How to Give a Good Lecture

Professor giving lecture in college classroom.
... IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock/Getty Images

The old cliché of the monotone professor lulling his students to sleep exists for a reason: Too many lecturers don't know how to keep an audience's attention. Public speaking, especially on complex academic topics, is a challenging skill to acquire. Practice and planning, however, can help you keep your lectures fresh and engaging.

1 Build a Narrative

Students have a much easier time paying attention to and remembering stories than abstract information. Try to incorporate some mild drama into your lectures to capture your audience's attention and help them retain more information. One useful technique is to tell the audience the story of how you first learned about the concept you are teaching. If you were giving a lecture about comets in an astronomy lecture, for example, you might talk about the sense of wonder you felt the first time you saw a comet through a telescope. Then you could discuss how that prompted you to begin researching comets in greater depth and lead up to discussing a recent discovery.

2 Structure and Organization

Presenting information in a clean, organized format will help your audience stay engaged and follow your line of thought more easily. While the occasional wild tangent can add a little spice to a lesson, work to keep your talk mostly within a preplanned structure. Begin your lecture by previewing each of the major points you plan to cover. This will remind you to stay on track, and it helps students organize their notes and follow along.

3 Invite Participation

Most audiences have trouble concentrating on a single speaker for more than a few minutes, even if they find the subject matter interesting. The best way to keep the audience tuned in is to include them in the talk. You could invite questions frequently, but sometimes that's not enough. Come up with fun hypotheticals to ask the audience. In a lecture about ethics, for example, you might pose an ethical dilemma to the students and let them debate it. If one side seems to be winning the argument, weigh in with an alternative perspective to keep things interesting.

4 Add Energy and Enthusiasm

If you're not excited about your subject matter, your audience probably won't be excited to listen to you. Focus on showing your audience some enthusiasm and energy, and they'll keep their eyes on you. Don't hide behind a podium. Walk around the room as you're talking to keep things lively. Avoid the monotone drone that puts so many students to sleep. By varying your tone of voice and pace of speech, you can keep your audience attentive and engaged.

Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.