Professor Val’s Lifetime Lecture

As promised in the first article in this series, we shall begin to examine Professor Val’s errors and learn how to avoid them. Recall that we observed last time that our dear Professor worked perfectly by the book. That was not a bad thing in itself, only that we must learn the exceptions to the rules. Therefore, the approach we will adopt is to state the rule Val obeyed and then identify its exception.

Professor Val obeyed the rule that says, “A speaker must earn the right to speak to his/her audience by being knowledgeable”. It is, of course, expected that a speaker should know more than the audience before being qualified to speak. It is also generally suggested that a speaker should gather five times more materials than required for any given speech so as to SELECT the best resources from the pool. Please take note of the emphasis on the word ‘select’. So, we can safely say that Professor Val, who was a world-acclaimed scholar with award winning formula, was a knowledgeable person.

Where did Val go wrong? His error was that he neglected the exception to the rule of knowledge, which is, “You cannot teach people in a moment what you learnt in a lifetime”. The transmission of knowledge must be gradual, otherwise there will poor assimilation. Val, just like several speakers today, was carried away by his desire to impart knowledge that he failed to consider the time available and the capacity of his audience. His misplaced zeal led to the following errors:

1. Overloaded presentation slides: Professor Val made use of presentation slides that were projected on a screen. However, propelled by his zeal, he over-loaded each slide to the extent that the text became too small to be legible. The projection was meant to enhance the delivery of the presentation; unfortunately, it further hindered effective communication because the audience could not see it clearly. The lesson here is that it is preferable not to use any technical assistance if it would not add to the quality of a presentation. It is also very important to make the audience the priority of any presentation. As speakers, we must always ask ourselves, “What will the audience think of this? Will they see it clearly? Will they get the meaning? How far will the screen be from the audience?”. These and many other questions will help us to see things from the perspective of our audience.

2. Hasty Presentation: from the story of Professor Val, it was clear that he knew he couldn’t deliver all he had prepared in just one hour. Hence, he quickened the pace of his delivery. Again, it is important to emphasize that the priority of our presentations must be our audience. What is the use of covering a syllabus if the students have learnt nothing? Val mistook completing his presentation for communicating with the audience. He should have taken his time to explain every step of his presentation carefully. If he had communicated with his audience but did not cover all his outlined points, the audience could have requested for more information during the question time (as you will recall, they couldn’t wait to leave the hall, so there was no question for the presenter), or even request for his presentation slides. As speakers, the information we have to pass across must not take priority over the people we want to pass it to. The success of a speaker is not determined by the amount of information shared but by the amount of influence made on the audience.

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