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Preparing a Lecture

The most common type of instructional content delivery is the lecture, recorded or synchronous. A scripted lecture—one that has been carefully planned with at least an outline or note cards—may not be the most effective technique for every situation, but in many instances, these lectures will have many benefits over those created on the fly.

Some of the benefits include:

  • An organized and prioritized lecture outline keeps you, the speaker, focused and more likely to cover everything you want to cover in a set time while meeting your teaching objectives.

  • The organized and prioritized lecture will usually come across as a logical presentation, more likely to keep the focus of students/audience.

  • “Information overload” can be avoided once you get used to the constraints of a 15-to-20-minute lecture section and plan accordingly.

  • Planning allows you to show and not just tell, for instance, to have referenced websites ready as live links or screenshots.

  • Planning a clear introduction and conclusion to the lecture emphasizes the "legacy points" of the lecture that will be retained by the students.

  • Planning a lecture naturally leads to your increased confidence in the material, no matter how comfortable you already are, and better prepares you for follow-up questions or activities.

  • Planning a lecture ahead of time gives you the opportunity to gather the best resources—from visual aids to guest presenters, and for active learning "breaks." (Make sure to allow yourself time to check on copyright permissions, especially for recorded lectures!)

  • Documenting your plans for a lecture gives you the opportunity to update the lecture in the future.

  • Practicing or rehearsing a lecture allows your delivery to become more natural; you will develop your style. Not everyone can have the "right” level of enthusiasm every time, but most of us can work on our pace, our tone, and our body language, which are known to have a more powerful effect than words in any communication.

How to Plan Your Lecture

Develop your learning objectives. Why are you delivering this lecture? What should students be able to achieve afterward?

Develop an outline, note cards, and/or a brief script to remind you of your talking points. We do not recommend developing a detailed script or reading through the script when you're recording a lecture (Reading from a script in a synchronous, face-to-face lecture will quickly lead to poor delivery. For instance, looking down at a paper or screen makes it impossible to project your voice. In addition, when you are engaging with the script, you are doing the exact opposite with your audience. Plan for lecture sections of 10 to 20 minutes. Turning a longer lecture into smaller modules acknowledges the human capacity for learning! In a live lecture, these sections can be broken up with active learning breaks. 

Keep each section down to a few main points. An entire lecture will probably only have four or five objectives. 

Consider providing at least an outline to students. This will aid in retaining their focus and in keeping you on track.

Have a brief and focused introduction. Anecdotes help students remember concepts, but they can be distracting and take up precious time in an introduction where you should announce who you are, the learning objectives of the lecture, and the anticipated learning outcomes.

Link your content to students' prior knowledge. This could be common experiences and/or prior coursework.

Have a compelling and focused wrap-up. Consider leaving the students with a question or path for them to learn more about what you've presented.

Include media (images, recorded audio, and/or video) to support your lecture. You want to stimulate multiple learning styles and intelligences. Consider promoting learning through purposeful imagery. (See workshop recordings on this topic!) When including resources that are not your own, make certain to review copyright permissions. Make certain that your lecture materials and any accompanying artifacts (e.g., slides, handouts, reading materials) and activities are designed with accessibility in mind.

Be prepared for technology to fail in a synchronous, face-to-face lecture. Projector bulbs burn out. Websites fail to load. Computers can crash. If that happens, will you still be able to deliver a quality lecture? Just in case, consider the following: 

  • Have a "hard" (paper) copy of your notes for yourself.

  • Have a separate printout of any data or diagrams you might want to talk through as part of your lecture. Even if the tech in the room crashes, someone may be able to go make copies of the data and diagram(s) to distribute to the students.

  • If you plan on visiting websites or showing movies as part of the lecture, have them already loaded or queued up on your computer. Do not waste precious time by waiting for websites or media to download during the lecture.

How to Deliver Your Lecture

Keep the principles of Universal Design for Instruction and Learning in mind, including synchronous best practices, as appropriate.  

Engage your learners and spark their interest from the beginning. If your personality is friendly and outgoing, bring that into your introduction, but don't let it detract from the objectives of your lecture. Other methods could be sharing topic-related personal experiences; telling a story; using images, tables, or graphs to explain complex concepts; or connecting the topic with real-world cases.

Be mindful of your tone and body language. Effective communication is more about delivery than it is about words. Face your students and talk to them as opposed to the screen or whiteboard. Eye contact will help to connect with your students and make the communication more personable. (But remember that most individuals are comfortable with only 5 seconds or less of direct eye contact in a group setting.)

Pace yourself. Give students time to think and process information. If you find yourself rushing through the material (perhaps you didn't plan enough time for questions and answers in a live lecture), consider abbreviating some of the content you planned on delivering. If you don't have the opportunity to deliver a follow-up lecture, there should be a follow-up communication or at least an appropriate resource that can be succinctly referenced and easily obtained.

Emphasize your objectives at the beginning of the lecture, as you reach them, and at the end of your lecture.

Include a novel idea that shows your expert perspective. After all, you are the subject-matter expert.
Encourage questions for further understanding and answer honestly. Politely let students know if you prefer questions to be asked only when you pause for them or if you are comfortable with being interrupted. Restate each question so that (1) you are certain of what is being asked and (2) the entire class can hear the question. If answering a question fully would take up too much of your lecture's time, or if you just aren't sure about the right answer, say you'll come back to it at another time (either one-on-one or as part of another class communication, for instance, a discussion board thread or as part of an upcoming lecture) or point the student(s) toward a more appropriate resource.

Have midway checkpoints to make sure that your learners are still engaged. Allow students to respond and ask questions. It's a good idea to give positive feedback to engaged learners (praise) and to seek ways to bring back those who aren't engaged. Motivate the learners throughout the lecture! Learn about <active learning techniques[update link later]>.
Have a strong finish. Consider leaving the students with a question that provides intrinsic motivation to learn more about the topic or sets them up for the next lecture in a series.
Follow the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Lecture Delivery Best Practices Checklist.

After Your Lecture

Allow yourself to think and respond. During your lecture, observe (or ask a teaching assistant to observe) student behavior.

  • Were they actively or passively participating?

  • On campus, were they taking notes?

  • Online, were they chatting about relevant topics?

  • Did they appreciate your humor?

  • Did their body language or comments show they were engaged, distracted, or bored?

Reflect on this behavior to assess your lecture's techniques and materials for what worked versus what didn't as far as reaching the students. Note that this is different from knowing whether or not you taught the students and reached your lecture objectives!
Consider lecture evaluations to gain feedback, assess your performance, and learn more about the learning styles of your students.
Consider formative student assessments to measure desired learning outcomes. Did your lecture reach its objectives?
Have a page or pages on the CoursePlus course site readily available for students to access lecture materials and, if appropriate, lecture recordings.

Our Recording Tips page has further insights for preparing lectures for studio recording. A comprehensive overview, specific to the Center for Teaching and Learning’s process, can be found in Preparing a Lecture for Recording. When you are ready to deliver your lecture, make sure to review the Lecture Delivery Best Practices Checklist, Best Practices for Asynchronous Lectures, and Best Practices for a Live, Synchronous Lecture.

Additional Resources

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