A Self-Critique of the Guest-Lecture I Gave Last Week

My recent guest lecture at Nottingham Business School left a bitter taste in my mouth

Last Wednesday I gave my most recent guest-lecture at Nottingham Business School. The content was pretty much identical to those I’ve given in previous years; a broad explanation of the Theory of Constraints concepts of Drum-Buffer-Rope, Make-to-Order and Make-to-Availability – essentially it’s all about supply chain logistics. I tweak my slides each year, each revision enhancing the content of the visuals, but I’ve gotten to the stage where I know from improvisational (and rote-learned) memory what I should be saying to accompany each slide, so I’ve never used notes. My talks have been well-received, and in terms of content and clarity I think I’m pretty much bang-on; I doubt I would have been invited back if I wasn’t.

But I hold myself to high-standards, and I was dissatisfied with the lecture I gave this year. Admittedly I think a state of “satisfaction” comes with distance and the associated stretching of hindsight (for example, when I think back to previous years’ lectures I’m ambivalent – I can’t recall anything that went overly right or overly wrong), but in the immediate aftermath of the latest one my opinion is that there is room for improvement. Whilst my ability to explain and clarify the content in an accessible manner improves each year I thought I took a step backwards in terms of my actual presenting technique and delivery this time, so I’m conducting a post-mortem to examine what aspects I was specifically unhappy with:

Speech

Yesterday was arguably a worse lecture than I gave last year; I was more time constrained this time, needing to fit seventy minutes of content into three quarters of an hour, so I purposefully spoke fast. Whilst this didn’t have any appreciable difference on the students’ understanding of me (I wasn’t speaking that fast – I didn’t chipmunk my way through it) I certainly felt uncomfortable with the pace, my brain having to devise, compute and relay each sentence to my lips faster than it would prefer.

On the other hand my hastiness did mean I didn’t linger too long on each topic. In past lectures I felt I over-explained certain things that I had already made a good job of detailing. Nobody has ever mentioned that I have over-laboured an explanation – most audience members are probably thankful for more clarification to cement their understanding – but from my point of view any time spent over-stressing things is just dawdling, when there’s always plenty still to get through. Not so this year; I flew through it all.

Next time: either slim down the content to generate more time to talk slowly…or the hell with restraint – talk slower with the same quantity of content, and take as long as I want. Either way, I must speak steadily, but retain the rhythm.

Posture & body language

Initially beyond my control, my mistakes were ultimately compounded by a lack of self-discipline. The wireless laser pointer used to advance the slides wasn’t working, so I had to stand at the computer console and use the keyboard to progress through my visuals. This tethered me to the spot, so I couldn’t relax and wander the floor a little, which I typically find is soothing for both presenter and presentee. For large parts of the talk I also found myself leaning against the wall behind me, which I had initially started doing unconsciously, but by the end I was continuing to do it quite consciously. For this sort of lecture this isn’t a problem, and in small doses would have appeared calm and casual (the lectures are a relaxed, laidback affair after all), but I think I overdid it. There’s a fine line between “relaxed” and “slouched”.

Next time: more movement required, like in previous years.

Attire

I wore a grey t-shirt and indigo jeans. I constantly overheat, even in the nippiest of environments, and in previous years wearing a t-shirt and jumper made me a little stuffy, which was compounded by the natural increase in sweat caused by the anxiety of having many pairs of eyes staring at me. The university seminar rooms have always been stiflingly warm, so in this oddly temperate March I thought donning just a t-shirt would help me out.

Unfortunately choosing to eschew one of my layers created a new problem; the sweat marks were slowly soaking through the thin cotton t-shirt. From experience I can practically guarantee that this wasn’t noticeable to anyone else in the room, but at the time – because I was aware of it – I was sure everyone else would be too. Not being able to raise your arms to point at something because you’re concerned about flashing everyone your sweaty-pits is a constraint, and I felt paralysed at the shoulders because of it.

Next time: back to two layers; let the shirt underneath take the brunt of the perspiration, nicely hidden by the outer layer, and free my arms to gesticulate and windmill to their heart’s content.

Final thoughts

Now that I’ve written all this down I don’t feel nearly as negative about the whole thing as I did before. There were many things that did go very right; my occasional swear words and pockets of cynicism received the titters that they were supposed to generate, and a lively Q&A at the end capped the whole thing off very pleasantly. Plus the complementary lunch afterwards always goes down a treat.