Five Good Reasons to Quit Lecturing and Start Learning

Scott Mair of Canada had a totally engaged audience as he portrayed Elvis the Elk as we shared interpretive training methods in Korea in 2006.
Scott Mair of Canada had a totally engaged audience as he portrayed Elvis the Elk as we shared interpretive training methods in Korea in 2006.
Many of us went to schools and colleges where lectures prevailed. The expert spoke from behind a lecturn while we tried to listen. I say try, because I, for one, often slept. I remember being in Dr. “Gabby” Galbreath’s Evolution classroom and awakening suddenly to laughter. I had dozed off and awakened to everyone watching me. He had a great sense of humor and a gruff voice. “Can I get you a pillow, Merriman? You look uncomfortable.” He laughed and went on. I never fell asleep in his class again, but I often wasn’t paying attention. It was not a requirement and even if it had been, I might not have been able to fulfill it.

Training others these past 18 years in the interpretive approach to communication and current brain research has driven me back to some very old principles and what I think are five good reasons to quit lecturing whether you are a classroom teacher or a non-formal interpreter.

1. You learn nothing if you lecture. Every audience or classroom has people who may share a thought or idea with you that improves your understanding of what you do. Sometimes it’s from the mouths of babes and sometimes from other professionals, but learning is good. Get it where you can.

2. A lecture does not encourage a conversation. People do not change their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors unless they think more deeply about what they believe. Conversations and thoughtful questions invite us to pay attention and start us thinking. Not everyone will join the conversation but in a lecture, few will engage.

3. Every audience or classroom is different. You do not adapt your lesson to the audience if you operate on assumptions. When you start the conversation, you find out what they believe. You can adapt.

4. Lecturing is boring for you and your audience. You repeat the presentation or lecture you’ve used before in the same old way. The passion in your voice will eventually sound like elevator music to the listener, something to ignore.

5. Addressing learning styles is not an academic exercise, but critical to success. Our knowledge of multiple learning styles or multiple intelligences suggest that auditory learning or even a combination of auditory and visual learning (Powerpoint) are rarely as engaging as interactive conversations with questions, demonstrations and activities whenever possible.

More than 2,000 years ago Socrates encouraged questioning in learning. His belief was intuitive, but it has proven to be a great approach. Social science research supports the power of bringing people to a greater understanding and voluntary behavior change through careful questioning, thematic presentations and multi-sensory approaches.

And yet I still see lectures in both formal settings such as classrooms and conferences and in nonformal interpretive settings. We can do better. Let’s lay down our crutches of Powerpoint and lecterns and be more creative, for ourselves and for our audiences.

-Tim Merriman

Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

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