Teachers' Toolbox/Lecturing

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Standing in front of a large audience can be frightening for the lecturer and pretty boring for the audience.

One issue is the lecturer's stage performance - there are many little tricks that will help make any lecture reach out and grasp the attention of the audience.

Another issue is the approach to lecturing: Even in front of a small group, people often tend to take the lecturer role and proceed with a long monologue. But there are many other ways to teach even large audiences; however, they often need a certain amount of courage from the lecturer in order to let go and let people do part of the work.

Stage performance and large audiences[edit]

To make a successful oral presentation requires experience and preparation. In lack of experience, better preparation helps a lot !

Helpful Hints[edit]

These are just good things to remember:

  • Oral presentations have to be well structured - people's attention fades away and they forget what and why you are talking about things, so you have to remind them. Repeat your points in an intelligent way - just repeating is boring, but approaching the central points of your lecture in different ways is illuminating.
  • Have a good index page - and returning to this during the presentation is a good thing. But try not to have an index page saying the standard intro-theory-method-results-discussion-conclusion as this is not really necessary, the audience should expect something like this. Rather focus on how your presentation is telling something new.
  • A good introduction is needed which explains why this presentation is relevant, what people could learn from it, and what impact the presented results are anticipated to have.
  • Prepare your presentation by finding keywords and key images - the images are what really keep people attentive.
  • Rehearse your presentation so you know it by heart - preferably in the room where you will give it so there will be fewer surprises about the equipment, lighting, etc.
  • Rehearse the presentation for other people and make them mention at least one thing they would change.
  • Remember to keep eye contact with everyone in the audience - just looking at the boss or supervisor will make everybody else fall asleep.
  • Have notes ready - in case you lose the thread, they will help you catch up fast. A printout of the handouts from Powerpoint is a good reference to write notes on and remind you of the sequence.
  • Never read from the slides - rephrase the written statements in your own spoken language! Avoid long texts on the slides; they should be read aloud or explained instead.
  • Keep your graphics simple! Fancy backgrounds or fonts will usually render you presentation completely unreadable.

The attention of a listener[edit]

People can generally speaking listen for about 10-20 minutes, and then their attention will drop. You should break your lecture into sections of shorter periods, and renew their students interest by making it clear that you are about to shift to something new and interesting.

The plot[edit]

Make a story. Tell them about problems or things that don't work and how they were solved. Don't just read from the telephone book and solve a long series of equations.

Your hands and motion[edit]

Use your hands to emphasize - but don't use them all the time. Be calm for some time and then excited when you get to the important points. You can use your body to signal when it's important and they should pay attention.

If you are using a laser pointer, please keep it steady! It takes very little motion to make the point move erratically everywhere on the screen. Its often a good idea to use two hands to hold it and 'shoot' at the point you want to make rather than painting over the whole screen at all times.

Move in the room! Stand behind the desk, move out in front of it, walk a little into the audience if you dare :-) And maybe combine this with your voice, so stand quietly in the corner carefully explaining something and then walk to the stage center when you have to demonstrate something with arm gestures.

All in all, try to avoid standing carved out in rock at the corner, and loosen your appearance up, and do it as much as you feel comfortable with and not more than that!

Your voice and speech[edit]

As with your body, your voice should be varied and support your presentation rather than just deliver it. Your lecture is not just an answering machine talking, but hopefully an interesting story about an interesting subject.

If people ask questions, its often a good idea to repeat them loud so everyone can hear them -especially in a larger audience.

PowerPoint[edit]

You can't live with it and you can't live without it.

Bullet lists - Powerpoint makes them so easily. But remember - a list with more than 4 points is a mess to see on a slide. It might work in a book where people have time to digest the information, but never make long lists on slides.

Keep the Background simple - yes it looks nice and the department probably paid a lot for the design of the title banner and background you see on many presentations, but if it takes up half your screen and renders text unreadable, don't use it.

The black board[edit]

Keep it in order - have a plan for what you will write on it and where you will start and end up. A black board can become a very confusing mess if you do not keep it in order from the beginning.

Different ways to break up long lectures[edit]

Even a large audience can be activated during a lecture - it's a welcome break for all and often leads to interesting new points of view when the listeners start to talk.

Make an audience work in groups[edit]

  • Make them discuss a simple thing with the person sitting next to them. Then ask for their opinions.
  • Walk n' talk - Use the break in the lectures for something by giving a problem to discuss that will be discussed in plenum when you gather after the break.

Resources on the net[edit]