Lectures and Lecturing

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Body Language


Lectures are not a natural setting for most people; they are a performance. It's important to think about how you present yourself in that situation. This is pretty cringe-making for most people, but not as cringe-making as not doing it and perhaps continuing to repeat some less effective behaviours time after time!

The best approach to improving your body language is to find a colleague whom you trust and ask them to sit in on your session and comment on your presentation. However, this isn't always possible, so start with a bit of self-analysis – you might be surprised.

The following sections look at voice, eye contact, movement and gestures in turn.


How do you use your voice? Is it loud enough to reach the back of the room? Don't just ask if people can hear you – ask a specific question of people at the back, so that you can be sure they have heard properly. If there is a problem with your voice reaching to the back, ask Media Services for advice about amplification.

Think about how you vary your tone during the session. Do you signal a change in emphasis or something particularly important using your voice?

Slowing down a little can be effective to signal a point of emphasis, while speeding up can show enthusiasm.

Can you use humour in your voice to introduce or reinforce a point?

You may find it useful to listen to effective radio presenters and think about the ways in which they achieve variety of tone and changes in pace with their voices. Try listening to a selection of ‘historic’ Reith Lectures which are available free from the BBC, and comparing the ways some of the speakers use their voices.

Eye Contact

Eye contact and reading body language are important ways of getting information from the audience. You can tell whether people are puzzled, bored, frustrated, interested, engaged or even desperate to contribute, by looking at them. Make sure that you look around the room frequently. You can't make eye contact with everyone in a large lecture theatre, but try to make eye contact at least once with people in every part of the room.

A big group can be pretty daunting, but remember that they have come along with the intention of making you the centre of attention, so it's not surprising that they are looking at you and trying to make eye contact themselves.

Movement and Gestures

Moving around the room, or just around the lectern area, can provide a change of emphasis and pace. Gestures can be useful for showing emphasis, warmth and interest, but at the opposite end of the scale they might look like nervous tics.

Your body language can show that you want to be there with them, and help you to communicate some of your passion for the subject. If you are teaching something very basic which is a prerequisite to more exciting stuff, remind yourself how and when things get more interesting, and try to communicate that information and excitement.

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