuttgart. The boys had a rat named Gerd, which would be Gerard in English. Gerd kept getting out of his cage, and Birgit had threatened to get rid of the rat if the boys couldn’t keep him in his cage. One night, two robbers broke in and held the family at gunpoint demanding money. Gerd, who was out of his cage, leaped from the bookcase onto the face of one of the men and bit him hard on the cheek. The man screamed, dropped his gun and fell to the floor. Then Gerd jumped to the other robber’s foot, ran up his pant leg and bit him—right where it hurts. (Everybody will laugh!) Birgit then got the gun and held it on the men while Gunther called the police.

            Choose two to five stories to tell, depending on the age of your audience and the amount of time you have for your presentation. The outline of your presentation should list just the name each story. Don’t try to write them out; tell them in your own words. The outline should also list the points that you want to make. Again, don’t try to write everything out. You know this stuff! Print the outline large enough to read at a glance.

            Practice your presentation alone as often as you need to so you feel comfortable with it. Then try practicing in front of a friend, or your mom(!) and listen to their feedback. This will help you figure out how much time it takes for your presentation. Be sure to leave enough time for questions. If time is an issue, have handouts for more info (Rat Fan Club brochures are available).

            Something else that I do in all my presentations is to show how rats are smart enough to learn tricks, and are willing to wear costumes to please us. If a rat on her own isn’t cute enough to overcome someone’s dislike of rats, maybe a cute costume will be! Unfortunately, my rats don’t usually perform their tricks in public as well as I’d like, and I don’t expect all of you to teach your rats tricks just to make presentations. But costumes are a great way to show that rats are more like little dogs, and not hamsters. Most rats are happy to pose in a costume for a short time as long they are getting treats, and as long as the costume doesn’t restrict their arms or legs.

            When I reread the story I wrote in the Rat Report newsletter about my trip to the school in Indiana, I saw something very interesting. I did not bring any of my rats along on that trip, and instead planned to use one of the classroom rats of the teacher who invited me. I forgot to tell the rat what the costumes were all about, and the first time I tried to put a costume on her, she freaked out and struggled. I apologized to her, and told her I wanted to dress her in costumes so the audience could see how pretty she was, and then she was happy to star in her own little fashion show! Dressing a rat in costumes is fun, and adds interest. Our culture is so visually oriented these days that a demonstration like this helps keep the attention of the audience and makes a bigger impression than just talk. Plus, it can be a great icebreaker. If you start your presentation with the costumes, it will give you a chance to relax and feel more comfortable with the audience before starting to do much talking.

            You’ll need a small table, and it helps to put the rat up on a pedestal about six to eight inches across to keep him in one place as he models the costumes. You can buy a small trash can at a dollar store and turn it upside down.

            You might consider bringing books about rats, both to recommend to people and so that after your presentation, people can look at the pictures.

            Here are some additional tips about giving a presentation that I gleaned from the internet.

Here is the information you need to ask the person who invites you to give the presentation:

  • Date, time and length of presentation
  • Place - Get directions
  • Contact number in case of emergency
  • Formal or casual dress? (Most of the time it will be casual. You might want to wear a rat t-shirt!)
  • How many people are likely to attend?
  • Who is the audience? – children?, seniors?
  • Can you bring materials to hand out?

            Arrive early enough so you have some time to walk around the room your presentation will be in, to help you feel more comfortable there. (If your presentation is in a classroom, this might not be possible.) If you will be using a microphone, test it.

Remember to bring with you:

  • Directions and contact
  • Your outline
  • One to three rats in a carrier
  • Your costumes and props
  • Handouts - bring more than you think you’ll need, just in case
  • Your glasses, if you need them
  • Water - not bubbly soda (can you guess why?)

            Everyone tends to be nervous before giving a presentation (even me!) but that same nervous energy that causes stage fright can help you if you channel it into vitality and enthusiasm for your topic. To help relax:

  • Ask to use the bathroom (an empty bladder is a relaxed bladder), and then check yourself in the mirror before starting – you’ll feel better knowing that you don’t have salad stuck in your teeth.
  • Remember that everyone in the audience has been in your situation and can identify with you; they want you to succeed, not fail.
  • Don’t mention your nervousness - maybe they won’t notice.
  • Take a breath - those empty moments seem much longer to you than to them.
  • Speak slowly, don’t race through it.
  • Smile - why should they have a good time if you aren’t?
  • Concentrate on your message, not your feelings.
  • Remember, the purpose of your presentation it to tell people about rats, not get approval. You do not need to be brilliant. Be yourself.

After the talk:

  • Thank the person who invited you.
  • Evaluate - Did you get your major points across? Were there questions? What was the feedback from the audience? How did you feel?
  • Remember that the next time will be easier.


Sample Outline


1.Why rats make good pets

            a. social, therefore affectionate, personable and interactive

            b. smart—knows name, can learn tricks

            c. playful, they laugh in ultrasound

            d. domesticated vs. wild

2. Drawbacks to having rats

            a. short life span

            b. chewing

            c. urine marking

3. Varieties of Rats

            a. over 35 colors

            b. coats: smooth, rex, hairless

            c. appendages: Dumbo ears, tailless

4. Equipment needed for rats

            a. cage

            b. food

            c. water bottle

            d. bedding

            e. toys

            f. roommate

            g. play area, ie. couch, bed

5. Common Health problems

            a. respiratory infections

            b. mammary tumors, spaying helps prevent

            c. minor injuries and abscesses usually don’t need treatment

6. Where to get a rat (pros and cons of each)

            a. pet shop - pets vs. feeders

            b. rescue or shelter

            c. breeder

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