Those of us in learning and development hardly ever use the term “lecture.” It’s a pariah, equated with boredom, dull delivery and death by PowerPoint. So when it’s our time to deliver a substantial amount of information to learners, the first thing is to call it something else, a “briefing” or an “upfront.” People in the industry try to enliven it with exercises, activities and energizers—anything that will break the monotony of listening to us speak. Too often these techniques do little more than waste time and frustrate learners.
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.
For example, let’s say that you’re involved in onboarding new employees. One of your jobs is to deliver information about the industry as a whole. It involves a lot of history, competitor research, differentiators in the market, and information that new employees should know. The challenge is that it’s not entirely clear to them why they need to know it now. A lecture about this information, delivered well, would solve that problem. 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 highly technical information to life.
So what can you do to make lectures better? How can they be a useful, effective, even an enjoyable part of the training process? Here are three ways to do it.
- Understand that lectures are not speeches. Lectures are a type of conversation. You may wonder if it’s possible to have a conversation when you’re doing most of the talking. Just stay focused on your learners and their responses—verbal and nonverbal. Don’t use a script or rely heavily on your notes. Speak spontaneously, just as you would if you were delivering the training information to a single individual. This type of delivery is far more difficult than speechmaking, but it is infinitely more effective.
- Don’t fall into the this-content-is-dull trap. The level of enthusiasm you bring to the process should not stem from what you’re talking about. Enthusiasm should come from your desire make content feel relevant and useful to learners. No matter what the content is, draw your energy from the group.
- 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 portion you’re lecturing about. For example, “My goal is to give you a quick snapshot of our company and the business we’re in. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to remember all of this. It’s just a foundation to help you understand our four primary product lines.”
- Put the information you’re talking about in the context of the learners’ work. Why is it important to them? Be specific and practical. For example, “This snapshot will help you make sense of some of the detailed information we’re going to cover later today, especially the portion about how we go to market, which will be helpful for all of you, especially those of you in sales and customer support.”
- Give them an agenda. If your learners were taking notes based on your lecture, the notes should be a clear reflection of your outline. Be the type of lecturer who communicates structure and emphasizes priorities. For example, “Here’s how we’re going to proceed. The first thing I’ll talk about is our company history. This will focus on when we were founded and why. Second, I’ll talk about how the company has grown and adapted over time. We’ll take a look at where we stand in the market today and where we’re headed in the future. Finally, we’ll answer the question, ‘How does my job help us meet the company’s goals?’”
Delivering a lot of information to a group of business people can be a challenge. But avoiding lectures—or interrupting them too often to “energize” the group—isn’t the answer. The solution is to embrace the potential of this type of communication, take responsibility for the process and stay focused on learner needs.
Dale Ludwig is the president and founder of Turpin Communication, Inc.