In my previous blog, I compared live and online education, noting that the in-person experience provides a more satisfying and more meaningful exchange of information for both the lecturer (speaker) and the audience (students). But since online education (including webinars, podcasts, and PowerPoint presentations) offers the advantages of less cost, no travel aggravation, learning at your own pace, and taking continuing education tests at your own convenience, what makes attending the live performance worth it?
Michael Mills of Mills Entertainment says that “what you see on a screen will never compete with seeing the performance in person.” When learning in the presence of others, there is an energy and a synergy that you gain that is noticeably missing when you’re sitting alone staring at your computer screen. The mentorship, the interpersonal atmosphere, and the exchange between the presenter and audience is palpable if the speaker not only has something worthwhile to say but also says it in an entertaining, attention-grabbing way.
Make It “Edutaining”
The word “edutainment” can be defined as learning in an atmosphere that combines education with entertainment. Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack is a great example of an early form of edutainment that provided a math lesson, a life maxim, a word puzzle, and the weather at the same time. Similarly, children have been learning from characters like Big Bird and the Count from Sesame Street for decades. Greg Beato of The New York Times has expounded upon new learning opportunities that are “painless and pleasurable.”
John Dewey, one of the patriarchs of educational philosophy, spoke about “experiential education.” It means learning math by studying cooking recipes and proportions instead of memorizing multiplication tables, or learning geography by studying how animals, plants, and even people live rather than just looking at maps. Learning was “active.” The Science of People focuses on the “boring epidemic,” pointing out that brains are like toddlers, “easily bored and demanding engagement.” So, here is some general advice for speakers who need to be both educators and entertainers.
Show Your Enthusiasm
Do you have something that you feel is important to convey to your students? Are you enthusiastic and excited about it? Then let’s hear the excitement. Being an extroverted pediatric dentist, I often lead the group in a singalong: “Sing… sing a song… sing out loud… sing out strong!”
Whatever it takes, you must make the people in your audience feel that they’re experiencing the beginning of a beautiful friendship. If singing is not your thing, tell your true personal story, something that makes you different but down to earth. For instance, here’s one of mine:
“You know, my first office was 350 square feet in the basement of a building. When you opened the door, the door knob almost hit the wall on the other side. No windows! I never knew if it was sunny or raining or snowing. I had no room for a desk, just a 2-foot-long Formica shelf on the wall for my appointment book, which I didn’t need because I didn’t have any appointments.”
We all have a story that shows vulnerability and a humanness that people can relate to.
Avoid the Slide
Do not read from your PowerPoint slide! Do not read what’s already spelled out on the screen. That’s why students today don’t attend lectures. What’s the point if you can just read the PowerPoint handout and take the test, and it’s over and done? Boring, boring, boring!
You are not married to your slides. They’re just up there to serve as an organizational guide. Don’t be afraid to depart from the subject into something that may be tangentially appropriate and interesting to the group.
Sometimes, topics arise in discussion that may be more meaningful to the audience than the one you had planned. If you really know your subject, utilize it and enjoy the ad-libbing teaching moment. That’s the epitome of “live and in person.”
Speaking With Your Audience
Don’t speak to your audience. Speak with them. I like to walk among the group, engaging people individually. For example, I may stand next to one of the attendees and make eye contact before saying, “My experience with topical anesthetics has been… How do you feel about that?” And the next thing I know, several other people in the room want to say something as well, and now I’ve engaged my group in its entirety.
One of the most important principles of interpersonal engagement is making other people the center of attention, making them feel valued, worthy, and important. That principle applies to friendships, to dating, to marriage, to working with coworkers and employees, and to speaking to a class full of students. Audiences are very sensitive about being patronized or talked down to.
The educational experience is an interactive one. It’s not about you. The people in front of you are there because they’re looking for that “something” and expecting and hoping for a special experience. And most of the time they paid good money to be there. Don’t short change or disappoint them.
After 50 years of experience as an educator, I can tell you that your students don’t care about how much you know as much as they care that you are open about sharing that knowledge and that you make it enjoyable.