Yesterday I attended Lectures: Dead and Alive, The 2010 Tucker Talk, delivered by Dr. Bruce Robertson, Professor of Classics, who asked, “In an age of instant online videos, why do people still travel thousands of miles to hear a public presentation? Why are lectures so improbably still ‘alive’?”
Bruce is an energetic speaker and he gave an excellent presentation, without slides, that kept the audience’s attention, in spite of the extreme heat and humidity in the auditorium. Bruce said that the lecture is a grand and living thing and noted how the rapt attention of others focused on a single presenter can induce a higher degree of focus. We’ve all heard of or perhaps witnessed people who can electrify a room. Bruce explained how lectures can help us to experience the sublime, enabling the contemplation of otherwise hidden natural order, and this is what teaching should offer. He admitted that the lecture as mere knowledge dissemination, in this age of wikipedia, is dead. Good lectures excite and inspire. His lecture reminded me of the article Love on Campus [dead link].
One of the comments after the talk was that the university continues to value the lecture.
This morning I attended six presentations on research activities. Presentation styles varied widely and included poor slide design with multiple bullet points, counterbalanced by unbounded enthusiasm for the research area. No presentation had the elegance of Bruce’s lecture and I would wager that there is one major reason why not – PRACTICE. Good lectures require practice, something few of us have, or make time for, unless it’s a prestigious speech. I know that my father-in-law, with 30 years of university teaching experience, still rehearsed each of his lectures, including those to first year students. I think he was an anomaly.
Today, several of the presentations went over the allotted time. I would again attribute this to the lack of practice. The question that I now ask is: if you are going to lecture, is it worth doing if it isn’t done well? Given that most lectures range from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, it might be better to create some good notes and have a Q&A session instead. If people run out of questions before the allotted time, just stop. A lecture poorly done offers few escape options: one must plod on to the end.
The TED Talks have shown how powerful a good lecture (presentation) can be. This is what I strive for but have yet to achieve. However, TED has some pretty strict rules, which should be considered before choosing the lecture as teaching mode.
The TED Commandments
These 10 tips are given to all TED Conference speakers as they prepare their TEDTalks.
1. Dream big. Strive to create the best talk you have ever given. Reveal something never seen before. Do something the audience will remember forever. Share an idea that could change the world.
2. Show us the real you. Share your passions, your dreams … and also your fears. Be vulnerable. Speak of failure as well as success.
3. Make the complex plain. Don’t try to dazzle intellectually. Don’t speak in abstractions. Explain! Give examples. Tell stories. Be specific.
4. Connect with people’s emotions. Make us laugh! Make us cry!
5. Don’t flaunt your ego. Don’t boast. It’s the surest way to switch everyone off.
6. No selling from the stage! Unless we have specifically asked you to, do not talk about your company or organization. And don’t even think about pitching your products or services or asking for funding from stage.
7. Feel free to comment on other speakers’ talks, to praise or to criticize. Controversy energizes! Enthusiastic endorsement is powerful!
8. Don’t read your talk. Notes are fine. But if the choice is between reading or rambling, then read!
9. End your talk on time. Doing otherwise is to steal time from the people that follow you. We won’t allow it.
10. Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend … for timing, for clarity, for impact.
If these guidelines cannot be met, then perhaps the lecture is not the best format.
BTW, the title comes from this video.