Thursday, April 24, 2008

Teaching Tip: Case Examples

I have a simple tip for those of you who have to teach a subject: Use lots of case examples.

Audiences like mysteries and case examples that are centered around a "What is wrong with this picture?" scenario naturally draw interest. They're fun, they can be turned around to illustrate different perspectives, and they are far more memorable than someone droning on about PowerPoint Slide #39. [Hmm. Wade uses straw man example. Sneaky.]

In order to avoid chaos, however, you have to connect the examples with generalizations. This is where what you hope is insightful guidance comes in. The generalizations show the common links and pinpoint what the examples mean. Pump in a lot of examples without generalizations and your presentation will resemble the amiable relative at your family gatherings who sips sherry and observes that it's a crazy old world after all. Nice but not exactly the go-to person for serious advice.

The key to case examples is make them relevant and keep them moving. The value of relevance is obvious but many speakers miss the importance of speed. People can absorb information at an amazing rate and it is far easier for the audience to slow you down with questions than to speed you up if things are staring to drag. This means that you should never, ever, have people sit on their questions until your presentation is over. Invite them to interrupt and argue. Learn to weave your answers into the main theme so you aren't thrown off by questions that are out of order.

Engage the audience and you will be engaging.

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