The term “lecture” has become synonymous with “life-sucking experience.” You know this to be true simply by the way people use the word in a sentence:
I had to sit through a lecture.
My parents gave me a lecture.
Don’t lecture me about my clothes.
I often wonder if there’s a way to spell lecture with four letters, because it’s so often used like a four-letter word.
I know it’s not an effective tool to teach, yet I still use it. In fact, I didn’t miss the irony of teaching about the ineffectiveness of lectures to a group of people…through a lecture on the ineffectiveness of lectures. I am my own worse case study.
The goal is to get their attention and once you have their attention, to engage them in the process of making progress.
So how can we move beyond just droning on and on to bleary-eyed day dreamers?
1. Tell a story (a personal story).
Stories have a way of connecting the point you’re trying to make to real life situations. It is a vehicle through which people can actually put themselves into a situation without actually being there. We often complain about the attention span of our audience. I don’t think that’s the problem. The real problem lies more in providing an environment that’s worth paying attention to. Stories are attention magnets. One of the reasons we check out of meetings, lectures, and presentations so quickly is there is no sense of story to the whole thing. Put that same person in a seat at the movies and he or she can sit fully engaged for over two hours.
Here’s something to consider: You actually tell a story with every lecture, presentation, and monologue from the front of the room. The problem is, you might be telling a bad and boring one. And your bad and boring story is killing the morale of those around you.
2. More dialogue, less monologue.
Ask a question (not a rhetorical one) that people must answer. Get the idea out on the table and let them wrestle with it in small groups. Sit in circles and not in rows. The key here is make the time more interactive than reactive. More active that passive. You want to encourage people to be participants and not merely spectators of this event.
When I know that I have to share something with others, I spend more time preparing and thinking about what I’m going to do. I’ve discovered my interest and engagement in the process increases dramatically the moment I move from student to teacher. Instead of simply watching (and becoming bored) by the story that’s unfolding, I become a character in it. Find a way to put more people in the room in the role of teacher and you’ll raise the level of engagement.
I have a standing desk for one reason: it keeps me moving. You know when you get that “2:30 in the afternoon” feeling? I don’t experience that as much because I’m on my feet and moving around. There’s a few great strategies to increase engagement here. The first one is that you, as the primary communicator, presenter, or teacher need to be moving. Don’t get locked behind a podium or lectern. You more easily engage your audience if you are moving (hopefully closer to them rather than farther away).
The second strategy is to get them moving. This could be as simple as taking well-timed breaks for people to get up and get the blood flowing. Or you could involve people in role-plays, taking sides (move to one side of the room if you agree, the other side if you don’t, then debate), or have a stand-up meeting (which makes for a shorter meeting!).
Finally, you can move locations. Sometimes a boardroom or classroom has been the site of too many bad stories. People come into the space expecting to be bored. If that’s the case, move to a different location like the back room of a restaurant, or coffee shop, or on the roof of your building. Changing location makes for a more memorable story.
My hope is to deliver less lectures and more experiences. As you approach your meeting, presentation, or class session, ask yourself this question: What kind of story do I want people to tell about our time together?
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