Sunday, 21 July 2013

Creating inspirational, motivational and insightful lectures

The purpose of a lecture is to inspire, motivate and offer insight.

University lectures are sometimes seen by both staff and by students to be a  form of knowledge transfer; students want to record their lectures to check facts or to refer to something they may have missed and I think they are missing the point. If you want to check a fact - you can refer to an encyclopedia, however, if you want to relive the experience of a lecture because it moved and inspired you and sparked off a creative process then great. I love the TED talks for this - I know some don't as they are cliquey and don't always get the facts right but I watch them on Netflix or Youtube avoiding the exorbitant charges and have a pinch of salt at the ready.

Found on

On 11th July, I attended a staff development session from Kissing with Confidence's Russell Wardrop entitled Lecturing with Confidence. I like teaching but most of my experience has been with small groups with fewer than 30 students, so more of a trainer really than a public speaker. In my current job I now have to sometimes give lectures for up to 200 people at a time so I was after some tips.

Our first task, set by the witty, fast-talking Glaswegian, was to speak to someone we didn't know about what we most admired in a speaker - for me it was the self-confidence and the clear and strong articulation they used when presenting their ideas to huge audiences. Russell assured us (in his what normally is a 2 day session squashed into a half day workshop) that a lecture wasn't about the technical knowledge, as it should be a given that we have that already, but about the delivery. We should be aiming to make an emotional connection with our audience as it makes them much more likely to retain the information. I know I often remember things much more if it has strengthened a previous memory or is something which resonates inside me.

Some  practical tips:
  • personalise your message by using the words I, we and you in sentences - I use 'you' a lot but don't often use 'I' unless I'm saying I'm here to help
  • use metaphors and analogies to help people relate and understand more - I use this occasionally but could use it a lot more
  • use humour but don't start with this as you've not built up rapport yet - I use this when feeling comfortable with a group
  • using case studies/references/quotes implies a broader and deeper knowledge - I do use examples but have never used quotes, apart from once where I used a Woody Allen quote in an off the cuff thank you speech to the Leadership and Management Division of the Special Libraries Association. That was scary
  • use props; powerpoint, flipcharts etc but a word of warning: using video and audio will kill your lecture as it terminates the connection between yourself and the audience - I was quite surprised by this as I had thought that using these helps break up the lecture and provides a breather. I could see though that it also gives people the chance to be distracted 
  • structuring your speech around your powerpoint will kill it - I generally write my thoughts out on scraps of paper before organising it using powerpoint. I wouldn't be lost without my slides but might be if I didn't have the internet as I often have to refer to databases and webpages
  • Lectures should appear to be spontaneous - flipcharts are good for this - I don't and have never used flipcharts, something to consider but I would get through a heck of a lot of paper with the amount of sessions I do

The three components of delivery are:
  • Energy - if you give out vitality and passion you will get it back from every person there
  • Spontaneity - be responsive - if you stay in the moment, mindful of what's going on then so will your audience
  • Creativity - this will help the memory of your lecture be retained

Speaking in lectures:
Get the pace, voice, pitch, tone and pauses right. I like to speak fairly rapidly in my sessions as I feel it offers a sense of enthusiasm and passion, however, I am going to follow the recommendation of being clearer and slower at the beginning of the session as I can always ramp it up later.

Individually, we had to (very quickly) come up with the idea of a lecture, practise the first minute of it in front of the people we were seated next to and then receive feedback from them. This was a really interesting exercise; some started with jokes, some stood but stooped over their notes and some were so quiet they were difficult to hear.

The feedback I received was that they were not expecting to be able to hear me because in general conversations I have quite a soft voice but actually I was much louder than they expected. Also, I can sometimes wave my hands around a lot. I already know this and try, usually, to slow these down and not be all 'flappy hands' instead using them only to demonstrate key points. On repeating the exercise, after feedback had been received, everyone improved their performance.

  • Analysis
    • why are the attendees there?
    • how many of them are there?
    • what previous knowledge do they have?
    • try to visit the room beforehand to give confidence
  • Brainstorm 
    • come up with your stories
  • Construct them into themes - there should be no more than five themes in a lecture and ideally just three
When I deliver lectures to large groups I often get them to talk in pairs and then small groups to encourage active rather than passive involvement, however, I occasionally struggle to get their attention back to the room. Russell's tip was to make it much snappier i.e give two minutes rather than five for people to talk and then call them back after a minute and a half. This will keep the atmosphere buzzing and alive. 

I learned about the preparation elements on my Preparation to teach course and don't have a problem with sticking to time, covering too much, or writing objectives. What I had hoped to gain were tips on making the delivery and style much more interesting and to increase my confidence in doing so; by the end of the session I felt I had definitely achieved this.

Three things I am going to try out initally in my future lectures:
  • use stories - this will be the most difficult I think. I use examples from previous students but generally don't give much of myself away. I'm willing to give it a go though, as all the best lectures I've heard have featured personal stories. I'll try to throw in a few analogies and metaphors too
  • get familiar with my book of quotations
  • use Russell's tip on pacing

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the session, finding it very practical and easily applicable, and will most definitely be trawling through their website to pick up further tips.

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