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”

Calling Things by their Proper Name

May 13, 2013 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development

greg 200x300“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” Confucius

I’ve heard this quote used in many contexts. I suppose that’s for good reason. What we call things matters.

For example, many types of communication are called “presentations,” and that’s caused a lot of trouble for business people.

A TED talk is very different from an industry conference breakout session, which is very different from a getting-work-done presentation to your team, which is very different from a sales presentation one might give sitting down across a desk to a single person. Unfortunately, each of these has been called a “presentation.”

To muck things up even more, our university system and the Learning & Development industry don’t differentiate. They use speechmaking rules and techniques when training for all types of presentations. As you may have read in The Orderly Conversation Blog before, it takes a very different set of skills to plan for and initiate these different types of communication events.

Add all the bad advice and chest thumping over PowerPoint (see this discussion on the ASTD LinkedIn Group) and we have a real mess on our hands.

So, what to do?

Here are my thoughts: Let’s agree to name the types of communication events we’re talking about. We’ll start by figuring out how formal they are and how much interaction is involved. Then we’ll figure out what skills and techniques are useful for each.

If it’s a one-way communication event without interaction from the audience and a rather high degree of formality, then it’s a speech or a lecture.

TED talks and keynotes fall into this category. While these events, in order to be effective, need to feel conversational, they actually aren’t because there’s no real dialogue taking place. The speaker does not react to the audience in a way that changes the course of the speech.

Learning to master speechmaking requires a certain type of training and rehearsal.

On the other hand, if it’s a two-way communication event with genuine interaction from the audience, it’s a presentation.

Most getting-business-done presentations fall into this category. They are, of course, prepared but because of their reactive nature, they also zig and zag in response to input from the audience.

Because of the conversational nature of these types of presentations they tend to be informal. The role of the presenter in these situations is similar to that of facilitator.

Learning to master these types of presentations requires a different set of skills. Rather than rehearsing to get it just right, presenters prepare to be flexible and responsive to the individuals in the audience.

The Beginning of Wisdom is to Call Things by their Proper Name
We’ve found it useful to take it one step further and define business presentations as Orderly Conversations. Orderly because they need to be carefully thought through and prepared. Conversations because they only succeed when a genuine dialogue takes place between speaker and audience. Once presenters are comfortable with both sides of the Orderly Conversation concept, their ability to manage the process is assured.

Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s founder, and I are in the process of finalizing our new book entitled “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined.”

Our goal is to clear up the confusion so business presenters everywhere will gain a better understanding of what it takes to be an effective communicator.

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