By Leticia Couto, a Criminology PhD candidate.
Research area: Improving the police response to domestic abuse.
Throughout the course of your life, you may have already found yourself thinking about how classic movies share similar features. This becomes particularly obvious when one watches multiple movies within the same genre. These overlapping characteristics are part of a mix that plays a significant role in the movies’ success.
In the same way that Hollywood’s most successful movies share similar structural features, Nancy Duarte in her book Resonate set out to discover which key overlapping characteristics are present in known and remarkable oral communications. Resonate’s purpose is thus very clear – it provides a recipe for effective oral communication, but one that is also adaptable depending on the ingredients you have at hand and the tastes of your would-be gourmands.
When we think about oral communications in the context of academia, scientific presentations are what usually come to mind. But most of the principles in this book can be also applied to teaching. It may be argued that teaching is indeed the hardest form of presenting – we not only have to keep our audience engaged for longer periods of time, but that audience might not even be particularly interested in attending the class. Although the module we are teaching is in the programme of a course they chose, that does not necessarily mean that it is a subject the students are interested in. It becomes our job to transform our captive audience into an enthusiastic one (or at least somewhat more willing).
In one of the book sections, Duarte examines the lectures of Professor Richard Feynman, a remarkable American physics teacher, as a case study. Interestingly, some of the aspects mentioned as the recipe for the success of Professor Feynman’s lectures are already usually included in the literature for teachers for higher education (for instance, Morss and Murray 2005). Namely, disclosing the lecture’s structure at the beginning (i.e., how many points he is going to address) as well as the use of verbal signals to help students understand how the different sections of the lecture fit together. Professor Feynman also incentivizes his classes to reflect by making rhetorical questions whilst explaining an important concept. Lastly, the ingredient that ties everything together and makes his lectures so special is the use of emotional devices – not only occasional humour but also by expressing, and therefore creating, a sense of wonderment for the subject.
It appears that all we need to be inspiring teachers is put into practice what our teaching manuals already tell us to, with a pinch of passion for our subject. Pretty straightforward, right? But it did take a rocket scientist (Professor Feynman) to figure this out.