Category Archives: Teaching Tips

Five Ways to Kill a Public Presentation

boring seminar photo

I’ve watched interesting subjects, content-rich seminars, lectures by fascinating people and important messages that needed to be communicated all go down in flames as the individual responsible for delivering the presentation takes exciting material and turns it into something about as exciting as watching paint dry.  It likes watching someone torture a kitten — just senseless and sad (and a bit enraging.)  Today I present to you five sure-fire ways to kill a public presentation.

1. Read to your audience

Nothing says to a group of people, “I consider you to be dullards who are too lazy to learn on your own” than droning on and on by reading your presentation to them or by reading long quotations from others to them.  It is quite acceptable to insert (and read) a brief quote, maybe even a salient paragraph, from a renowned expert for emphasis and content enrichment.  But c’mon — don’t write your entire speech out and then drone on over it.  If you are going to do that, just print out copies for everyone.  Distribute them as they walk through the door and dismiss them shortly thereafter.  And for anyone who would mention that piece of lore that “Jonathan Edwards read ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’.” to his audiences, I would say — 1) Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, 2) You aren’t Jonathan Edwards and 3) your audience isn’t a bunch of puritans who have never been exposed to such modern niceties as TV, radio, the internet, public libraries, Twitter, etc….  Trust me on this one.  Reading your speech will result in subtle evacuations as people pretend to get a phone call or even a call from Mother Nature, just to escape your unimaginative (and lazy) efforts.

2. Don’t Move

You will not find a single public speaking guide that encourages you to stay in one spot as if someone had super-glued your Chuck Taylor’s to the floor.   Motion attracts attention and reduces focal fixations which lead to mental “checkouts”.  Move around, flail your arms if necessary, bend over, kneel down, do laps around the podium if necessary — but keep the audience watching you and wondering what you are about to do next.  Or you can simply stand still enough that spiders will build webs between you and the lectern while birds build nests in your hair.

3. Don’t Use Illustrations

I’ve heard some say that using illustrations prevents you from spending more time on content and that the audience should be disciplined enough to just sit there and take in the information.  This is kind of like announcing to your staff that “beatings will continue until morale improves.”  Even Mary Poppins understood that “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”  Illustrations provide connection points, application examples, mental breaks and personal interaction with the audience.  Next time you are listening to a public speaker, watch the reaction of the audience when he/she uses a personal illustration.  You’ll see heads come up, attention shift, people will lean slightly forward, facial expressions will take an an aura of anticipation and the room dynamics will completely shift.  I’ll offer more suggestions in this area in a future article.

4. Keep your voice even

Don’t allow for passion.  Keep the tone mono.  Don’t fluctuate volume, speed or intensity.  Seriously.  Do. Not. Do. It.  You’ll awaken them from their naps.  THEN you might have to actually be involved with them.  We wouldn’t want that, would we?

5. Ignore your audience

If people are nodding off, that’s THEIR problem, amIright?  They should be eager to listen.  It’s obviously a sign of poor character and intellectual laziness.  If people stop coming to your seminars, sermons, lessons, etc…, well, obviously it’s because they can’t handle substantive teaching, right?  If you see people playing “Candy Crush” and “Angry Birds” on their iPhones — it’s just one more demonstration that the fall of civilization is just around the corner.  Heaven forbid that the speaker might actually notice that he/she is losing their audience and do something creative to inspire interest or connection.  All you are required to do is get through the material and fill up the time.

Hopefully, you aren’t trying to kill your presentation, nor your audience when you are engaged in public speaking.  Being aware of your audience and the responsibility you have as the speaker to engage them will change your delivery and challenge you to try different techniques to make them leave your presentation wondering where they time went and wishing they could have gotten just a little bit more.

Dan BenchDan Burrell holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and is a former classroom teacher, current college professor and past-president of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.  He has co-authored two books for teachers and has extensive experience in training classroom teachers, story tellers and communicators around the world.


NOTE: Feel free to share these articles with others with attribution to Dan Burrell and/or Whirled Views.  All other rights reserved.

The E-I-E-I-O’s of Public Speaking


Whether you are teaching a class of wiggly 3-year olds or speaking to an audience of thousands, communicating important content to the listeners is a responsibility that the speaker needs to embrace and fulfill.  If we are to be at maximum influence, we will need to plan in advance for the delivery from start to finish.  Here are five key objectives that you should strive to accomplish by the conclusion of your presentation and they are easy to remember thanks to “Old MacDonald”.

1. Educate

It is important that you have a clear awareness of your mission when you take your place in front of those who have gathered to hear what you have to say.  You are there to change the status quo.  You are to add value to the listener’s life by educating them with new material, practical application, challenges and ideals.  If your audience leaves the room with no new knowledge, skill or aspiration, then you have failed as a communicator.

2. Inform

What will your listeners take home after your have addressed them?  This is sometimes called the objective and the best way to identify that objective is to complete this question, “As a result of this lesson, my students/audience will know/be able to ________________.”  If you do not know what it is you are wanting to accomplish in your presentation, don’t count on the students to be able to pick it out on their own.  I like to use a simple three-step plan for helping my students identify my key point(s):

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them (Introduction)
  • Tell then (Lesson)
  • Tell them what you told them (Review)

Emphasizing that main point those three times will help ensure that your students get your point.

3.  Entertain

There are few crimes greater in my book, than to bore people with Truth.  There simply is no excuse for a dry presentation.  The distance between dry information and exciting application is about 18 inches — the distance between the head and the heart.  If you only focus on transferring information without ever acknowledging the human impact of that information, you will have an audience that will have checked out to varying degrees.  Jesus, the Master Teacher, used everything from stories to recitations to sarcasm to object lessons to soaring prose to mystery to keep the attention of His audience throughout the Gospels.  We should learn from His example.  Laughter, dramatic tension and emotion are all tools that will help move Truth from the head and into the heart.

4. Inspire

If you entertain and educate, but fail to inspire, you did not complete your task.  Inspiration is what moves people to ACT on what they have learned.  It moves people to APPLY what they have heard.  It challenges them to ASPIRE to something greater than what they have been doing.  It is lazy to transfer raw information and then fail to challenge the listener to use that information in use what they have learned for the good of others and the glory of God.

5. Organize

Rare is the individual who can successful “wing” an effective presentation.  There needs to be a plan to what you are saying and how you plan on saying it.  Don’t even think about simply reading your presentation, but having an outline is essential.  And like writing a paragraph, a paper or a book, having an outline is important.  Capture their attention and imagination in the introduction.  Deliver the content in the body.  Review and challenge the audience to greatness in the conclusion.  Once you know the outline, then you can fill in the “extras” — the illustrations, the applications, the inspirational moments, the calls to action.

E-I-E-I-O — it’s simply and its effective.  Take a few extra minutes and make sure you round out your next presentation with all five goals.


Using Your Voice in Teaching

A woman try to whisper or screamingPublic speakers in general and teachers specifically would do well to identify their voice as their own, personal musical instrument — complete with amplifier!  Like anyone who plays an instrument, practice makes perfect and the better you learn how to use that instrument — the more beauty and inspiration will flow from it.  Today, I’d like for you to consider how you can use your voice to be a wonderful communicative instrument which can literally be used to transform thinking and inspire action.  Here are today’s “Five Tips“…

1. Speed Matters

Our minds can process information far faster than we can speak or hear it.  If you’ve ever sat in a lecture where the speaker takes forever to spit out a coherent sentence (and boy, have I ever heard some vocal sloths in my day), then you might have found yourself writing a grocery list, looking for your iPhone to check your messages, counting the burned out light bulbs and the number of ceiling tiles or any other mental exercise that might keep you from jumping to your feet and screaming, “Just say it already, will ya!”  Some studies have indicated that even an average speaker will offer a vocal pace of somewhere between 125-150 words per minute but you can think/hear at between 600-700.  So many of us have time to hear what is being said, apply it, debate it, take the car down for an oil change and return all in our mind by the time that most people get finished with a paragraph.  By contrast, some of us are rapid speakers.  I often joke that I cruise at about 450 wpm with sudden gusts up to 600 wpm so if you wear a hair piece, it’s generally a good idea to set near the back when I’m speaking, lest something get blown off.  If you have to choose between slow or fast, always choose fast.  It keeps the listener “working” to stay up and thus you keep their attention.  It helps prevent having the listeners fight with a wandering mind.  It actually impacts the listeners physiologically and studies have shown that respiration rates and even heart rates increase when the speaker delivers his/her content more rapidly.  So rev it up, my friends!  Put the pedal to the metal and let it roar!

2. Tone Matters

When your momma’ told you the story of “The Three Bears”, did all three of the bears sound exactly the same?  Of course not (unless you had the worst mom EVER!).  Daddy bear had a big gruff voice, momma bear had a sweet, kind voice and baby bear had a high, squeaky voice — and it made the story FAR more interesting than if they had each sounded like Ben Stein.  Changing and shifting your tone by pushing various amounts of air across your vocal chords can be used to add gravitas, indicate differences in “voice” during dialogues, create dramatic tension, lull people into somnambulance (Look it up) or provide humorous variation.  Practice this at home.  It works.

3. Pitch Matters

You can make your voice go up or you can make your voice go down.  Have you ever known anyone who ends each sentence with the last word going up?  It sounds like every sentence is turned into a question.  When you drive your pitch down, every sentence becomes a command.  Like the flautist who can run her flute up to trills or down to single note punctuations, we can use our voice up and down to create variety, implications and even unasked questions.

4. Volume Matters

Even you speak at a volume that would drown out the roar of a space ship taking off, you are going to exhaust your audience.  If you speak at the volume of a church mouse at a funeral, you will also exhaust your audience.  That’s why varying the level of your volume is important.  I’m old and cranky — I do NOT like to be shouted at.  I’m old and cranky — I don’t want to have to work at hearing you and it’s embarrassing to keep having to shout “HUH?” or “WHAT?” at someone who is giving a public lecture.  But a little emphatic vocal punctuation or a dropping of the volume which requires me to lean forward a bit and to put a little more effort forward to hear what is being said provides a variety that keeps me engaged.  When telling a story, making a point, creating drama — volume is one of your most effective tools to draw the listener in so that they will be engaged with your content.

5. Intensity Matters

Combining all of the previous four matters to reflect intensity in your presentation.  If you are in front of a group speaking, there really should be a purpose.  If not, sit down and let someone else get up that has something to say.  Having a sense of urgency when speaking sends a signal to your listeners that you are worthy of their listening time.  Use your voice to communicate intensity.  Passion is a good thing.  It can make the difference in a Presidential Election (Bush vs. Kerry) and (Obama vs. McCain).  Ask yourself if you feel what you are saying is important.  If not, either shut up or change what you are saying until it IS important.  If it is important — then make it seem that way.  Create a vocal intensity that says to your listeners, “Come over here and lean in.  I’ve got something to tell you that will make your life better.  It is a great thought.  You can use this as an effective tool.  It is an important principle.  It will help you succeed.  Some might think of it as mundane – but I’m here to tell you it will CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE!”  Do you not think if you create that level of intensity in your audience and portray that level of urgency in your presentation you will have a room of eager listeners who will be wanting to hang on your EVERY word.  You bet.  Take it to the bank.  And when you are finished, they will be begging for more.

Dan BenchDan Burrell holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and is a former classroom teacher, current college professor and past-president of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.  He has co-authored two books for teachers and has extensive experience in training classroom teachers, story tellers and communicators around the world.

Five Ways to Improve Behavior While Teaching

It is interesting how quickly one misbehaving kid can simultaneously terrorize a timid teacher and destroy whatever good things have been planned or are going on in a classroom.  It really doesn’t take that long.  A huge belch, leaning back in a chair until you crash backwards, launching a sneeze that registers on the Richter Scale, a flicked pencil that sticks precariously in another students hair — it really doesn’t take a lot of time for any of that to happen and it can take many minutes to regain control.  Today’s teaching tips are ways to improve the behavior of your students while you are teaching.

1. If you find it boring, your students will find it boring, so here’s a clue — “Don’t tolerate boring stuff.” 

Every topic under the sun can have the life drained from it or can be polished and presented in a way to make kids go “Ah” and “Oooo”.  The difference is in who is presenting the material and how they are presenting it.  There is no topic that cannot be turned into something fun, interesting, challenging or creative with a little bit of instructor imagination and effort.  The rule of thumb is that if you find what you are teaching to be dull, dry and dusty, your students will find it to be the same.  Sell the sizzle and they’ll buy the steak!

2. Isolate problem students by keeping them out of the sight-line of others.

Most misbehaving students are performers.  Take away their audience and they’ll lose interest in entertaining.  Many teachers foolishly think that if they put them “right up front where they can keep an eye on them” that it is going to solve the problem.  Well, then don’t you dare turn around to put something on the whiteboard or go over to another student’s desk to see who they are doing.  As soon as you are “out of range” — the party will commence again.  I once saw a teacher who had a particularly problematic student bring a dressing screen which she set up to the side of the classroom and put a desk in the isolation area it created where she could see the student, but no one else could.  If a parent objects to their child being singled out, then ask the parent if they would be willing to come in and sit with their child.  They’ll reconsider their objection.

3. Break your teaching time into rational increments which allows for intellectual and physical breaks.

Only the most interesting teacher can lecture for 45 minutes without a break and keep the attention of all their students — and I’ve yet to meet that teacher.  Most of us can’t sit for that long, what makes us think that a hormonal 13-year old can?  (Remember the rule of thumb on attention spans: 1 minute per year of age.)  Break your lesson into bite-sized increments.  Five minutes of review, 10 minutes of introducing the objective, illustrate using visuals or a demonstration for 10 minutes, discuss for 10 minutes, practice for 10 minutes, review for five minutes.  And if you’ll allow me a moment to rant –

Don’t treat your boys like they are girls.

Boys don’t learn like girls.  Girls don’t behave like boys.  Tell all the progressive social engineers to get over it.  Boys wiggle and squirm and act impulsively and show off in front of girls and break things and blurt out inappropriately.  They are not being “discipline problems” just because they don’t sit with their hands folded neatly in their laps with their ankles touching each other while nodding approvingly at the wisdom that cascades from your highly-educated lips.  And what do we do in America today when a little boy acts like little boys for 6,000 years have acted?  We run for the adderall  and ritalin.  Yes….rather than try to channel that energy, passion and zeal — let’s just drug them into submission.  How about let’s get creative, provide outlets, vary our teaching methods and quit being so dang politically correct and meet this little guys right where they are and train them instead of dope them?  [End Rant]  (Note: I realize that there are rare cases where medications are necessary to help some children, but those are extremely RARE.  If my rant offended you, let’s both just assume that it is YOUR kid that really needs the pills so I can save you having to write a comment or email.)

4. Have more material than you have time.

Idle time and all that….it really is true.  If you don’t have enough to keep the hour full, why not?  Have a bag full of tricks that you can always pull out if you end up having extra time.  Illustrations, demonstrations, games, drills, reviews, visuals, songs, Q and A’s, video clips, etc….  Keep a drawer full of them available.  One thing’s for sure, if you don’t have something planned for the entire class hour, the students will find a way to fill those minutes quite nicely…..but you aren’t going to like the outcome.

5. When punishing, make sure that the pain of the consequence outweighs the pleasure of the conduct.

Gone are the days when if you got in trouble at school, you got in trouble all over again at home such as it was when I was a young’un.  Now, you are as likely as not to get an angry phone call or a letter from a lawyer if you dare discipline a student.  I get that.  But don’t be intimidated by threats.  Stand your ground.  If they cheat…give them a zero.  If they talk…let them miss a break or enjoy a silent lunch.  If they curse….a nice essay might be in order.  But make sure that those little angels don’t have an easy decision when they weigh the potential consequences of their devious actions with the thrill of the execution of said actions.  I didn’t have to get spanked a whole lot when I was growing up.  The reason for that was because when I did get spanked, it was an ordeal and not one that I wanted repeated anytime in the near future.  Whatever your punishment (or if you are politically correct — “consequence”) of choice is, make sure that it exacts a sufficient reaction that will call into question the wisdom of trying that little trick ever again.

I’m forcing myself to stop at five each day so I don’t overwhelm anyone.  There’s a hundred more that could be shared.  Keep an eye out on this blog however.  There’s more to come.  If you haven’t been keeping up, go backwards.  Also, feel free to forward these to your friends, post them on your facebook/twitter/instagram feed and link me to your blog.  Thanks for the good feedback I’ve already received!


Five Things to AVOID When Teaching Children

badteacherThere are certain things that will kill a lesson for young people faster than you can say “Snack Time”.  Knowing what those landmines are will help you avoid them and will keep your lesson on track.

1. Poor Attention Getters

When you are ready to start your lesson, often you will have to gain everyone’s attention.  This can be quite a challenge if you have several dozen or even several hundred young people who are enjoying the company of their peers prior to your arrival.  Some of the least effective ways to get the attention of your charges are as follows:

  • SSSSShhhhhhing — Never “Shush” your children.  They will ignore you, it is more irritating than the chattering and it makes you sound like you’ve sprung a leak.  Don’t do it.  Period.
  • Tapping the Microphone and asking “Is this on?” — If you aren’t 100% sure your microphone is on, don’t use it.  Make sure the sound technician knows you are ready to go, march right up to it, rip it out of the stand and bellow out your opening statement.
  • Ask a question –This is a sure-fire way to create bedlam.  Saunter to the front and say, “Who is glad to be here today?”  You’ll get 10 bazillion different responses and it will take you 10 minutes to get everyone refocused.  More on this later.
  • Take too long to set something/someone up — If you are introducing someone, grab the attention with one, authoritative sentence: “Boys and Girls, give a great big welcome to Mr. Bob!” and then hand off the mike.  (If Mr. Bob knows what he is doing, he’ll know what to do next to keep their attention.)
  • Threaten — Making empty threats in order to gain or keep sentence only makes you look weak.  If you are prepared, excited and in charge, you won’t need to beg for attention and you won’t need to make threats.

So, how do I get the attention of the students?  Well, come back later and I’ll do a whole article on ways to gain attention in a group of young people.

2. Speak in a Monotone

Ben Stein turned the parody of a monotone teacher into an icon of relate-ability in the classic movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.  Indeed, it was his boring teaching that drove Ferris into planning a day of playing hooky.  Don’t be Ben Stein.  Vary your voice like you would a musical instrument — use volume, speed and intensity — to create drama, excitement, anticipation and enthusiasm.

3. Project your Boredom

If you think your lesson is boring, your likely to project that onto your students.  If you think your lesson is exciting and potentially life-changing, then act like it.  Do you know that learning your times tables can be great fun?  Turn them into a song, make it a game, turn them into a rap, have a contest.  But whatever you do, don’t make them boring.  There are few things more tragic than a Bible story teacher who drains the life out Scripture because they won’t be creative and enthused about what they are teaching.  Any topic in the world can be made exciting and challenging by a teacher who truly thinks that what they are teaching is important.  if you don’t think it is important — then let someone else teach in your place!

4. Be Poorly Prepared

If you don’t come very prepared for your class, you can count on it that one of your children is fully prepared to entertain their friends during any lulls you so generously provide.  Always have extra material you can grab at a minutes notice if you have extra time to spare.  It can be a story, a game, a review, a contest, a song.  One of the great tricks of teaching is to “leave them wanting more”.  So pack your story to the end and then leave them “dangling” by saying, “Wow, I had so much more we were going to do/cover/hear/look at.  Oh well, I guess we’ll have to pick it up tomorrow!”

5. Ask open-ended questions in a general way

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen a teacher blow a lesson by coming up and awkwardly opening up with some poorly-considered question.  What do you think will happen when you say “So, what is your favorite kind of ice cream?”  Instantly, some kids will let out a huge “Yummmmm!”  Others will throw their shoulders out of socket with the speed with which they shoot their hands skyward so you’ll call on them.  Most will just blurt out their very favorite kind and it then small debates will break out between people who think the choice of the person next to them has a disgusting favorite flavor.  In 15 second flat, you have complete chaos.  Now imagine the same teacher saying, “If you like icecream, don’t say a word, but raise your hand!”  Now you have their attention, but no bedlam with which you must deal for the next 3 minutes as you real their enthusiasm back in.  Ask questions that have a specific answer, instruct them before asking how you want them to respond and don’t set your kids up for a scolding by not thinking of the consequences your question might cause before you ask it.

Those are just some “tricks of the trade” to avoid.  Stay tuned for some positive ideas next.


Five Things to Remember When Teaching Children

Whether you are a classroom teacher, a Sunday school teacher or even a homeschool mom, teaching children is a skill that can be honMan Teaching Students in Classroomed like any other talent or ability.  Great teachers usually a have “Knack” (ie…gift) for teaching, but even someone who looks at the opportunity of teaching kids as akin to visiting their friendly oral surgeon can pick up a few tricks for their tool bag that might just make the experience more enjoyable.

Here are five:

1. Pay Attention to Attention Span

For children, a good attention span rule of thumb is about 1 minute per year of age.  After that, you are on borrowed time and the potential for a poor behavior episode increases with each tick of the clock.  So be aware that if you are teaching kindergartners, you have about 5 minutes of attention time before you’re going to need to give them some sort of break in the action.

2. Move, Baby, Move!

If you stand in one spot (worse yet, stay glued to a lectern), your kids will start looking for something more interesting upon which to gaze.  So walk about, walk around, walk through, walk behind, but get moving.  This will keep your student’s eyes from wandering and will help you keep their attention.

3. Use Props

Whether you are using a hand-puppet made out of an old sock with button eyes or have an amazing powerpoint presentation complete with an embedded video, props will add interest, break up monotony and create interest.  Don’t freak out and spend a bunch of money and time to develop props.  It can be something as simple as an interesting magazine picture mounted on a piece of construction paper, a curio you picked up on a vacation trip that was a curiosity from a far-away place and might give a change of pace to the presentation or it could be a wonderfully simple everyday item like a piece of bread, an apple, a rock or a leaf.  Depending on the lesson, you can come up with SOMETHING that will divert attention and recapture focus.

4. Deal with discipline issues

Your classroom will be run by the person with the most interesting personality in it.  That needs to be you.  Make it happen.  And when little Johnny or Janie decide to take a run at the “Most Interesting” title you so proudly wear, shut them down.  Whatever you do, don’t ignore it, don’t encourage it and don’t make it worse.  I’ll share some crowd control techniques in a later article.

5. Tell Stories

EVERYBODY loves a story.  So weave stories in and out of your content constantly.  They don’t have to be 20 minute vignettes with marionettes providing thespian-like entertainment — it can simply be a tidbit of trivia (Did you know that if you help a butterfly emerge from its cocoon, it will likely never fly?  Part of the struggle of escaping the pupae prepares it for the ability to fly.) or a personal anecdote (Last week when I was at the store, I found that I needed to learn how to use my multiplication tables to figure out how many bananas I could buy.) or even a story out of the headlines (An Iranian-American Pastor is being held in captivity in Iran because he refuses to renounce his faith.)  Stories connect us with truths.  Use them liberally.

Watch this blog for more articles with teaching tips in the future.

Dan Bench(Dan Burrell holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and is a former classroom teacher, current college professor and past-president of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.  He has co-authored two books for teachers and has extensive experience in training classroom teachers, story tellers and communicators around the world.)