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Communication in the Real World: Blog

Entries in Tips (4)


To Lecture or Not to Lecture? It Depends.....

Lecturing as a method of content delivery has long been established in higher education. As models of instruction have become more team- and activity-oriented in K-12 classrooms, students coming into college now may be discomfited by the wall of words they hit.

I was prompted to write this blog entry after hearing a fellow basic course director make the following claim: "Lecturing is the equivalent of academic pole-dancing." So, does this mean that college professors and instructors who lecture use it to be the "center of attention" and/or as a shield meant to deflect students' questions or challenges while simultaneously hiding the lecturers own insecurity? Well, probably not, but it was still fun to see how far we could take that analogy.

Much research has been done comparing lecturing with other teaching methods.[i] So, when should we lecture? When should we not lecture? How can we improve lectures?

Cons of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing does not help students retain information at the end of a course as well as other methods (like discussion)
  2. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in helping students transfer knowledge to new situations
  3. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in developing problem solving kills
  4. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in motivating students for further learning

Pros of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing can be used to present up-to-date information that may not be included in textbooks
  2. Lecturing can summarize material scattered over a variety of sources
  3. Lecturing can help students read more effectively by orienting students to new material and providing a conceptual framework
  4. Lecturing can focus student attention on key content

Tips for Effective Lectures

  1. Put content that you are excited about in lectures.
  2. Move around to engage the audience; don’t get stuck behind a lectern or computer.
  3. Actually write out examples; don’t expect them to “come to you” as you lecture.
  4. Include notes to yourself to stop and ask for questions or pose a direct question to the audience.
  5. Start the lecture by connecting to something the audience has already learned, and then say what this lecture will add to their knowledge and how it fits into what will be learned later in the class.
  6. Do not lecture for more than twenty minutes without breaking it up with something more interactive.

[i] Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 13th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011): 55–71.


Five Listening Tips for College Students: Listening Success in the Classroom

As the infographic above notes, 400 first-year students were given a listening test before they started classes. At the end of that year, 49 percent of the students with low scores were on academic probation. Only 4 percent of those who scored high were.[i] 

Listening takes work

Listening effectively isn’t something that just happens; it takes work on the part of students and teachers. One of the most difficult challenges for teachers is eliciting good listening behaviors from their students, and the method of instruction teachers use affects how a student will listen and learn.[ii]

Given that there are different learning styles, we know that to be effective teachers may have to find some way to appeal to each learning style. Although teachers often make this attempt, it is also not realistic or practical to think that this practice can be used all the time.

Therefore, students should also think of ways they can improve their listening competence, because listening is an active process that we can exert some control over.

5 Listening Tips for College Students

1. Be prepared to process challenging messages

You can use the internal dialogue strategy we discussed earlier to “mentally repair” messages that you receive to make them more listenable.[iii] For example, you might say, “It seems like we’ve moved on to a different main point now. See if you can pull out the subpoints to help stay on track.”

2. Act like a good listener

While I’m not advocating that you engage in pseudo-listening, engaging in active listening behaviors can help you listen better when you are having difficulty concentrating or finding motivation to listen.

Make eye contact with the instructor and give appropriate nonverbal feedback.

Students often take notes only when directed to by the instructor or when there is an explicit reason to do so (e.g., to recall information for an exam or some other purpose). Since you never know what information you may want to recall later, take notes even when it’s not required that you do so. As a caveat, however, do not try to transcribe everything your instructor says or includes on a PowerPoint, because you will likely miss information related to main ideas that is more important than minor details. Instead, listen for main ideas.

3. Be deliberate about where you sit

Figure out from where the instructor most frequently speaks and sit close to that area. Being able to make eye contact with an instructor facilitates listening, increases rapport, allows students to benefit more from immediacy behaviors, and minimizes distractions since the instructor is the primary stimulus within the student’s field of vision.

4. Know your learning style

Figure out your preferred learning style and adopt listening strategies that compliment it.

Take the Learning Styles Inventory survey at the following link to determine what your primary learning style is: Do some research to identify specific listening/studying strategies that work well for your learning style.

5. Don't be hesitant about asking questions

Let your instructor know when you don’t understand something. Instead of giving a quizzical look that says “What?” or pretending you know what’s going on, let your instructor know when you don’t understand something. Instead of asking the instructor to simply repeat something, ask her or him to rephrase it or provide an example. When you ask questions, ask specific clarifying questions that request a definition, an explanation, or elaboration.

Question to Consider: 

1. What are some listening challenges that you face in the classroom? What can you do to overcome them?

[i]   Martha S. Conaway, “Listening: Learning Tool and Retention Agent,” in Improving Reading and Study Skills, eds. Anne S. Algier and Keith W. Algier (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1982).

[ii] Melissa L. Beall et al., “State of the Context: Listening in Education,” The International Journal of Listening 22 (2008): 124.

[iii] Donald L. Rubin, “Listenability = Oral-based Discourse + Considerateness,” in Perspectives on Listening, ed. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 277.


Tips for Using Statistics in Speeches, Papers, and Presentations

Statistics are numerical representations of information. They are very credible in our society, as evidenced by their frequent use by news agencies, government offices, politicians, and academics.

As a speaker, writer, or presenter you can capitalize on the power of statistics if you use them appropriately. Unfortunately, statistics are often misused by speakers who intentionally or unintentionally misconstrue the numbers to support their argument without examining the context from which the statistic emerged. All statistics are contextual, so plucking a number out of a news article or a research study and including it in your speech or paper without taking the time to understand the statistic is unethical. 

Although statistics are popular as supporting evidence, they can also be boring. There will inevitably be people in your audience who are not good at processing numbers. Even people who are good with numbers have difficulty processing through a series of statistics presented orally.

Remember that we have to adapt our information to listeners who don’t have the luxury of pressing a pause or rewind button. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to avoid using too many statistics and to use startling examples when you do use them. Startling statistics should defy our expectations. When you give the audience a large number that they would expect to be smaller, or vice versa, you will be more likely to engage them, as the following example shows: “Did you know that 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity? That’s about 20 percent of the world’s population according to a 2009 study on the International Energy Agency’s official website.” 

You should also repeat key statistics at least once for emphasis. In the previous example, the first time we hear the statistic 1.3 billion, we don’t have any context for the number. Translating that number into a percentage in the next sentence repeats the key statistic, which the audience now has context for, and repackages the information into a percentage, which some people may better understand.

You should also round long numbers up or down to make them easier to speak. Make sure that rounding the number doesn’t distort its significance. Rounding 1,298,791,943 to 1.3 billion, for example, makes the statistic more manageable and doesn’t alter the basic meaning.

It is also beneficial to translate numbers into something more concrete for visual or experiential learners by saying, for example, “That’s equal to the population of four Unites States of Americas.” While it may seem easy to throw some numbers in your speech or paper to add to your credibility, it takes more work to make them impactful, memorable, and effective.

Tips for Using Statistics

  1. Make sure you understand the context from which a statistic emerges.
  2. Don’t overuse statistics.
  3. Use startling statistics that defy the audience’s expectations.
  4. Repeat key statistics at least once for emphasis.
  5. Use a variety of numerical representations (whole numbers, percentages, ratios) to convey information.
  6. Round long numbers to make them easier to speak.
  7. Translate numbers into concrete ideas for more impact.



How to Deliver Effective Conference Presentations

Me and some friends at NCA in 2006An Introduction to Conferences: Undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and administrators have opportunities to present at academic conferences, which are local, regional, national, or international events at which students, teachers, professionals, and practitioners gather to discuss and share knowledge in a particular field of study. Presenting at or even attending a conference can be intimidating. The National Communication Association provides useful resources on the “how to” of academic conferencing including frequently asked questions and professional standards and guidelines that will be helpful when preparing for any conference:

Give Your Presentation a SEXY Title: When planning a presentation at an academic conference, you should spend time creating a “sexy” and descriptive title. You want something “sexy,” meaning that it gets people’s attention and connects to a current and relevant topic, and descriptive so that people can get a sense for what the presentation will include. Most conferences have numerous concurrent sessions running, so in a way, you are competing with people in other rooms who are speaking at the same time slot. Getting people in the room is important for networking to take place. The blog entry at the following link contains useful information about “How to Write Killer Conference Session Titles that Attract Attendees”:

Figure Out the Take Home Message: The “take home message” is the one concept or finding that captures the combined importance of all the data and findings. This is what the speaker wants the audience to have memorized by the end of the speech. It provides a theme or thread for the whole presentation and can therefore be used to help determine what needs to stay in the presentation and what should be left out. This functions like the thesis statement of a typical informative or persuasive speech.

Identify the Main Question: The next step in preparing the presentation is identifying the main question. The main question will be answered in the talk through the presentation of data and findings. The take home message should be related to the main question, perhaps even answer it, as this provides a logical flow for the presentation. Explicitly stating the take home message and main question in the speech helps the audience process the information, and helps a speaker keep only the information relevant to them, which helps prevent information overload. 

Don't Speed Talk or Speed Read: A frequent complaint about conference presentations stems from speakers who try to cram too much information into their ten-minute time-slot. Presenters at academic conferences are usually presenting recently completed original research or research that is in progress. The papers that are submitted for review for the conference are usually about 25-30 pages long. It would take about an hour to present the whole paper, but since most conference occur as part of a panel, with four to five speakers and a 75-minute time slot, each speaker usually gets between 10 and 15 minutes to present. Therefore, conference presenters must use their editing skills to hack their papers apart to fit their time limit.

Don't be THAT Person: Even at communication conferences, where presenters definitely “know better,” I’ve seen people try to speed read their way through a 10-12 page paper because they could only bring themselves to cut it down by half. As a writer, I know it’s difficult to cut your own work down, because we often think that everything is important, but it’s really not, and even if it was, there’s not time to go over it all.  

How Many People Will Show Up?: Additionally, it’s very difficult to anticipate how many people will attend your conference session – it may be forty, or two. I usually prepare a typically formal conference presentation for an audience of ten to thirty people, but I am also prepared to do something more informal. Especially in situations where there are more panelists than audience members, I’ve found it useful to just make a circle with chairs and have a more informal and interactive discussion.

Additional Info: The following link contains some information from the National Communication Association about “How to Make the Most of your Presentation.”


[i] Scott Morgan and Barrett Whitener, Speaking about Science: A Manual for Creating Clear Presentations (New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006), 9-16, 35-47.