Whether you’ve taught hundreds of students in the past, or are gearing up for your first in-person class this fall, lecturing can be daunting. But delivering a high-quality presentation doesn’t have to be as difficult as it seems. The seven tips below will help shift your nerves to the back burner while putting engagement and belonging front and center.

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1. Plan your lecture notes and visual aids in advance

Preparing ahead of your first class can help you anticipate student questions while ensuring you cover all pertinent tenets of your material. Create an outline of how you’ll begin your class and what discussion prompts and activities you’ll use to engage students. It’s important to consider the format that works for you: this could be cue cards for an in-person class or a second monitor with your notes on screen during an online class.

Additionally, consider incorporating a few discussion prompts for the end of your lecture in case student participation is low. This process will further eliminate any awkward silence. Be sure to avoid writing your lecture notes word-for-word, as this will make your delivery less authentic and meaningful.

2. Take notes from your colleagues

Seek out mentors in your colleagues. Get to know your peers and consider asking them how they effectively plan their lectures—what and how many activities do they use? How do they introduce new topics? What does group work look like in their course? Not only will you be able to expand your own network, you’ll get valuable tips for forming an engaging and inviting class climate. Alternatively, consider doing a practice run of your lecture introduction or another element in front of a colleague. They’ll be able to provide you with useful feedback that will help you strengthen the delivery of future lectures.

3. Include instructional reminders in your notes

Delivery reminders such as pausing your lecture to open the floor up to discussion or when to use supplemental material to reinforce a topic can be particularly helpful in maintaining engagement. Not only will these cues make you feel more at ease in front of a large group, your students will get to be part of a more participatory and humanizing learning experience. You might also consider adding answers to anticipated questions that your students might ask you related to your subject matter. Doing so will help you deliver timely, informative answers without the added pressure.

4. Forge connections early on to reduce anxiety

One of the first steps in forming connections with students is getting to know their names. Even if you’re teaching a large class, consider arriving early to get to know a handful of learners and their backgrounds. This small talk will also make students feel more comfortable going to you later in the term for support or guidance. Building rapport in a face-to-face classroom is even more important, with students seeing you in person multiple times a week. You might ask students to add a photo of themselves to their profile in your learning management system to make it easier for you and your teaching assistants to familiarize themselves with your cohort outside of class time.

5. Use icebreaker questions to get students to open up

Dedicate the first day of class to community building and rapport. Icebreakers are a great way to hear from students on a variety of topics who you may not have heard from otherwise. Plus, these exercises take the spotlight off of you and place it onto your students—allowing you to recuperate and determine what the next part of your lesson may entail. While some students may dread the usual “two truths and a lie” icebreaker activity, use contemporary or course-specific examples that motivate and excite learners to participate. Get started with these 50+ free icebreakers for any college course.

6. Embrace the principles of effective slide design

It can be tempting to write full sentences on your slides and read them verbatim. Aim for 12 to 20 slides for a 50-minute lecture to leave enough room for organic discussion. Remember, visual aids should be a supporting component of your lecture—not the sole focus. Consider emphasizing key pieces of information with bold or larger text so it’s easier for students to take notes.

You might also consider providing a skeleton version of your slide deck in advance to students in order for them to jot down their own examples that arise during your conversations in lecture. Interspersing your slideshows with opportunities for anonymous discussions can further help students feel comfortable opening up in front of you and their peers.

7. Take stock of your own teaching style at the end of your lectures

Whether it’s after your practice runs with a co-worker, or after your first lecture in front of a group of new students, reflect on what did and didn’t go according to your plan. Were you relying too heavily on your slides? Or not leaving enough time for student questions at the end of class? Consider having one or two of your teaching assistants provide this feedback to you at the end of your lecture.

You might also want to take a comparative approach—for example, reflect on your teaching style at the end of your first, fifth and tenth lectures to see improvement over time. If you’re teaching an online or hybrid course, consider re-watching your own lecture recordings to note any unintentional non-verbal cues. Reflecting on your own teaching style will only help you deliver more impactful and effective lectures, no matter how comfortable you are with public speaking.

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  1. Buddle, C. (2014). Learning to Teach: 10 Tips for Professors. Teaching for Learning @ McGill University. https://teachingblog.mcgill.ca/2014/03/21/learning-to-teach-10-tips-for-professors/
  2. Delaney, J.K. (2018). Ten Tips for Dealing with Nervousness on the First Day of Class. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/ten-tips-for-dealing-with-nervousness-the-first-day-of-class/
  3. The University of Waterloo. (2019). Lecturing Effectively. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/lecturing-and-presenting/delivery/lecturing-effectively-university

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