Preventing Death By Lecture Through Audience Discussion


Many people believe that PowerPoint (PPT) presentations are a leading killer of learning. We even call it “Death by PPT.”

Actually, the typical 45-, 60- or 90-minute speech has a higher mortality rate than PPT. And that speech may actually be a fugitive living under an assumed name like keynote, lecture, breakout, plenary, concurrent or education session.

If the goal of the presentation is learning, then the speaker needs to allocate some of their talk time to the audience. The speaker needs to allow the audience to think about and discuss their main points during their lecture. Good presenters facilitate so audiences can participate.

Oh and by the way, it’s not PPT that kills learning. It’s the abuse and misuse of PPT that is the leading cause of death in education. And it’s too many PPT bullets aimed directly at audiences’ heads.

Following A Natural Learning Process

Our ancestors learned that they had a better chance of survival if they worked together instead of against each other. First, they had to learn to communicate. As they refined their communication, they learned to explain, respond, debate, engage, ask, discuss, coach, encourage and share.

We do the same today. We talk so that we can understand. We talk so we can remember. We talk so we can learn.

Sure listening is part of the process. But just listening to a lecture is not enough. The truth is that listening should be the smallest part of the process.

5 Reasons Why Audience Discussions Are Important

Don’t mistake audience Q & A with a speaker as audience discussion. The best audience discussions happen in pairs, triads or small groups. Consider the following through that lens.

1. Talking to another person increases retention.

When people verbally explain new content to another person, they process the information three times. They hear it; they think about it; and they restate it. In order to talk about it, they must process it and connect it to some previous experience. Even a simple two-minute paired discussion about how to apply something they heard increases the fact that they’ll remember it more than just listening.

2. Talking to another person fosters feedback.

During conversation, people have the opportunity to give and receive feedback. It’s part of the normal give and take process of discussion. Often we affirm what someone says. Or we may question it and suggest a different perspective. During this process, we deepen our understanding of the content.

3. Talking to another person nurtures relationships.

Neuroscientist Dr. John Medina says, “Our ability to learn has deep roots in relationships. Relationships matter when attempting to teach humans.”

When people talk to each other, they form relationships during that process. These relationships are just as important as the content. Relationships create a sense of psychological safety. The safer we feel with others, the more likely we are to ask questions, take risks, be open to new ideas and try new skills. In short, we learn better.

4. Talking to another person increases meta learning.

Meta learning is the awareness of and taking control of one’s own learning. It’s the ability to control the habits of assessment, association, inquiry, judgment, perception and reflection.

When an audience is given time to discuss the content, explain their understanding of it and suggest how it applies to their situation, their learning increases. When they are allowed to ask questions, offer suggestions, solicit feedback, share opinions and express what is or isn’t working for them they feel more empowered. This leads to continual self-improvement.

5. Talking to another person increases self-esteem.

Everyone likes to be heard. Everyone likes to share what they know. When audiences have the opportunity to talk with each other in pairs or small groups, they increase their confidence. Each adult benefits, the group benefits and the learning experienced is strengthened.

Flip The Keynote Model If Learning Is The Goal

In short, the person doing the most talking in your session, is doing the most learning. It’s time to flip the keynote model and allow the audience to talk more than the speaker!

What are some tips you can share about fostering audience discussions during presentations? What are some typical questions speakers can ask their audience to spark conversations?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. Justina Lam says:

    I agree that audience discussions are important to prevent boring the audience to death via powerpoint.

    I also think implementing Audience Response Systems (ARS) to these events where audience members can submit their response via their mobile devices or tablet would bea great way to engage and create interactivity between the presenter and the audience. It’s a great way to gain feedback as well!

    Brilliant article! Will definitely be sharing/re-tweeting this.

  2. Gari Stein says:

    YES. YES. YES. I have attended sooooo many power point snoozer keynotes, by famous and infamous speakers. Regardless of their experience, expertise or degrees, it rarely works for me. Often their presentation, does not even follow the power point which adds to more frustration. I do not do power point.
    The more keynotes I do, the more I realize that, for me, it is all about involving the attendees from beginning to end. Folks leave happy, informed, connected and many tell me that they are inspired and motivated to try something new on Monday. That’s music to my ears as a keynote. Thank you for posting this article.

  3. Great article!
    This is what we keep telling and preaching. It is so important to have the audiance be part of a conference/ a meeting/ a key note…
    you will achieve the best results when everybody can contribute to the topic

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *