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Delivering Lectures

You've figured out your goals for the day, and you have pages of carefully planned notes about what you want to say and how you'd like to say it. But all of your effort will be for naught if you can't deliver the goods.

Your manner of delivery will make or break your lecture, and the best way to improve your delivery is to brush up on your presentation skills. As a teacher and a public speaker, you should balance concern for content (what you say) and rhetoric (how you say it) with attention to delivery (material ways to engage your audience in the classroom). This tenet is true of all teaching, of course, but your presentation skills–or lack thereof–become more evident when you speak to larger audiences.

Think of different lectures you have attended, at school or elsewhere. You've probably experienced tens or even hundreds of them. Which ones do you remember? The really good ones…and the really bad ones. Here are some presentation tips to help you stake your place in the first category.

This section presents some tips and ideas that emphasize delivery style, presentation strategies, and student engagement exercises.

Move beyond monologue

In the previous paragraph, we asked you to reflect on lectures you have experienced, not ones you have merely attended or seen. A good lecture is a dialogue between you and everyone else in the room. That's why you planned those interactive exercises: people learn and retain more detail when someone talks with them, not at them.

Set a conversational tone

Arrive at class a few minutes early and chat with students about topics other than your upcoming lecture. You can break the ice with a comment about current events, a story in the school paper, or a casual check-in ("How are you doing this week? School going okay?") Students are often happily surprised when one of their professors, especially one who teaches a large lecture class, takes time to chat or check in with them. This small act demonstrates your commitment to conversation, not monologue, and can make the auditorium feel a bit smaller.

Later, during your lecture, have some flexibility in your timeline and approach to respond to students' questions and comments. When responding to students, talk to them, not the board, flipchart, or overhead! (More on this point below.)

Get students talking to each other

If they spend this time writing, make sure they also have the chance to talk about their responses with each other. Some students have never had the chance to speak up in lecture classes before. Talking with their classmates–and being called on to share what they've discussed–lets them know that your lecture will be more interactive than others.

An aside on this introductory interactive exercise idea: After you call on a few groups for feedback, present the lecture's goals. Reinforce the importance of the opening activity by connecting it directly to those goals. This connection is important because students might not see the point of talking in pairs in a class of over a hundred participants. (One student told me a couple of years ago that putting the class into groups "is an easy way for teachers to kill time.")

Explain briefly at the beginning of the term why you're using groups in your lecture class, then relate different group activities to some daily goals. You will reinforce course content, establish expectations for active learning, and help students understand why you aren't just talking to them for the entire class period like some of their other lecturing professors do.

Pay attention to your speaking skills

Use variety in your voice:

  • change volume from forceful to soft;
  • change speed and tempo of speech;
  • pause and be silent (to get attention)...think period at the end of your sentences!
  • speak to the students NOT the board, flip- chart, or overhead;
  • enunciate clearly;
  • avoid repeating words/phrases/fillers (i.e., "umm, okay, uhhhh......")

Use other noises to hold attention: tap briefly on the board or flipchart, snap fingers, slap table to emphasize a point;

Show enthusiasm:

  • vary speech (from excited speech to a whisper);
  • raise eyebrows; open eyes wide, maintain eye contact (but do not stare; also look at students not your notes, scan the entire group, look at students individually for 3-4 seconds each);
  • move freely, naturally, change pace of moving (rapidly to slowly...but do not pace back and forth);
  • use highly descriptive words, broad smile, and vary your facial expression;
  • show high degree of energy/vitality; (highly demonstrative);
  • be quick to accept, praise, encourage or clarify, nod head when agreeing;
  • try to have an enthusiastic conversation with students rather than lecture at them.
  • smile often; be friendly and positive;

Use visuals

Use visuals to increase understanding and impact.

Give students a structured handout for taking notes (i.e., major headings and subheadings with spaces to take notes);

Enliven your presentation with cartoons and over-heads;


  • title every handout;
  • use different colored paper with different topics, issues, etc.
  • hand out hard copies of slides (PowerPoint, etc.), overheads...consider leaving blanks for students to complete as you speak....this helps maintain attention and participation.


  • place flipchart close to learners;
  • place key points on chart (no lengthy material);
  • print letters 1-2 inches high;
  • use a broad-tipped (not a fine-tipped) pen;
  • title top of chart page;
  • TOUCH, TURN, TALK (do not speak while writing);
  • use black pens (blue and green is okay too), not red....use red only for underlining.
  • use equal spacing between words... no squeezing words in!!
  • prepare flipcharts ahead and show when needed.
  • tear pages off and put them on the wall with masking tape, to keep information in view. Tear tape beforehand too and place on the back of the chart (efficient and saves time!).

Overhead/LCD Panel:

  • leave lights on in room!!
  • put screen in the corner to your left;
  • check for readability from the furthest area of the classroom;
  • leave projector light on ONLY while discussing transparency;
  • face the students, not the screen;
  • point with pencil to projector, not the screen;
  • always have a spare bulb!!
  • without a screen, project on a light-colored wall;

Offer enhanced lectures

Recent pedagogy on the lecture format encourages teachers to create "enhanced lectures," or hybrid presentations that combine the best of the traditional lecture format with the active learning and smaller-room feel of discussion courses. Everything that we discussed in "Planning Lectures" leads up to the creation of enhanced lectures: distilling your content into brief lectures interspersed with multiple active learning exercises; organizing these mini-lectures and activities to maximize retention; paying attention to your delivery skills to ensure consistent student engagement.

Plenty of discussion format strategies translate to the lecture auditorium.

Make a point of learning your students' names

I know there are nearly 300 people in that room, but some professors swear by this strategy to help even the largest classes feel a bit smaller and to let students know that their engagement and participation will be welcome (and expected) throughout the term.

If space permits, use name tents (heavy cardstock paper folded in half and perched on the edge of desks) or ask students to hold up their name card when they ask a question.

Always ask students for their names when you call on them, then try to mention their names again during the same class period. ("That's a good point, Rachel. It recalls what Myan said about the third law of thermodynamics." Be sure to gesture back in Myan's direction to remind yourself and the class where Myan sits.

Hand back papers and exams in person to connect names and faces

As encouraged above, arrive at class early and get to know some students before each class.

Your goal does not have to be to have all 300 names at your fingertips. Just learning and remembering a fraction of them can mean much to students who, are typically identified in large lecture classes by number rather than name.

Check student understanding

Here are some ways to make sure students are following the main ideas in your lecture.

Ask students to answer given questions (i.e., "Who can describe in their own words the theory of....?")

Verify student responses by:

  • providing the correct answer;
  • some possible correct answers;
  • show answer on board or overhead or flipchart etc.

Guide incorrect answers by:

  • asking a guiding question;
  • explaining the missing idea and then allow student to answer;
  • describing what student is doing wrong;

Ask questions about each major point, first at a recall level, and then gradually increase to more complex levels--comprehension, analysis, synthesis, application, or evaluation.

Ask students to share questions (i.e., "What questions do you have at this point?" or "Write down the muddiest point for you at this time. Then I'll collect and address your questions.)

Present a problem (or test item), or case study which requires use of lecture content to answer. (i.e., Based on the content covered so far, answer this multiple choice item...").

Watch the class for nonverbal signs of confusion (i.e., loss of eye contact, talking, or clock watching).

Reach for the back rows

Whether you're lecturing in one of your 12-15 minute blocks or calling on students during 3-5 minute exercises in between, make a point of incorporating everyone into your conversation. Too often, lecturers focus on the front half of the classroom. After all, students in those rows don't typically spend the period reading the newspaper, doing crossword puzzles, eating lunch, or sleeping. People usually drift toward the back rows for that.

Here are a few ways to reach those back rows:

Wander the aisles

Get a wireless microphone, and go up to the top of the room, down toward the bottom, stop halfway in between. Try spending five minutes in the middle of the aisle. Your presence in a new part of the room breaks up any spatial monotony that might lull otherwise distracted students into continuing with their distraction, and it catches the attention of students in the entire room. They're not used to lecturing professors wandering around the entire auditorium!

Call on students back there all day. Acknowledging the back rows once in a 90-minute lecture is not much engagement. Instead, try to ask for back row input more often.

(This tip might beg the question: "How many questions am I going to ask during a lecture anyway?" The answer is: "As many as you'd ask in a discussion class." See "2. Offer enhanced lectures" above.)

Make the back row the front row

During the first week or two of the course, create a seating chart based on where students have chosen to sit for themselves. (That is, do not assign seats; just record the seats they've chosen.) Tell students that you've made a chart and want them to remember their seats. Then, at the beginning of the next class, tell everyone to sit one row behind their original seats. All rows will shift backwards except for the back row itself; those students come down to the front row.

Some teachers are put off by the logistics of this strategy, but you don't have to forfeit the first ten minutes of your class for the rest of the term to arrange this situation. After two or three class sessions, students will know where they're expected to sit. What makes this practice work is your attitude: don't abandon it a few weeks into the course. Students will adapt to it quickly if you maintain the momentum.

Maintain the momentum

Some lectures don't just run long for audiences. Presenters get tired, too, especially if the session is not exactly going well. You've had one of those days (or, if you're a new teacher, you'll have one at some point!): the opening exercise doesn't generate much conversation; your first 12-minute lecture lasted 25 minutes; even your typically active students seem sapped of their usual verve. It can be enough to make even seasoned lecturers toss out their careful plans and just talk everyone to the end of the show.

But skipping the mixed-format approach sets a precedent that can be difficult to overcome. If it's all right to slide back into monologue for one day, well, why not two? It's much easier, frankly, to arrange notes to talk for 90 minutes rather than design and execute relevant active learning exercises. And, from students' perspectives, if we skipped those interactive exercises last week, why should we do them this week? For that matter, why do we have to sit in assigned rows? Why can't we sit where we want? Just stream this puppy online so I can watch it in my dorm room!

Delivering consistently good lectures is (like the presidency, evidently) hard work. High quality teaching always requires discipline and focus, and the lecture format draws heavily on these points. Good lecturers need to deliver lectures that demonstrate consistent standards and expectations of students. Good lecturers need to maintain the momentum.

Here are some ways to keep it going all term:

Establish good lecturing practices early and use them every time

This is the discipline part. As we discussed in "Planning Lectures," you should use some blend of lecture, active learning, and discussion. Students will come to recognize this routine and understand what you expect of them. They will also appreciate your energy. Really. Because your lectures are unlike any other lectures they've experienced.

Mix up your routine

"But you just told me to establish a consistent routine!" True–but the beauty of lecturing is in its elasticity: its mixed format includes three lecture sections and three exercise breaks. That gives you six chances at a fresh start during every class!

So, you can mix up your routine while staying in it.

Rather than use the same activity to open each class, mix it up. Ask students to find a partner in another part of the room–the variation can be worth the extra time.

Ask two or three students to be responsible for one active learning exercise per day. If you meet three times a week for fifteen weeks, you'll draw on the talents of 90-135 students during the term, and you'll be mixing up your routine even as you maintain it.

Again, the logistics of this strategy quickly fall into line. You can randomly assign groups early in the term (perhaps pairing students with their row-mates, with whom they will sit in different parts of the auditorium throughout the entire term). Give students a brief handout outlining the goals of these three-minute exercises, and make yourself available via email to discuss their ideas, if they like.

If one lecture section doesn't go well, turn to and complete the exercise, then shift focus in your next lecture chunk as necessary to re-energize yourself and the class. When you get your enthusiasm back, so will they.

Done for the day? Time to reflect

Now that you've successfully delivered your carefully planned lecture, take time to review what went well, what didn't, and how you can build on its strengths and avoid pitfalls. The next section of this workshop offers ways to evaluate your lectures by yourself and with the help of others.