Lectures

Compiled by:
Sreevidya Satish (Ecosan Services Foundation)

Executive Summary

There are several teaching methods, but lecturing is the best known one. It is often used at schools and universities due to the large numbers of participants, but even in small groups lectures can be an effective teaching method. Especially in combination with other methods, well prepared lectures bring training courses forward, as main information, history, background and theories are compiled and orally presented by a prepared lecturer. This factsheet shows that lecturing is a skill which can be practiced. It contains many tips and techniques for becoming a good lecturer.

Introduction

The lecture is often referred to as talking to or talking at the group. It is usually addressing a passive audience. To be effective, lectures need to be on top of things at all times and to be interesting or amusing to the audience. A traditional lecture does not allow for any form of immediate evaluation, of for any two-way communication between the presenter and the audience (CROUCH and MAZUR 2001). This calls for a modified lecture where it encourages some group participation. The modified lecture is common in adult learning (for more information: adult learning principles); it often relies on the participants experiences to generate discussions (adapted from OXLADE and BREND 2003).

Lectures are one tool in a teacher's arsenal of teaching methods. Just as with all the other tools, it should only be used when most appropriate. Instruction should be varied from day to day to help reaching the most students possible. For a lecture to be effective, the facilitators role includes being aware about the participants all the times. The presenter’s voice is particularly important; both in level and tone. Also the material must be made meaningful to the group so that they will want to listen. It is possible and advisable, to use training aids in a lecture presentation (see also presentation tricks). Talks and lectures given by a trainer help the trainer to pass on information in a pre-planned and organised manner (adapted from KROEHNERT 2007). However, they can become boring for participants unless they are kept short and are well delivered.

Lecturing as a Matter of Skill

(Adapted from LONDON DEANERY 2011)

There is a certain amount of mythology about lecturing, one of the most persistent myths being that some people are born with an extraordinary flair for lecturing and if you are not one of the fortunate few, then perhaps the best you can hope for is to get through the material you’ve prepared with little drama and few problems. Of course some people are more outgoing and comfortable presenting to groups than others, but the desired outcome of a lecture is that people learn, not that they are entertained.You might look for more of a performance if you are presenting at a conference or symposium, so as to engage the audience and make the talk memorable. Effective lecturing is more a matter of skill than charisma, although there are some techniques that can help to make your lectures more enjoyable for those in the audience.

Like most techniques in teaching and learning, lecturing requires its own set of skills, which can all be learned and refined through practise and reflection, but the single most important element of an effective lecture is that it should be a meaningful engagement for the audience and speaker alike. The key purpose behind a lecture is to ensure learners are offered learning relevant to their course that they cannot readily access by other means. If they participate in a meaningful engagement it will drastically increase the possibility of this occurring, thereby ensuring that they leave the lecture theatre or classroom better informed (or at least more challenged) than when they came in.

How to Be a Good Lecturer?

(Adapted from LONDON DEANERY 2011)

 

A good lecturer…

 

  • presents the material in a clear and logical sequence
  • makes the material accessible, intelligible and meaningful
  • covers the subject matter adequately
  • is constructive and helpful in his criticism
  • demonstrates an expert (and authoritarian) knowledge in his subject
  • paces the lecture appropriately including all material which is not readily accessible in textbooks
  • is concise
  • illustrates the practical applications of the theory presented
  • shows enthusiasm for the subject
  • generates curiosity about the lecture material early in the lecture

 

How to Make Your Lecture a Success

(Adapted from LONDON DEANERY 2011)

How you deliver your presentation determines its success. Though there are a number of typical lecture formats, structure and content will (and should) be unique to each lecture delivered. You can also use presentation tricks for making the lecture more interesting. Generally, the following points should be considered when planning a lecture:

 

1. Learning Outcomes

Carefully thought-out learning outcomes are essential before preparing a lecture:

 

  • What do you want the audience to learn?
  • What are the key concepts that need to be addressed?
  • What essential skills and competencies should participants have on leaving the lecture?
  • How will all this be clearly communicated to the audience?

 

2. Structure

A well thought-out structure will usually ensure greater retention of the material by the audience. It must be clear and logical, and ensure systematic development of your main points. It should provide a logical progression of material: general principle to specifics; build up from the parts to the whole; describe a problem and illustrate or outline solution. Don’t be tempted to skip parts because you assume that the audience is familiar with it. Signal stages of your structure by using the following:

 

  • Signposts: statements that indicate the structure and direction of an explanation (e.g. ‘I want to deal briefly with... First, I will outline... Next, we shall look into these points in greater detail...’).
  • Frames: statements that signal the beginning and the end of a section (e.g. ‘that ends my discussion of... And now, let us look at...’). Framing statements are particularly important in complex explanations that may involve topics and sub-topics.
  • Foci: direct attention to key points by emphasis, repetition and through the use of statements that highlight key points (e.g. ‘So the main point is...’, ‘The key issue here is...’, ‘This brings us to the crucial factor...’).
  • Links: words, phrases or statements that link one part of an explanation to another (e.g. ‘But while this may be the solution, it may lead to several complications and objections not directly related to it’).
  • Summaries: these serve to remind students of the essential points and to link topics and themes that may have been separately discussed. Summarising provides an opportunity to compare and contrast, point to similarities and differences, advantages and disadvantages, etc.

 

3. Delivery

Having given much thought to the structure and content of your lecture or presentation, the delivery is worth a similar degree of consideration. There are lots of techniques, hints and presentation tricks to help you provide a good lecture experience for your audience, and a more rewarding experience for yourself. There are three imperatives underpin a good lecture:

 

  • Be clear
  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be interesting

 

Tips and Techniques

(Adapted from LONDON DEANERY 2011)

Lectures are very good for transmitting information, and techniques such as ‘signposting’ and breaking up the lecture can help participants’ concentration and retention of knowledge. However, unless the lecturer pays attention to the processes by which memory functions, they may overwhelm listeners by providing too much information in an unsuitable form without context and connexions. For information to be meaningful, it must be put into memory, stored and able to be retrieved (recall). Some tips and techniques to be used for achieving this goal:

 

Plan your Overall Framework Carefully

 

  • Tell the audience what you are going to tell them
  • Then tell them it
  • Ask something about it that shows you if they understand.
  • Avoid making rash assumptions about knowledge retained from previous teaching
  • Don’t try to cover too much material in your lecture

 

Get the Beginning Right

 

  • Introduce yourself
  • Outline your expectations
  • Provide explicit learning objectives

 

The beginning of your lecture should engage, prepare, encourage curiosity, challenge and create expectations. The first five minutes of attention form the ‘Golden Window’ – use it well. This is where you build rapport and make a meaningful link with your students.

 

Work on your Presentation Style

Your job is not to entertain — but you don’t have to be boring. Think about how you use your voice for emphasis, contrast, exaggeration, negation, etc. Your voice is a tool for gaining and holding attention. Participants in any part of the room should be able to hear you clearly. Avoid:

 

  • Speaking in a monotone
  • Looking or sounding bored 
  • Using vocalised pauses (‘you know’, ‘okay’, etc.)
  • Distracting gestures such as fiddling with glasses or jewellery.

 

Engage with the Audience

The brain is an analogue processor – liberally sprinkle your lecture with analogy and metaphor. Value the audience: monitor reactions, seek contributions – they are an integral part of your lecture. Use impact language to ‘headline’ your key points, e.g. ‘The vital factor’ rather than ‘the important factor’.

 

Leave them with a Message

Lectures should have a planned ending – not just a last word for that day (or worse, just running out of time). Your ending should include:

 

  • A summary of the main points
  • A recap of the key questions posed/answered
  • The ‘exit thought’ you would like your students to take with them
  • A signpost

Applicability

Lectures are the most well-known teaching method. Although they are often criticised, they are a good means to give information about subjects to course participants. The lecturer needs to be well-prepared. Lecturers can always improve their lecturing skills by using tips and techniques shown in this factsheet. The outcome of the lecture depends on the quality of the lecturer’s presentation.

Advantages

  • Lectures are a straightforward way to impart knowledge to students quickly
  • Instructors also have a greater control over what is being taught in the classroom because they are the sole source of information
  • Students who are auditory learners find that lectures appeal to their learning style
  • Logistically, a lecture is often easier to create than other methods of instruction
  • Lecture is a method familiar to most teachers because it was typically the way they were taught
  • Because most courses are lecture-based participants gain experience in this predominant instructional delivery method

Disadvantages

  • Participants strong in learning styles other than auditory learning will have a harder time being engaged by lectures
  • Participants who are weak in note-taking skills will have trouble understanding what they should remember from lectures
  • Participants can find lectures boring causing them to lose interest
  • Participants may not feel that they are able to ask questions as they arise during lectures
  • Teachers may not get a real feel for how much Participants understand because there is not that much opportunity for exchanges during normal traditional lectures

References Library

CROUCH, C.H.; MAZUR, E. (2001): Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. Cambridge: Harvard University. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2010].

KROEHNERT, G. (2007): Basic Training for Trainers. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill.

OXLADE, L.; BREND, M. (2003): Exploring the training process. London: Healthlink Worldwide.

LONDON DEANERY (Editor) (2011): Improve Your Lecturing. URL [Accessed: 14.03.2011].

Further Readings Library

Reference icon

CROUCH, C.H.; MAZUR, E. (2001): Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. Cambridge: Harvard University. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2010].

Report data from ten years of teaching with Peer Instruction PI! In the calculus- and algebra-based introductory physics courses for no majors.


Reference icon

JONES, W. T. (n.y.): Methods of Teaching and Learning: A Manual for Course Organisers. Edinburgh: The University of Edinburgh. URL [Accessed: 23.04.2010].

Pages taken from the manual of course organisers published by University of Edinburgh for Veterinary School’s science department.


Reference icon

OXLADE, L.; BREND, M. (2003): Exploring the training process. London: Healthlink Worldwide.

Combined issue of the Health link Worldwide newsletters Aids Action, Child Health Dialogue and Disability Dialogue. Health link Worldwide no longer produces printed editions of its newsletters. However, this and other newsletters are available online at the Health link Worldwide website, www.healthlink.org.uk. Additionally, source material that partner organisations worldwide can adapt for use in their Newsletters will become available from the website in 2003.


Important Weblinks

http://www.tlcsem.com/ [Accessed: 23.04.2010]

Gives a smart overview of methods of instruction.

http://712educators.about.com/ [Accessed: 23.04.2010]

Article on pros and cons of lecturing can be found here

http://www.tpub.com/ [Accessed: 23.04.2010]

Describes instructional methods from telling, lecturing, or discussing; showing or demonstrating; or any combination.

http://www.faculty.londondeanery.ac.uk/ [Accessed: 14.03.2011]

This website offers a lot of information about lectures. It gives helpful tips and explains step-by-step what should be considered when giving lectures.