How can we improve as teachers/presenters, and do we really want to improve?
Those questions are important for us to consider as teachers.
I’m reading Timothy J. Koegel’s The Exceptional Presenter Goes Virtual (2010). His book is targeted to individuals who are interested in conducting meetings online, hosting webinars, etc. I decided to read the book as more teaching and meetings involve online presentations. Many of his tips, which are typically discussed in terms of conducting business training online, would work well in classroom teaching.
About midway through the book, Koegel writes: “Most presenters never even think about the basic skills you are reviewing in this book. Most are not concerned about improving the way they present. For that matter, most presenters have no desire to review or critique their delivery style or level of effectiveness. They just keep presenting the way they have always presented.”
Because you are reading this post, I’m optimistic that you do, in fact, want to be more effective in your teaching/presenting. So here are five tips for improving your presentations. I’m taking some of Koegel’s tips and adding some of my own advice:
1. Plan each class session – Although it would seem that the importance of planning would be evident, Koegel says many presenters schedule a meeting and may have an agenda but haven’t really mapped out and planned the presentation. That can be true for teachers, too. Having a list of topics to present in class does mean that you have a plan, but that should be just the start of your lesson planning. You need to think about what’s the best way to convey each of those topics, what order to use in presenting the topics, and how much time to spend on each topic.
2. Make your class so interesting that students are engaged – Koegel discusses the importance of NOT letting your online participants get distracted, straying from the meeting to check e-mail for example. Although that off-task behavior is easier to do in an online setting, off-task temptations exist in the classroom, whether it’s reading the campus newspaper or sending a text with a cell phone. Koegel says that you must plan your presentations to make them interesting and engaging so that the participants want to pay attention. That applies to classroom teaching. You need to make the class interesting enough that students are paying attention. That requires strategies beyond lecturing (although some lecturing can be engaging).
3. Use active learning strategies – One approach to keeping the students interested is including activitites that get them involved. Have them work with a classmate or small group to discuss the assigned reading or a problem you pose and then have them report back to the class. This activity can work even in a large auditorium class. (In my class of 150, I sometimes have to whistle to get everyone’s attention and get them back into a group mode after they are talking in teams.) Timing these small group activitites to break up a class period can help energize the class for the rest of class.
4. Set rules for the group for staying on task – I was interested in Koegel’s discussion of the importance of establishing on-task behavior guidelines for an online business meeting. In some cases, the presenter may be asking for confirmation from each member of the meeting that they will avoid being distracted — no surfing the Web, no e-mailing, etc. If business professionals may be tempted by distractions during a meeting, the same is true for students in class. You may need to establish on-task policies for the class, such as no cell phone or laptop use in class. Most students tell me that they are more tuned in to class when they can’t use their laptops or phones during class. Even if they plan to take notes, they wind up straying off to check Facebook or send a quick text. It’s best to establish your policy at the beginning of the semester and include it in your syllabus.
5. Critique your teaching – Koegel advises you to “record yourself and then critique your presentation.” He says that the process of critiquing your presentation will lead to improvement. “A 10 percent improvement in your delivery skills could make the difference between a run-of-the-mill presentation and an exceptional presentation.” I agree that seeing/hearing yourself in action can help you identify what you’re doing well and areas that you can work on. Some universities have a teaching center or a technology center with staff who can record classroom teaching. If that’s not possible, you have several other options.
- Record yourself with a Flip camera or other small video camera – You can position a camera on a tripod (even a little tripod will work), press record and then teach. (You can ask a student in class to assist with the recording. Most would be pleased that you would like their technical assistance.)
- Audio record yourself – This can be much easier for you to do if you are handling the recording yourself. Many cell phones have a recording option. I find listening to an audio recording of my teaching helps me analyze my pacing (too fast, too slow), my voice quality (Do I sound interested in the topic myself?), any verbal distractions (“you know”), and whether my voice is trailing off at times.
- Have a colleague observe and critique your teaching – If you aren’t ready for the technology aspects of recording your teaching, you can ask a colleague you respect to observe your teaching. Talk with your colleague before the observations, sharing background about the class and any particular aspects you’d like the colleague to be looking for. Peer observations are something we don’t do enough of at the university level. We can learn a lot for seeing others teach and can provide support and teaching advice.
The payoff for readers of Koegel’s book can be a payoff, such as increased sales.
The payoff for teachers of following Koegel’s advice can be improved teaching and learning, improved teacher evaluation scores, and greater engagement in one’s own professional development as a teacher.