For all the wiz-bang technology that allows us to teach online, most online courses use pimped-out versions of medieval teaching methods.  When you scrape away all the bells and whistles, the video-based course is just a bunch of lectures.

Even if you use a variety of teaching strategies, at some point in your course, you probably will include an “instructional presentation,” also known as a lecture.

A lecture can be a very effective technique, depending on your objective. But bad lectures are, in fact, evil.  Oh, and the world of online courses is chuck full of bad ones:  long, convoluted, disorganized, purposeless, confusing, and completely ineffective.  And don’t get me started on the death by powerpoint bullet points!


Teaching Tips: How to Create Memorable Presentations

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that you can create a memorable and powerful presentation by following a few basic guidelines.

  1. Hook ‘em – How many ideas are competing for our attention? With an online course, where students can surf for cute cat videos while pretending to listen to your lecture, the problem is even bigger than an in-person course.  In order to win the competition, you have to give them a really amazing reason to pay attention. Some ideas: make a paradoxical statement, tell an interesting story, explain a disaster that could have been avoided with the lesson of the presentation, or ask a perplexing question.
  2. Fulfill a Promise – Give dathe students a promise at the start of the presentation. “If you give me your attention during this lecture, I promise you will learn to (INSERT ACTION VERB).” Use this promise as the guiding principle for your lecture.  Be sure to make good on the promise by the end and show the students that you have done so.
  3. Provide an organizing framework – Your job as the teacher is NOT to tell students everything there is to know about a topic. Your job is to synthesize all that information.  Not dumb it down, but organize it so that students have a structure to make sense of it all.  I like to think of it as building a trellis for my students.  As they grow in understanding, the trellis provides support to hold all the new information.  Do not stray from the structure and reinforce it as often as possible.
  4. Tell stories – The human mind is hardwired for storytelling. Use small vignettes throughout the presentation that illustrate a point or you can make the entire presentation one big story by using a visual metaphor or a motif.
  5. Refocusing – Most of us have attention spans of a gnat. Am I right or what?  Help your students out with periodic refocusing techniques – summaries, a new hook for the next section, a short reflective activity, a one question quiz.  You can’t overdo – aim for every 5 – 7 minutes (and keep your presentation under 20 minutes).
  6. Use basic design principles – Note that I did not say become a designer or hire a designer. The basics: one point per slide, keep one point of focus, no distracting fonts or colors, maximum of 6 words per slide (yes, only 6), the rule of thirds, and simple graphics that are easy to read.  Good resources include slideology and Presentation Zen
  7. Strong speaking skills – Use your voice to emphasize key points, speak slowly and clearly, repeat key points. All of these skills can be mastered with practice.  Practice, practice and practice.  And if you are not giving a live presentation, do several takes to use in editing.

There are no secrets to giving transformative presentations.  You don’t have to be born with the “presenter” gene.  Everything you need can be learned.  Your students thank you with glowing testimonials and recommendations to all their friends and colleagues.  Creating effective presentations is the key to success in your online course.