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6 Online Presentation Tips from 60-Second Lectures

The person turns hourglassAs part of the continuing mission to learn, I stopped by the University of Pennsylvania’s 60-Second Lecture Series to partake of some knowledge. Here you will find videos of faculty members from the School of Arts & Sciences attempting to tackle a topic in roughly 60 seconds. I learned some good things from watching, but the knowledge that will stick with me has more to do with how the content there is delivered. The site really provides a nice little laboratory for improving your public speaking – for what works and what doesn’t when trying to deliver brief, high impact content.

Note: I have not actually included links to individual lectures below because U. Penn relies on Real Media Player (ugh!), which I think fewer and fewer people have installed. If you go to the site itself, individual lectures are easy enough to find. Transcripts are available, or you can go to go the Real site to download Real Player if you don’t have it.

Here are some lessons I learned (or, in most cases, learned again) –

Short is hard – but powerful
Boiling down complex thoughts so that they can be conveyed effectively in 60 seconds takes a great deal of focus and discipline. Every one of the lectures I’ve viewed so far (which is most of them), goes past 1 minute. Many go 2-3 minutes, and at least one goes past five minutes (ironically, one of the ones with the shortest title). I don’t necessarily view brevity as a virtue when it comes to learning, but short and to the point does often win out. Certainly it does in this collection of lectures.

Drama captures attention
Dramatic build up—if done well, of course—can really keep the learner captivated. At the beginning of “What Makes a Poem a Poem?” English professor Charles Bernstein sets the timer on his watch. A not-so-subtle version of Chekhov’s gun on the mantle. The alarm goes off after one minute of Bernstein listing what a poem is not. What makes a poem a poem? Timing.

Stories make it real
To explain “The Difference Between Jazz and Blues” David Grazian tells of his experience soloing with a blues band in a bar in Chicago at 2:30 in the morning (while conducting “research”). His story is entertaining and it illustrates the difference concisely and much more effectively than simply stating the difference would have done.

Props add spice
Props always have the potential to be a distraction, but used effectively, they can make a presentation much more interesting. Grazian plays his sax a couple of times in the jazz vs. blues lecture. Paul Hendrickson, from the creative writing program, pulls out his fly rod and assembles it at the beginning of “Why Fly-Fishing Is a Zen Experience.” The combination of that and his description of the beautiful places where fly fishing is done really pulls the listener in.

Titles matter
Entire books and blogs are dedicated to this topic, so I’m hardly the first to point it out. Still it is a point that is so often ignored or forgotten that I think re-stating it will never go out of style. Jamal Elias’ “Death and Body Fluids (or Why Religion is Important)” was both gruesome and intriguing enough to attract one of my first clicks. And I’ll admit that Bruce Kuklick’s “John F. Kennedy’s Sex Life” caught my eye with the “S” word. But that leads to my final observation…

Content must deliver what’s promised

Kuklick’s presentation, for instance, is awfully close to a bait and switch. Kennedy’s sex life has relatively little to do with it. On the other hand, I went into Dennis DeTurck’s “Down with Fractions” expecting good reasoning as to why fractions are overrated and he delivers in spades.

So, which of these do I rate as most effective overall? I’ve already mentioned two of them: David Grazian “The Difference Between Jazz and Blues” and Jamal Elias’ “Death and Body Fluids (or Why Religion is Important).” I also liked Robert Kurzban’s “Hypocrisy: How Evolution Guarantees Human Inconsistency” and Heather Love’s “Brokeback Nation.”

Which do you think are most effective and what other tips do you take away from them? Have a look/listen/read and share your thoughts.

JTC

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About the Author Jeff Cobb

I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.

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