March 1st, 2011
I’ve been lecturing for more than forty years; I put a great deal of effort into my work and take great pride in the results. I have delivered thousands -- I do not exaggerate! -- of lectures during these years, on a great variety of topics and to all manner of audiences. Lots of feedback suggests that I am a very good lecturer.
But the cost of travel greatly constrains my lecturing; I don’t reach as many people as I’d like to because the travel costs are so onerous. I have therefore decided on a new approach: delivering my lectures over the web. Internet speeds are now fast enough and the software is now powerful enough to permit good-quality interactive experiences. The killer problem is that a face on a screen is never as compelling as a body on a stage. I have therefore started from first principles, applying my expertise as a teacher to the problem of making webinars as compelling as face-to-face lectures. The result is a novel approach to webinars, comprising the following principles:
- Bullet points in slides are death! Expunge text from slides except where it’s absolutely, positively necessary.
- Charts, tables and graphs are also deadly-dull. Use them only when absolutely, positively necessary.
- Ideas should be presented by spoken language.
- The face is the vehicle for emotional support for language.
- The image (slide) supplements, supports, and illustrates the ideas presented orally.
- The lecture must move as quickly as thought. Never let the audience get ahead of you.
- Don’t waste their time with cover-your-ass talk. The audience is smart enough to figure these things out for itself.
Webinars presented in this manner demand a higher standard of preparation than the typical run-of-the-mill presentation. Each slide must be carefully designed to advance the flow of thought. A great many images must be considered before the ideal set of images is found; then more work must be done to adapt them to the precise needs of the lecture. It takes about a month of full-time effort to prepare a webinar to meet my standards.
You might well wonder, why don’t I simply prepare a video? Why do I need to carry this out live? The answer is simple: interactivity. A straight lecture video is a dead fish; students can’t ask questions. All too often the success or failure of a lecture hinges on a simple point that slips past a student’s mind. It isn’t because the student is stupid, it’s because we all think in different ways, and even the best teacher cannot anticipate every possible point of view that students might bring to the lecture. Therefore, it is imperative that students be able to interrupt the lecture at the crucial moment when their confusion peaks. I have also provided some stopping points in the presentation where I ask for questions, to insure that students really do get the opportunity to clear up points of confusion while they’re still fresh in their minds.
The second advantage of a live presentation is the emotional impact it provides. We human beings are not video recorders; we don’t simply absorb information passively. The emotional context of any information transfer plays a huge part in the absorption of the message. That’s why I make funny faces, scrunch my voice around, and use gestures -- they’re all part of the job of getting the message through clearly. A live presentation always has greater impact than a canned version -- why do you think that people pay so much more for tickets to a concert than they would pay for a CD with the same music?
I have created three presentations using this technique. Each has its own web page:
Fundamentals of Interactivity
How to Create Algorithms
Bringing Characters to Life
How To Think
I intend to expand this list with more webinars.
Technical requirements are fairly simple: you’ll need a computer with a webcam and web browser, a regular broadband connection, and a computer screen projector. I require the webcam so that I can see at least some portion of the audience -- even a little visual feedback helps my delivery substantially. During the presentation, you can interrupt me with questions by voice or by text chat. The software service I use can support up to 50 computers at the receiving end, so if audience members prefer to use their own laptops, this is fine -- but I’ll need to have their email addresses at least an hour prior to the lecture. About 15 minutes before the lecture, I’ll send out email invitations to everybody on the list. You need only click on a link provided in the email to access the lecture through your web browser. It’s prudent for the primary audience computer (the one connected to the projector) to log on ten minutes before showtime just in case there are any technical glitches. The service I use is reliable but I have experienced some rare glitches requiring logging off and back on again.
I charge $500 for each presentation. If you are interested in booking one, please email me at chrisc (you know what character belongs here) storytron.com and we’ll schedule a time.