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Lecturing on Technical Topics 101

lucysuddenly profile image Lucy Suddenly ・4 min read

Lecturing can be an exhilarating experience. Picture it: you've been working with a concept or technology for a while and you understand it deeply. You have an opportunity to bring a small group of people to a greater understanding of the topic. You're in front of them, about to begin. How exciting!!

But how can you get there??

With a little preparation!

Set concrete goals.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to better inform your learning goals:

  • What are you trying to teach?
  • How much time is available to you?
  • What's the scope of your lecture?
  • What does your audience already know?

Possible scenarios:

  • You have an hour! Your audience has mixed experience with the topic. An overview might be appropriate, or a hybrid overview/single sub-topic deep-dive.
  • You have a half hour. Your audience has a general knowledge of the topic. A deep dive into a single specific sub-topic or a tour through a few interesting sub-topics may be best.
  • You have 15 minutes. You're speaking at a meetup for a specific programming language, but you're presenting on an unrelated technology. An introduction to your topic would probably fit best here.

Some examples of concrete goals:

  • Give an overview of Javascript, features of the language, and how it operates.
  • Do a deep-dive on hooks in React and demonstrate custom hooks.
  • Talk about the four pillars of Object Orientation and pick a language to demonstrate simple classes

Lecturing Strategies

Alright, so you know what you want to teach and you are crystal clear about your learning goals. Great! What's the best way to make sure your content is understood in the brief time that you have? Here are some examples of good lecturing strategies. Know some that aren't listed here? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

Scaffolding.

Starting with something the audience already knows and building concepts on top is generally a safe bet. It makes sense, right? Hook into ideas that already exist in the listener and add to them. If your listener knows nothing about JavaScript, you probably couldn't dive right into async functions -- you'd have to lay a little scaffolding to get there.

Asking for expectations and intuitions.

This works especially well. Pause before you show the audience a key piece of information and ask for expectations! E.g., if you're presenting statistics, ask the audience what they might expect them to be. Or if you're live coding, ask the audience if they have any intuitions about what is about to happen during your demonstration.

Think, pair, share.

Another great strategy is to ask the audience to think to themselves about something for 10-30 seconds (depending on the topic), then turn to the person next to them and share with one another what you're thinking. After letting the audience chat a bit, ask for volunteers to share what their partner said with the whole audience.

Dealing with Anxiety.

We're going to take a detour here! Lecturing may be exhilarating, but it can also be intimidating, or even downright scary. Here are some things you can do to make it just a little bit easier:

Connect with your audience before you begin.

Ask for a show of hands from the audience about whether they have seen something before. Tell a joke related to the material you're going to teach. Give a quick bio of yourself and why you're passionate about what you're going to teach them today.

However you choose to do it, endear yourself to the audience. Doing so will form a base rapport to work from. It's almost like a testing/signaling system -- you can ensure that the audience is listening and engaged with you before you start transmitting new information. This should come as a reassurance!

Practice, practice, practice.

It should come as no surprise that when you are more familiar with what you're going to say, you can worry less! You can practice at the dog, or even your favorite house plant! If you need audience engagement for your lecture, ask a friend or colleague to stand in.

Have a visual aid.

Having a visual aid to assist in presenting new information does two things:

  • it gives your audience something to look at to keep them engaged
  • it provides a way for you to keep track of where you are in your talk

Whether you're using a whiteboard to draw diagrams, live-coding to demonstrate programming concepts, or using slides to present information, you'll do yourself a favor by giving yourself and your audience something to connect to.

Wrapping Up

Whew! That's a lot! To recap:

  • preparation is key!
  • have concrete goals!
  • prepare a visual aid!
  • practice!
  • establish a rapport!
  • keep it interesting with lecturing strategies!
  • most of all, have fun!

Do you have other tips? Leave them in the comments!

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Lucy Suddenly

@lucysuddenly

Site Reliability Engineer trans, she/her

Discussion

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Thanks for this! You might want to use tutorials tag instead of 101 and speaking instead of public speaking, just so it hits people who follow those common tags.

Loved the comparison of time lengths.

One of the things I've noticed about me is that I tend to do broad surface level talks introducing a variety of tools for people to gain awareness in and learn more independently.

I'm also understanding that excitement, energy, and interactivity need to be calibrated for the event and the time of day if giving a conference talk. I've got a talk in 30 days and change that I just discovered will carry the 8 AM timeslot. I now need to make it a LOT more engaging than I would a 10 AM talk.

 

Thank you for the tag advice!

Yes that's so true. The context of a talk is everything and learning to properly adjust is a skill!

 

Thank you for sharing your process. I just yesterday ran a lecture that perhaps was too packed and so your post helps me self-reflect. Thank you!

 

Glad you enjoyed! Hope it's helpful!