Lecture is not a four-letter word: 3 ways to succeed when you’re doing the talking

September 9, 2015 in Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Talent Development, Training

I had a conversation over the backyard fence with one of my neighbors a couple days ago. She was home for the weekend after her first two weeks of college. The conversation focused on the campus, her new roommate, and her classes. As far as the classes are concerned, she said that most of them were large lectures, an entirely new experience for her, and one that was going to take some time getting used to.

That got me thinking about my freshman year. I remember sitting through a lot of lectures. Some of them good. Some of them difficult to listen to.

Those of us in learning and development hardly ever use the term “lecture.” It’s a bit of a pariah, equated with boredom and what’s called death by PowerPoint. The assumption by most trainers and learning designers is that lectures are always dull. So, when they do occur (as they must), they have to be enlivened with exercises, activities, energizers—anything to break the monotony of listening to the instructor speak. Too often, this leads to wasted time and learner frustration.

It shouldn’t be this way. Delivering information through lecture is not only efficient, it also allows for nuance. Good lecturers are able to adapt what they say to the group’s perspective, emphasizing relevance and context when they are not immediately obvious. [Tweet “Delivering information through lecture is not only efficient, it also allows for nuance.”]

For example, let’s say that you’re involved in onboarding new employees. One of your jobs is to deliver a class focusing on the industry as a whole. It involves a lot of history, competitor research, differentiators in the market, a lot of information that new employees should know—although it isn’t entirely clear to them why they need to know it now. If you were to have them read this information instead of hearing about it from an instructor, they may not be able to put it in context. A lecture about this information, delivered well, would do that. It would help the audience make sense of and prioritize their learning.

Another example involves the use of Subject Matter Experts in the classroom. SMEs bring depth of knowledge and experience to the lecture format. Done well, their lectures can bring complex information to life. (Which, come to think of it, explains why some well-regarded university professors are terrible teachers: They are SMEs who never learned how to lecture.)

Three keys to lecturing well
So what can we do to make this type of delivery better? How can lecturing be a useful, effective, even an enjoyable part of the training process? Here are three ways to do it.

  1. Understand that lectures are not speeches. They are a type of conversation. You may wonder if it’s possible to have a conversation when you’re doing most of the talking. It is. Just stay focused on your learners and their responses—verbal and nonverbal. If you’re using a script (memorized or not) or relying heavily on your notes, stop it. Speak spontaneously, just as you would if you were delivering the training information to a single individual.
  2. Draw your energy from the group. Trainers often say to us that the information they’re delivering is boring. They assume that bringing any amount of energy or enthusiasm to its delivery is impossible because the content is dull. I don’t buy that. The enthusiasm you bring to the process doesn’t come from what you’re saying. It comes from your desire to explain what the information means to the learners. It’s about your desire to make them feel that it’s relevant and useful. [Tweet “The enthusiasm … comes from your desire to explain what the information means to the learners.”]
  3. Make it easy to listen and remember. The surest way to lose people during a lecture is to ignore purpose, context, and structure.
    • Emphasize what you want learners to take away from the lecture. Be specific. This goal is not the goal of the entire class, just the lecture you’re delivering.
    • Put the information you’re talking about in the context of their work. Why is it important to them? Be specific and practical.
    • Give them an agenda. If your learners were taking notes based on your lecture, the notes should be a clear reflection of your outline. Again, think about how easy it was to take notes in some college courses and how impossible it was in others. Be the lecturer who communicates structure and emphasizes priorities.

Listening to one person deliver information even for just a few minutes can be a major challenge. But avoiding any sort of sustained delivery of information—or interrupting it too often to “energize” the group—isn’t the answer. The key is to stay focused on your listeners’ and their needs.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Melt the Icebreakers Already

June 18, 2013 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

greg 200x300I have had the pleasure to present a session called “Engaging Learners in the Orderly Conversation” for several ASTD chapters this year. It’s designed for an audience of trainers and those who coach trainers and SMEs.

A common discussion that comes up during this session is around the use of icebreakers and energizers that our industry has become so fond of. (Just google “ASTD icebreakers” and you’ll see what I mean.)

Some people in our industry love them. Some don’t.

During the session I make the case that if we, as Workplace Learning & Performance Professionals, want to be respected, we need to value learners’ time. One way we can do that is to not waste it with silly and irrelevant icebreakers.

There’s one particularly awful icebreaker that I’ve suffered several times at conferences. People are to pair up and spend 10 seconds looking at each other. They are then told to turn away from each other and change 5 things about them. For example, move a ring to another finger, take off a jacket, and so on. Then they are instructed to turn back to each other and discover what has changed about their partner.

The point? Change is hard. And here’s the thing: we’re adults, we know change is hard. So how might we make that point quicker? I’d say something like “I think we can all agree that change is hard.”

I suppose I could agree that we need to lighten the mood once in a while. I could also agree that we need to energize learners from time to time. But, as a learner, if you ask me to do irrelevant and/or embarrassing things such as laughing yoga, sharing my favorite Christmas gift as a kid, tell you something unusual about myself, do jumping jacks while yelling “ha,” or recite a nursery rhyme multiple times using different voices and inflection, I may do what I’ve seen others do in these very common situations:

  • Sit there with my arms crossed
  • Roll my eyes
  • Check my phone
  • Walk out

I might also:

  • Question your judgment
  • Think twice before attending another session with you

So, what are better ways to lighten the mood, energize learners, and earn their respect?

  • Explain why they’re there, what they’ll learn, and how to apply it to their jobs. Do this first thing.
  • Acknowledge their knowledge and expertise. Remember: they are not blank slates.
  • Ask them to hold you accountable for not wasting their time.
  • Send them on a break.
  • Listen fearlessly to their ideas.
  • Connect dots.
  • Respect their differing points of view.
  • End early.

There’s always at least one person in each session who will defend their use of icebreakers by saying that they only choose ones that are relevant to the training content. OK, I’ll go along with that as long as the activity doesn’t waste time or make people feel awkward in front of their peers. Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve seen don’t meet those criteria.

So, what are your thoughts? Are icebreakers ever OK with you? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”