March 3, 2007
Have you ever listened to a lecture that was read from a manuscript? Even a beautifully written text can somehow fall flat when read from a podium. Why is that? Ira Glass, of This American Life, gives us a clue in the first segment of this remarkable podcast. We’ll be spending some time this week with Glass, as his tips for beginning podcasters resonate far wider.
The upshot: public lectures are structured differently from writing. In a public lecture, your audience can’t zoom forward or back through the text. They are living, with you, in the moment. Public lectures are intimate conversations writ large. So even scientific lectures have a large component of storytelling. And a story is made up of two parts.
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March 2, 2007
As academics we go to a lot of seminars. And in those seminars we can get a lot done. The most obvious thing we can accomplish is to learn something of what the speaker is trying to convey. But many of us relish the dim quiet of a seminar room for other reasons. It allows the mind to settle a bit, free of phones and email. It allows us to open the blank page of our notebook (an almost erotic experience for an academic) ready to scribble some thoughts down. Sometimes, inevitably, we even close our eyes for a few minutes…
This is much harder to do when the speaker goes out of his way to keep you eyes riveted to the screen by modulating his voice, pacing his presentation, and showing gorgeous, apt, visuals.
Which is to say, I just saw Al Gore’s global warming presentation. Live. A few rows back from the stage. In a rocking sports arena more than half filled with 9000 cheering undergrads along with a few professors and local dignitaries. As good as the movie An Inconvenient Truth is, the talk in its entirety, live, with audience reaction, is pretty damn special. Gore’s talk is so successful because, if I may stretch a metaphor, it is a perfect storm of compelling content presented with drama, humor, and passion. Read the rest of this entry »