Sleeping during lecture; the lecturers fault

Everyone that has gone to more than a couple of lectures have had a lecture that has bored them so much that you completely zone out or in some cases want to or actually do fall asleep. Further than this there are lecturers that on a consistent basis make you want to fall asleep, you know the ones; low and monotonic voice, always using “umm” or “uh…uh…”, using language that you have to be a linguistics expert to understand, speaking unclearly and as fast as the roadrunner bird in a Ferrari, have as much text as the average high school chemistry textbook in each slide, and/or just being completely unenthused and uneducated in the subject he/she is lecturing overall. That’s not to say us students aren’t completely guilty of this as we are very often, we could all be better communicators if we tone up the way we present in order to maximise the amount and audience takes in, which in the end is all you want. This was discussed by authors Michael Hoffman and Moshe Mittleman in their paper from 2004 titled Presentations at professional meetings: notes, suggestions and tips for speakers.

There are various ways presenters can hone their skills in presenting in order to improve effectiveness many fold. We aren’t going to debate the fact that brilliant lecturers are sometimes simply born as brilliant lecturers as all players at the Collingwood Football Club in 2010 were born brilliant athletes. However, perhaps like the players of the West Coast Eagles Football Club in 2011 so far, they can learn some new tricks and become more effective on the field or in the lecture room. A good lecturer as discussed in the article will have at least seven things going for them; (1) a comfortable lecture room, (2) enough lighting for visual contact between the speaker and audience, (3) adhere to time limits, (4) good speaking volume, (5) well placed and clear speech, (6) will no more than glance at notes and speak directly to the audience, and (7) will have slides that are reasonably few in number, discernable and will have simple tables and figures.

As far as structure is concerned speakers should present a lecture that is well balanced in that ideas are conveyed to the audience seriously but the lecture is still entertaining. A good way to keep a lecture entertaining is being able to read your audience both by knowing what to expect by the type of people in the audience and being able to adjust your level of detail based on this and what you can tell when you are giving the lecture. A title must be short and interesting and an introduction must be included after which reviews the background of the talk and provides outlines of the contents and objectives but should keep the audience in suspense about any results that may be presented. After the main body the final points should be clear and comprehensible as audience members that had switched off may wake up during the final points. All in all the talk should should be no longer than one minute per slide.

Speakers should clearly interact with audience members during presentations to be more effective and looking at every point of the audience is important to make people think you are talking to them. Appropriate but not complex language should also be used in short sentences in order to not tire the audience. As far as voice is concerned the speaker should use changes in inflection to emphasise points and dramatisation just like you are telling a story to someone. As well as this humour is a great tool! Why not use it, life is not so serious!

Personally slides really grind my gears, when they are not done right, you may notice you get death stares.

Bad Slides Grind My Gears

Vote Liberal!

On this there were five main commandments postulated by the authors that i agree with; (1) spare the use of colours, (2) have a clear background, not an annoying picture, (3) keep your slides uncluttered, I don’t want to read your novel but I’m happy for you to tell me about it, (4) avoid using complicated tables and figures from original materials, make your own it isn’t that hard, (5) just give me a p-value, I’m not interested in standard deviations, ranges and confidence limits etc. leave that for your reports.

In conclusion if lecturers or presenters do just some of the things suggested in the article and in the post above you will see less of this…

Stats lecture

Posted by Jack Scanlan


3 comments so far

  1. cherylday21 on

    Thanks for your blog Jack, I can relate to your comments indeed.
    I do feel for the lecturers where lecturing is a mandatory component to their job and not one of preference. Unfortunately for some their material is repeated year after year and it is as monotonous to us as it is to them. I agree, a refresher course on the basics wouldn’t go astray either. Lecturing and presenting is not a job I envy and is most certainly an art requiring dedication and talent.

  2. Steven Correia on

    It really is true guys, we have all been in the situation where a certain lecturer has put us into a stupor with the techniques they use (or don’t use). I find myself quite commonly where I am in a lecture with one of my friends who has done some second year science communication and we can pick out all the things that are being done wrong by the lecturer. Alot of the time it seems as if the lecturer has never had any training in how to speak to an audience, and this may be the case. I even had one time where i was so bored I counted the number of times a certain lecturer said ‘umm’ in a 20 minute period (it was 53 for all those interested). I am not saying that the people who are spending their life lecturing us aren’t experts in their fields and are not good teachers but a little communication education could go a long way in hepling the audience (us) stay awake.

  3. Beau Gamble on

    Yeah, I think a refresher course or some communication training could do wonders for some lecturers. But don’t get me wrong, there really are lots of great lecturers around, and even if they don’t follow all the principals we learn about in science communication, they can still manage to keep us interested simply by being passionate about their work.

    For some of the others though, they really could make massive improvements to their lectures just by taking a few of the steps that Jack laid out. Some tiny, simple changes would make huge differences. I guess they either don’t know that this sort of information is out there, or they don’t see that there’s much of a problem in the first place — that having some students doze off is just an inevitable part of lecturing.

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