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March 15, 2005
Avoiding 'Death by Lecture'

Try the "7-minute solution." Has this ever happened to you? You're totally prepared ... you know the material cold ... your delivery is flawless ... your slides are brilliant ... and yet you come to the end of your training session wondering if anyone actually heard anything you said. If you suspect that you may have lectured them to death, you probably didn't realize that most adults can sit and listen to someone else talk for only about 7 minutes before their minds begin to drift off. What's the solution? Pre-program your presentation with ways to surprise your listeners into engaging their minds every 5 to 7 minutes or so.

Plan to be unpredictable. According to Sharon Bowman, a corporate trainer and author of a book called "Preventing Death By Lecture," trainers should be willing to do whatever it takes to keep their listeners on their mental toes. Bowman and other training experts say there are many devices you can use, such as:

  • Moving around the room, instead of staying rooted to one spot
  • Asking questions of audience members
  • Writing key messages on a blackboard or flipchart
  • Varying your tone of voice from loud to soft or vice versa
  • Telling a story, joke, or riddle
Why It Matters...
  • Audiences who become bored and inattentive do not absorb the important safety messages being presented.
  • Keeping your audience guessing "What is he or she going to do next?" is an effective way to hold their attention.
  • Training effectively the first time means less time spent in retraining and going over information that has already been presented.

Whatever device you use, try to have fun and inject some humor. Find the types of "attention getters" that work best for you, and build them into your script (yes, sometimes being spontaneous takes planning). Eventually, you'll probably find it easier to be unpredictable, and you'll develop a keener sense of when your audience is starting to zone out and what you can do to prevent it.

Slides can be fatal, too. It's tempting to think that using PowerPoint or overhead slides can overcome the narcotic effect of a standard lecture--but that's often not the case. Use slides by all means, but remember that the "7-minute solution" still applies. There's no reason why you can't turn the projector off at an appropriate stopping point, turn up the lights, do something different to reclaim your audience's attention, and then go back to the next part of your slides.

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