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How To Prepare And Present A Lecture English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5466 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“Lecturing is not simply a matter of standing in front of a number people and reciting what you know. A lecture is a special form of communication in which voice, gesture, movement, facial expression, and eye contact can either complement or detract from the content”.1

A lecture preparation may initially seem to be a simple task, but the truth is that it requires a long process of study and comprehension of the subject as well as a careful and well-organised preparation. Otherwise stated, a lecture preparation requires the ability of the speaker to collect specific material and key points, put them into a concise text and represent them clearly and accurately, using the available aids in front of an audience of a specialised background or not within a limited period of time. It also requires a combination of a thorough knowledge and an extensive experience on the subject to be presented as well as a strict application of basic steps that will lead to the successful delivery of the lecture.

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Making a first-rate presentation not only opens doors to many career opportunities and boosts the self-esteem,5 but also can influence the beliefs, thoughts and ideas as well as broaden the knowledge of the attendees in the domain of their specialization. Given that presenting well, especially at scientific meetings is important in developing one’s career,11 it becomes clear the delivering a scientific lecture is not only a demanding but also a challenging task.

The presentation of a lecture consists of three phases: 1) the receipt of the invitation, 2) the acceptance of the invitation and 3) the actual delivery of the lecture. The person who is directly involved in all the above-mention phases is the lecturer. At first, the lecturer should necessarily take time to read carefully the invitation to deliver a lecture and take into consideration all the relevant factors such as the subject of the lecture, the reason of his invitation, the day, place and time of the lecture, the sponsors and his transportation, accommodation and meals in cases where the lecture will take place in another town or country. Should the lecturer accept the invitation a long process of preparation is launched and will be clearly analyzed in the following pages.

The present essay will provide a detailed analysis on how a lecture should be properly prepared and delivered. The two basic phases of a lecture (the before-lecture phase and the during-lecture phase) will be clearly explained, by mentioning what should be taken into consideration and avoided both before and during a lecture. All the afore-mentioned will be supported by a series of examples thereupon provided.

2. Preparing a Lecture

To begin with, the preparation of a lecture has two main phases, namely the before-lecture phase and the during-lecture phase. Both phases are interdependent and a great emphasis should therefore be thereon laid.

2.1 The before-lecture Phase

As the Greek proverb goes, “the beginning is the half of all things”. The before-lecture phase is indeed the very beginning of a lecture preparation on which the success of the lecture to be presented is based to a great extent. It is well-known that about 80% of the effort comes before the presentation. The actual talk comprises only 20%.7 Should the preparation is meticulously prepared, then an outstanding presentation will be achieved. The before-lecture phase comprises everything that has to be taken into consideration before the delivery of the lecture. That is to say there is a number of key factors, namely the where, how, who and what factors, that are of vital importance for the speaker to know.

2.1.1 The “where” Factor

First and foremost, the place where the lecture will be delivered plays an important role for a successful lecture preparation. The speaker should get informed in advanced about the place where the lecture will be delivered in order to prepare himself in terms of tickets, accommodation and transportation means in cases the lecture will take place in another country. Should the lecture take place in the speaker’s home country, then he should familiarize himself with the location and its surroundings. In other words, the speaker should visit the place if possible. Therefore, he will estimate the number of people who are likely to attend the lecture and get informed about the projection equipment available, the lightning and the podium height.2 The speaker has also the right to order any additional equipment he may need for the lecture purposes, check whether the available ones work properly, or learn how to operate the lightning and the sound system of the room.

2.1.2 The “how” Factor

Once the place of the lecture is defined, it is significant to identify the way of the lecture presentation in terms of the language used according to the audience background, the material to be collected according to the subject and the “take home messages” according to the scope. He should also identify the visual aids to be used and create a written version of the talk in order to practice before the actual delivery. Language Used

A language is a system of signs (indices, icons, symbols) for encoding and decoding information and the ability to use speech originated in remote prehistoric times.10 It is clear thus, that being able to express in words everything that exists in mind as well as to convey successfully the intended message to a number of people sitting in front of you indicates the great gift of mastering a language. The speakers of international lectures could be characterised as cultural mediators, since through their way of talking they constitute a bridge that connects people of different scientific backgrounds, cultures and most likely of different languages. Given that most international medical or scientific conferences are held in English,6 all lecturers are required to have a proficient knowledge of the English language, be able to state and explain clearly the basic points of the lecture and to conduct easily a discussion on subjects of a specialised domain, such as medicine, technology, computer science etc. The challenge is to keep brief written materials in order to expand verbally beyond what is written, to change the word order, to include more interesting points, examples or clarifications.6 The verbal expression will help the non-native English speakers to understand the meaning both in writing and orally and the native English speakers to remain engaged by the additional oral information.6 The loud speaking should be avoided since it does not increase the non-native English speakers’ comprehension. On the contrary loud speaking is likely to provoke fatigue and headache to the audience, resulting to their being absent-minded. At this point, it should be stressed that common terms or words used in the specific domain of specialization would be more preferable in order to ensure a better and more to-the-point understanding. The speaker should carefully opt for the words to be used by taking into consideration the audience’s domain of specialization as well as its cultural background. He should avoid idioms, contractions or metaphors in order to facilitate the comprehension of both non-native and native English speakers. Finally, one should never forget that the simple spoken word remains a cornerstone of communication.4 The success of those standing at the podium depends on what they say and how they say it.4 Verbal skills are therefore of vital importance for a competent lecturer.

Material Collection

Assessing the right amount of material is one of the greater challenges.4 What facilitates the material collection is always the identification and full understanding of the lecture’s scope. The lecturer should not only have a professional knowledge about the subject to be presented, but also be able to decide on the main points and present them correctly in order to achieve the aim of the lecture. Moreover, according to the time available for the lecture the speaker should determine the “take home key points” of the presentation5 and gather them in a concise form of presentation. The time allocated for the lecture will therefore help him determine the right amount of material to be included. Once the speaker has assessed the right amount of material, he should start creating illustrations in the form of slides, of which no more than 25-30 should be included in a 45-minute lecture.4 In addition, the speaker should prepare an amount of material that takes 10% less time than the allocated4, in order to manage to conclude the presentation on time, by taking always into consideration the time needed for questions, answers, further clarifications and the conclusion. Finally, it should be stressed that knowing the material well and having sufficient material gives the lecturer confidence and flexibility at the podium. 5 Visual Aids

A presentation is always more vivid and comprehensible when supported by visual aids. Visual aids can be effective in maintaining the interest, but only if they are used in judgment.3 There are many types of visual aids such as maps, graphs, charts, photographs, pictures, posters etc. The most commonly used visual aids for lectures, and more precisely for the scientific lectures are the slides. Preparing slides needs both a scientific and an artistic approach. 7 That is to say, a combination of a scientific knowledge of the subject and an artistic taste on how to present and convey the intended message better is required. The use of slides in a presentation is widely known and has many advantages indeed. Firstly, slides help the audience to concentrate, save the efforts and time spent on explanation and improve effectiveness of the message. 7 Secondly, they are considered to be quality visual aids for presentations with numbers, figures or new concepts.7 Thirdly, they can serve the speaker’s notes for important points and they can be useful in pacing the talk.7 Each slide may be modified according to the knowledge of the target audience or adapted to the allocated time. For instance, the speaker may erase some less importance words or phrases, or highlight key terms. The slides are used to reinforce the talk7, considering that the audience may read the slides while the speaker talks without interrupting him.

A step forward, good-looking slides should be described as appropriate, accurate, legible, comprehensible, well-executed, interesting and above all memorable. 7 Otherwise stated, there should be a good reason for using and showing each slide, so that they are appropriate for the specific subject of a lecture. The slides should be very carefully and cleverly chosen and should include accurate information and spellings, including names of people, organizations, institutions etc., where deemed necessary. Moreover, they should be legible in order to avoid the eye fatigue of the attendees. For example, it is more preferable to use a 18-point font for the slide text and a minimum font size of 36-points for the titles on each slide.7 It would also be better to use a simple font such as Arial, Tahoma, Zurich or Times New Roman, instead of a fancy calligraphic font that prevents the easy reading of the phrases. In general, there should be no more than seven lines of material per slide, including the title and subtitle. The individual lines should be no more than seven words in width. Upper and lower case letters are more preferable than capitals.8 Additionally, considering that a first-rate presentation is an effective combination of verbal and visual elements, it is good to know that the use of illustrations help to explain concepts that cannot be verbalized.7 Any illustrations to be used are likely to maintain the audience attentive as well as to clarify, restate, explain and interpret 7 all the important points or concepts of the lecture. However, it should be underlined that, according to the rules, if a slide cannot be understood by the audience in four seconds, the slide is bad.9

Should the speaker decide to use charts and graphs in its presentation he should carefully opt for the right ones, aiming to make the audience to absorb the point at a glance.7 For instance, the horizontal bar chart can be used for comparing items at one point in time, while for comparing parts of a whole, a pie chart is more appropriate.7 The charts should be made easy to read. For this purpose, colours, shading or arrows could be used in order to highlight the key words or concepts. The most important text could become larger or the most important data lines darker.7 As far as the illustrations are concerned, it should also be mentioned that tables are also effective if percentages are used for comparison.8 It should be stressed that crowding a lot of words, terms or concepts in small boxes or spaces should be avoided, in order to facilitate the clear view of what is written in a slide. Should the speaker decide to use photos, he should carefully opt for those who will neither provoke any disgusts to the audience nor violate anyone’s right of privacy. Otherwise stated, should a photo illustrate an injury, it would be preferable to opt for an illustration rather than a picture taken in a real life accident. Additionally, should a photo illustrate a related person but it is considered useful to be included in the lecture, it would be ethically proper to obtain that person’s consent before using it.

All the above-mentioned should be included in a well-organised slide layout in order to provide a successful presentation. That is to say, the first slide should show the title, the presenter’s name and the presenter’s institution. This should be followed by an introductory slide which will be followed by the main contents. The last slide should be the summary or the conclusion, in conjunction with the references and the acknowledgments. Each slide should be self-explanatory and have a title.7

It is important for the speaker to know in advance the exact content and purpose of each slide and be able to explain it in his own words, without uncertainties and ambiguities. The experience and thorough knowledge on the presented subject increases the speaker’s confidence, prepares him for possible questions on the slides included in the presentation and enables him to answer clearly, accurately and to the point. Finally, it would be helpful to provide a copy of the presentation and distribute it to the audience before starting the lecture. Writing the Talk

Writing down the talk to be delivered shows the professionalism and indulgence of the lecturer and is a step that should never be ignored. The writing-down procedure has several benefits for the speaker and ensures a successful delivery of the lecture. It helps the speaker not only to clarify what will be presented, but also to see clearly the sequence of the points to be mentioned. This will lead to the identification of any gasps in logic or content.5 One of the best approaches of writing a lecture is to start with the “whole text” and then highlight or underline the core points, before going on to the short version.4 An ideal writing of a lecture should end up with a “catchword manuscript”4, in the form of cards. The cards could contain words, concepts and phrases to guide the lecturer. At this point, it should be stressed that the speaker should always use the same words in writing as he used in the slides,8 in order not to be confused with the specific purpose of each slide. However, notes should not be read but memorized only.5

The speaker’s being familiar with the subject is the best way to avoid nervousness when at the platform.3 The written form of the lecture should not be taken to the podium, however some relevant important notes would be of vital importance for the speaker. For instance, it would be helpful for the speaker to try to invent some methods that are likely to facilitate the delivery of the lecture. He could highlight specific terms, in order to remember to mention and explain them at the time of presentation or write at the bottom of each card the phrase “next slide please” in order to remember that there are more slides to come.

Prepare and Practice

What is more, a speaker should never forget that practice and more practice is the only ticket for an outstanding presentation. Preparation and practice will help the lecturer arrange his speech according to the time that has been allotted. All speakers shoud keep in mind that it always takes longer to present that which they have written than they think.13 It should also be stressed that going beyond the assigned time shows the speaker’s poor planning and it is usually interpreted as arrogance.13 The lecture practice could be in front of a mirror, a colleague or a family and is surprisingly helpful for the speaker’s personal progress. The speaker should pay attention to the pitch of the voice, the speed of delivery and the breathing.5 It should also be highlighted that rehearsing always boosts the speaker’s confidence, despite the fact that everyone is always anxious before walking to the podium. However, the most important thing is that when the speaker is properly prepared everything will be under control and he will manage to handle the stress in the very first minutes.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that writing down the speech helps the lecturer to convert the presentation in a manuscript for publication purposes, fact that is of vital importance for him and his profession.5 A tip for preparing the manuscript is to incorporate the audience’s feedback and queries in order to enhance the message.5

The “who” Factor

Following the very lengthy procedure of careful consideration on the place and the methods of the lecture delivery, the time comes to think about the persons who are about to attend the lecture. The speaker should know its target audience and consider its needs both before and during a lecture. Otherwise stated, the audience’s interests, background and expertise will shape an effective presentation.2 In general, the amount of the technical details, the types of examples and the major goals of a lecture vary according to each audience.2 The broader the audience is, the more background information must be included and the more results must be explained on the way.4 Moreover, a lecture addressing experts of the speaker’s field may include far more results and deductions and promote further research on the subject.4

On the first hand, using specific medical terminology in front of an audience that comprises doctors and specialists of the speaker’s domain is likely not only to draw their attention but also to enhance the intended message. On the other hand, using the same specialised terminology in front of listeners with little background is likely to provoke confusions, misunderstandings and their indifference about the subject. It is generally known that listeners are happier when the presented material is so simply and clearly delivered that they can follow all parts of a lecture.4 Lastly, what the lecturers should always remember is that in lecturing it is almost impossible to underestimate the audience. As a rule the audience should always be overestimated.4

The “what” Factor

Being aware of the type of lecture to be given is of vital importance for the lecture preparation. The speaker must always be informed from the very beginning whether it will be a university course lecture, a talk at a review seminar or a presentation of his own work at an international meeting, considering that the type of the lecture dictates the way one assembles it.4 What is more, the speaker should identify and perfectly understand the scope and purpose of the lecture to be delivered, in order to clarify the material to include and the points to stress during the lecture. It could be underlined that usually, a university course lecture or a seminar talk requires few of the lecturer’s own data, whereas a presentation at a meeting with specialists often comprises the lecturer’s results, set in the perspective of a research sector.4

3. Delivering a Lecture

3.1 The during-lecture Phase

As mentioned earlier the actual talk comprises the 20% of the whole preparation. At this stage, it is time for all theoretical aspects that have been studied and considered to be put into practice. During the talk, the speaker must be fully concentrated and think various things of vital importance at the same time. The main steps towards a successful delivery of the lecture will be analyzed in the following pages.

3.1.1 Time Preceding the Talk

First and foremost, it is clear that a skillful and professional lecturer should verify that he has all necessary equipment before living, such as the slides, notes and the copies of the presentation, his business cards and a watch. The slides and notes will be the supporting materials during the lecture and the copies will be distributed to the audience in order to have the key points already indicated, gaining thus more time for listening than for writing. As far as the business cards are concerned, they are likely to be used at the very first meetings of the lecturer with new colleagues, since they include the lecturer’s contact details. Finally a watch is undoubtedly useful for keeping up with the time that passes so quickly without realizing it. In other words, a watch will remind the lecturer about the hour, in terms of the lecture’s start time, the break’s time or whether he will have to accelerate in order to finish the speech on time. It would also be recommended for the lecturer to have a light meal before the lecture in order not to feel sleepy and tired.

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When arrived at the place of the lecture, the speaker should firstly check out the room.8 He should ensure whether the visual aids function properly, in other words to check out the microphones and the projector. He should also determine how to get to the podium and check the podium’s height so that he audience can see him.5 Then he should load his slides into the carousel8 most preferably by himself, without the help of the projectionist. However, if a projectionist will be running the slides, the lecturer should introduce himself and answer any queries.5 He should also check that the slides are right side up and in the correct order.8

The lecturer should also expect to be a little nervous.8 Any signs of panic, such as perspiration, tachycardia or thirst should not worry him, since they are totally normal during the minutes before a lecture. However, he should try to stay calm and concentrated in his scope. It would be recommended to use the restroom during the time preceding the talk and avoid drinking alcoholic beverages and large quantities of liquids. The only think that the lecturer should think of, is that the lecture to be delivered is significant for his future career and though that he will manage to prove what he is able for.

3.1.2 During the Actual Talk

First of all, the speaker should take into consideration that the oral communication plays an important part in the exchange of scientific information. The main purpose of a congress-oral discussion between participants can be achieved only if a contribution is heard and understood.3 Travelling all around the world in order to attend a seminar or take part in a seminar as a lecturer is usual for many scientists, such as doctors, University professors etc. and they should all feel duty-bound to be informative, interesting and concise.3 Therefore, it is clear that the lecturer should be well aware of what he is committed to do and take into consideration the following significant factors. At the Podium

First and foremost, the speaker should always remember that once he is at the podium, he is not only a researcher, clinician or administrator; he is a teacher.6 He should keep in mind that the audience has come for him, waiting to glean new information and broaden its knowledge, and that is enough for him to be motivated and do his best. It would be polite enough to introduce himself and his topic, being smiling and calm and let the audience know that he is glad to be there. After three deep breaths the lecture may start and the only thing left for the speaker is to enjoy it! The Introduction

The introduction of a lecture is arguably the most important part of a lecture.4 The opening words of a speech must be simple, easily understood and carefully slanted towards the interests of the audience.3 During the introduction, the speaker should firstly define the goals of the lecture, state the major tasks he wishes to fulfill and briefly explain how the latter will be accomplished.2 According to a general rule, no more than three major goals should be undertaken in a single presentation.2 Moreover, the speaker should explain why the lecture is important to his audience, by drawing from specific examples within their background, in order to convince them to listen seriously to him.2 The main goal while talking is to engage the audience, share the collected material and keep everyone awake.6 There are several methods to achieve a successful introduction. Such methods are the following:

Opening with a narration may arouse the interest of the attendees, considering that people like hearing stories.3

Opening with a quotation can be effective if the one chosen is relevant to the speech and points toward a direct statement of the speaker’s purpose.3

Opening with a rhetorical question will center the attention on the purpose of the study and make the audience think about the main subject.3

Opening with a negative statement will enhance the “suspense”3 and make the audience willing to see what comes next.

Opening with a comparison or contrast makes a neat opening3 and motivates the audience to think.

Opening with a descriptive statement3 helps the audience get an exact idea of what will be mentioned.

Moreover, if the speaker is aware of the dominant interest of his audience, he could use it to establish an understanding with them.3

Finally, opening with a funny story3, where deemed necessary usually establishes a friendly relation between the speaker and his audience and releases the tension.

The afore-mentioned methods may be used according to each lecturer’s personal way of conducting a speech as well as to his personality. Main Body of the Lecture

Once the purpose has clearly stated, it is more or less known what is likely to come next. The body of the talk is always based on the organisation of the material already collected. The speaker should start talking based on the slides’ order, by trying to convey his ideas in short and clear statements. He should also use linking words and phrases in order to switch from one slide to another, trying not to make long pauses. The statements should be clear and reasonable. Every word should be chosen and used appropriately and precisely3, always according to each slide. However, the speaker should not stick on the slides and be able to develop the slide’s content in his own words. Should he feel that definition of a term is necessary, he should give the definition when the term is first mentioned. Moreover, if there are experiments to share, they should be closely related to the lecture’s purpose and explained in brief words, due to the time limit. Every minute of the talk is precious and should be exploited to the maximum.

The Audience

The speaker should never forget his audience and leave it in the dark throughout the talk.3 The speaker should face his audience and never turn his back to it during the presentation. The speaker’s challenge at this stage is to identify the learning needs of the audience in order to modulate his message. That is to say, the audience may need to collect new information about a specific subject or get informed about the results of the speaker’s experiments. Therefore, the speaker will adjust his speech accordingly. It would also be advised to observe the activities or facial expressions of the audience and occasionally ask “Am I going too quickly?”2.

What is more, the speaker should take into consideration the attention rate during lectures. According to scientific studies, as the lecture proceedes attention spans become shorter and often fell to three or four minutes towards the end of a standard lecture. […] Adult learners can keep tuned in to a lecture for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and this at the beginning of the class.14 In 1976, A. H. Johnstone and F. Percival identified a general pattern according to which “after three to five minutes of “settling down” at the start of class, the next lapse of attention usually occurres some 10 to 18 minutes later, and as the lecture proceedes the attention span becomes shorter and often falls to three or four minutes towards the end of a standard lecture”.14 The said general pattern is illustrated in the following figure.

Figure 1 12

That is to say, that the speaker should try to state the most important points during the first 20 to 25 minutes of the lecture and most preferably proceed with examples for the next 10 minutes, leaving some time available at the end for the conclusion as well as for discussion or potential queries.

As far as the queries are concerned, the speaker should devote some time at the end of a lecture for questions. He should listen carefully when a person asks a question and don’t interrupt.5 He should then repeat all questions in order to verify that everyone has heard the question,5 and then give a clear and brief answer, using the same style as in making the presentation.5 Finally, once the speaker makes sure that there will be no more questions, he should thank the people for their questions. He should always have in mind that the audience questions give him the chance to prove his thorough knowledge on the subject and even provide him with ideas for further research. Speaking, Rate and Pitch

The speech comprises the vocabulary, the syntax which structures them, and the set of speech sound units that differ, creating the existence of many thousands of different types of mutually unintelligible human languages16. The language and expressions of every human being reflect his inner world, personality and manners. A lecturer can be very easily judged for the way he talks. Practicing the lecture before the actual day of delivery makes better use of the voice mechanism.3 During a lecture a proper speaking rate is of vital importance. The speaker should talk at a rate of no more than 80-100 words per minute.4 It takes practice to avoid talking quickly that the words are slurred.3 Moreover, both force and pitch of the voice should vary in order for the lecturer to emphasize the main ideas and important parts of the talk.3 The speaker should also make pauses and take breaths to continue. A useful advice which was occasionally given by professional speakers is that long pauses are preferably used at the end of principal thoughts.3 That time period allows time for the audience comprehension. In addition, the speaker should avoid word and thoughts repetition. A monotone way of talking is likely to deflect the audience’s attention, provoke slaps easier and fail to convey the intended message.

Eye Contact

The eye contact and facial expressions provide important social and emotional information and people, perhaps without consciously doing so, probe each other’s eyes and faces for positive or negative mood signs.15 An experienced speaker is usually more confident and looks his audience straight into the eyes. The eye contact is absolutely essential to effective speaking.3 However, it is absolutely clear that it would be improper to stare at somebody. A useful advice to novice speakers is to try to establish the eye contact for


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