Public speakers are teachers. We research our topics, come up with ways to explain them, and present them in a way that we hope is exciting. Energetic, prepared presenters can motivate an audience like crazy! On the other hand, unprepared presenters can look like they lack confidence and, by extension, credibility.
Merit Badge University is offered by the Boy Scouts of America to enable Scouts to earn merit badges in a structured format. The classes, like many Scout activities, are taught by a group of dedicated volunteers. That’s great, and I really respect people who freely give of themselves for the benefit of others. But one of the volunteers revealed that she was unprepared for the class she was going to teach, which made me wonder about the quality of education some boys were going to receive.
Teaching is a lot of work
Not only do teachers need to be great showmen if they want to keep their students’ attention and get them excited about what they’re learning, they also have to do a lot of behind-the-scenes work that the class may not be aware of. Preparing a curriculum takes loads of advance planning. You have to come up with a topic, develop classroom materials for the students, and create assignments that will reinforce what you’ve taught and challenge the students.
Teaching also involves devising a means to teach your subject in an interesting, engaging way. You need to deliver great presentations during each class. The presentation is the way you talk to and connect with the students. Presentations encompass lectures, demonstrations, slide shows, videos…pretty much any way you choose to convey the information.
How much can you teach? Well, how long have you got?
One of the very first things you need to establish is the duration of your class. Knowing how long you have to teach lets you know how much you can include in your curriculum. For instance, if your class will be three hours long, you’ll be able to cover your topic more thoroughly than if it’s only 30 minutes. Conversely, if you have three hours worth of material but only 30 minutes to deliver it, you need to quickly get to the essence of your lesson.
A most revealing Facebook posting
The day before Merit Badge University started, I saw a Facebook posting on a Scouting page from one of the volunteer teachers:
Now, I can understand being nervous teaching a class for the first time. But not knowing the length of the classes is inexcusable, especially the day before you’re supposed to teach! And letting people know that you’re new at this is probably not the best way to instill confidence in your abilities.
How could she have devised a curriculum not knowing the class length? Did she have enough material to fill her allotted time, or did she have so much that she needed to decide the day before showtime what to include and what to ditch?
Preparation is key
I make my living helping people to be great presenters. I work with them to develop solid ideas, then we concentrate on scripting and visuals. We always know how long we have to present and we make sure that we get our messages across in the time allowed. It just really rubbed me the wrong way that someone in a position to make a difference in boys’ lives could be so unprepared.
It is my sincerest hope that whenever you are hired or volunteer to teach, or to give a speech or presentation, that you verify well ahead of time how long you have to present. It is only when you know the answer to that question that you can create an effective presentation. Get the hook too early and you leave your students with an incomplete education. Finish up to soon and people will just be staring at you wondering if that’s all there is.