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A Lecture? Yes, Please!

I have to be honest.  I’ve never understood why lectures have received such a bad reputation.  Whenever corporate instructors talk about preferences in education methods, the lowly lecture resides near the bottom of the list.

The lecture has always been my preferred method of learning.  An audio tape is not very effective for me because I’m too easily distracted.  Group discussions CAN be good, although my experience has been that groups often complete their topic exploration within a minute or two, and spend the rest of the time talking about the latest reality show results.

As for role plays, don’t get me started.  People assume that with my theatrical background, I naturally gravitate toward role play learning.  The truth is, I loathe them and, unless I’m forced to do so, you will never find me facilitating a role play session when I’m the instructor.

I’ve been considering why I like lectures so much when so many other people avoid them.  It’s not that I’ve never been to a bad lecture.  I can think of some dreary sessions in which a speaker essentially read PowerPoint slides to us.  (I’m assuming there was a desire to improve our reading skills.)

Yes, it’s possible that I’ve just been lucky.  (Those who know me well also know how much I value my time, so I’m very choosey about my lecture selections as an adult.)

The truth is that the majority of lecturers I’ve experienced have also been excellent storytellers, and were masterful in their presentations of illustrative vignettes.  They taught by stating a point, providing a memorable example to enhance the point, and then doing a very brief summary of the main point to reinforce it.

Allow me to provide two examples:

Mr. Norris VanNoy was my high school POD teacher.  (For those unfamiliar with the initials, they stood for Principles of Democracy.)  Out of the nine months that we spent with Mr. VanNoy, the sole topic that he was unable to make interesting was income tax preparation.  (That spoke volumes to me about how much I would enjoy the tax preparation process as an adult.)

Mr. VanNoy approached world history as one inter-connected story.  Every class was a lecture, but what wonderful lectures they were!  As we listened, the events came alive.

I still recall one Friday afternoon when the topic was Russian history.  Mr. VanNoy had reached the point where the White and the Red armies were facing each other across the river…and the dismissal bell rang…and nobody moved.  When he said that we’d continue from that point on Monday, there were some protests.  Yes, we had to wait.  And, yes, we were primed for Monday’s class.

Another example was Major Donald Keyhoe.  I had the opportunity to attend one of his UFO lectures in a huge auditorium seating a full-house of about 2,000 people.  He had been doing private research into the military’s Project Blue Book investigations of flying saucers.

As you can imagine, the stories were intriguing.  The projected photographs were the icing on the cake.  To this day, I recall his telling of a military jet that crashed during its pursuit of a UFO.  The “official” report was that the pilot had mistakenly been following Venus…during the daytime.  As my mother drove me home, my eyes scanned the night skies from the back seat.

In each case, these presenters lectured their audience.  They provided slides as illustrations, but they also told mesmerizing stories.  They captured the imagination of their audience, and they reinforced their lessons by engaging multiple parts of the listening brain.

To this day, around 40-years later, I still recall some of their stories and, through them, the lessons they taught.

If you need more modern examples, try Randy Paush at http://youtu.be/ji5_MqicxSo or Jill Bolte Taylor at http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html.  The time will fly, but the lessons won’t.

Thank you for reading.