Pitfalls of Lecture Presentations – And How to Avoid Them

The most classic iteration of a presentation involves a speaker talking at an audience.

The most classic iteration of a presentation involves a speaker talking at an audience. The premise here is that the speaker, an expert, has information to share—and that delivering it straightforwardly in a one-way stream is the best way to do so.

Lecture-style presentations, for better or worse, have long been the “go-to” for conveying information to an audience. But that’s changing. The focus is shifting more to prioritize audience engagement. People are starting to reconsider the best way to deliver information so people actually pay attention and retain what they’ve learned.

Speakers today know the true value of grabbing and maintaining the audience’s attention from beginning to end. As time goes on, the pitfalls of lecture presentations become more apparent. Lectures often leave much to be desired in terms of audience engagement.

Exploring ways to go above and beyond the traditional lecture format for your next presentation will boost its impact. Keeping reading to learn more.

What’s the Problem with Lectures?

Lectures tend to be convenient for the speaker—to prepare, all it takes is an outline, data to back up your main points and a deck of slides. But more and more, research is indicating that lecturing promotes passive learning. Viewers of a lecture sit back and observe the speaker, whether it’s a college class or a session at an industry conference.

The primary danger of passive listening is that viewers can always tune out, especially if the presentation stretches longer than the average human attention span. Unless you give a reason for audience members to get invested in what they’re seeing and hearing, they’ll likely miss out on retaining much of what you present.

One study on active participation vs. passive listening in the classroom found that active learning “reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation,” according to Science Magazine. Examples of active learning include asking students to answer questions, asking viewers to work in groups to discuss concepts, etc.

In other words, active learning centers the audience. Passive listening centers the speaker. The former helps boost engagement and retention, so traditional lecturing in educational and professional contexts is rarely the best way to make information resonate.

Tips for Centering Your Presentation Audience

There are a number of strategies you can use to prioritize active learning for audience members. The first is asking them questions as you go—not rhetorical ones, but actual relevant questions they can answer using an audience response system. This helps test for retention while giving everyone more of an incentive to get involved in the learning process.

Platforms like Poll Everywhere allow you to make your own quiz and embed it directly into your presentation deck. Then people can play along as they go, answering multiple-choice trivia questions using their mobile devices throughout. Already you’re boosting how invested people feel in paying attention to the information you’re imparting. The bonus is that quizzes tend to kick up everyone’s competitive sides, giving them even more enticement to listen well and care about what they’re learning.

Asking audience members to break out into pairs or groups is another way to promote active learning. The Stanford University Teaching Commons recommends adding collaboration to any lesson—a principle any kind of speaker can use, including those giving presentations at work or a conference. Provide a prompt to kick-start small group discussions. You can also ask audience members to jot down their thoughts as they go, then share with their neighbor or with the whole room.

The biggest pitfall with lectures is that they tend to promote passive listening when we now know active learning is actually the best way to boost engagement. Try these strategies for centering your audience next time you’re putting together a presentation.

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