3 Ways to Make Your Lecture More Engaging

Lectures can be an excellent way to communicate complex information to your audience. Good lectures can open your audience’s mind. Great lectures can change them. That said, lectures are notorious for being long, belabored, and, worst of all, boring. This is because, by nature, a lecture often consists of a group of people listening to one person talk for a long time.

When your lecture is boring, your audience might just tune you out entirely. You might have the most helpful information in the world, but it won’t matter if your audience doesn’t care. Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, incorporate a few of the following methods into your next lecture to make it as engaging as possible.

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1. Include Good Visuals

These days, thanks to the prevalence of PowerPoint, visuals in lectures are nearly ubiquitous. But just slapping any old photos onto a slide won’t necessarily make it better. At worst, it can actually make your presentation more confusing. Sure, you might enjoy pictures of adorable kittens — who doesn’t? But just because you enjoy something or suspect your audience might, doesn’t mean you should automatically include it.

It’s important to make sure you include the right visuals. This means visuals that are clear, relevant, and timed well. Clarity just means that your visuals are easily legible: not blurry, improperly zoomed, too big or small. Relevance goes back to the kittens — you want the subject matter of your visual to match the point you’re actively making. This covers timing too. That is to say: include relevant images of the bean-roasting process during the roasting section of your “Espresso Best Practices” lecture.

There are myriads of online sites that will provide you with the kind of high-quality images you’re looking for. Some are free, and some are paid. You could simply digitally capture images using a screenshot app. Rather than including a generic image of computer software, you can include images of the software you’re trying to explain. The same goes for data or other information specific to your presentation.

2. Get Your Audience Involved

One of the easiest ways to engage your audience is to, well, get them engaged! No, before you get the veil out, not like that. Sprinkle in moments of audience participation throughout your lecture. The good news is that this can actually be pretty easy and, best of all, effective.

Questions and surveys are some of the easiest and most effective ways to get your audience to participate. This can be as simple and low-tech as asking your audience to raise their hands if they relate to a question. You might ask something like, “Show of hands: how many people here drink espresso every day?”

You could also create a straw poll ahead of time and ask your audience to participate live by using their phones. Then in real-time you can get feedback to a question like “How many people think espresso is better than coffee?” Live straw polls are particularly interesting because they show your audience where everyone in the rooms stands on a given issue.

Polls, questions, and other intellectual games are great, but participation doesn’t have to be static. Increase participation by getting your audience up and moving! Incorporate stretches, vocal activities, or samples of relevant materials throughout your lecture. Again, keep these relevant, like small dessert samples in your baking lecture or annunciation practice in your lecture on speech. Find and incorporate the intersection between your subject matter and sensorial experience to get your audience more involved.

3. Tell a Good Story

People love stories. This fact seems to be wired into human DNA as vocal, social creatures. Take advantage of this wiring, like with visuals, and weave narrative elements into your lecture. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is by centering your lecture’s narrative around a character.

Now, a character doesn’t have to be an actual person, although it certainly could be. Including a character means creating a clearly identifiable entity through which the subject of your lecture is perceived. This may sound esoteric, but one of the simplest ways to characterize is to frame a problem that wants a solution.

For example, say you’re given a lecture on the importance of sleep. You’ve already engaged the audience by asking for a show of hands for “Who here feels like they get enough sleep?” A few hands show here, some there, but, predictably, most stay down. You follow up by asking, “Okay, now who here uses their phone before bed?” A wave of hands rises across the room accompanied by some uncomfortable coughs and chuckles.

Your audience now involved, you explain that your research team set out to understand the relationship between phone use and sleep quality. “And,” you add, “what we found wasn’t pretty.” In this moment you’ve created characters. The audience are the story’s shared protagonists; the phone, its villain. The conflict clearly identified and your audience invested in its resolution, you continue the narrative that is your lecture.

Investment Is Key

In most cases, making your lecture more engaging is a matter of matching your audience’s investment with your own. Unless you’ve begrudgingly accepted the role of lecturer, you’re probably invested in the information you’re presenting. However, the same can’t necessarily be said of your audience. By using some of the methods listed here, you’ll not only improve the quality of your lecture. But you’ll also improve the chance your audience will engage with, genuinely enjoy, and learn from your lecture.

Jeffery D. Silvers
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