July 17, 2006

Breaking the monotone

You've no doubt heard of the phrase that the best teachers aren't the "sage on the stage, but rather the "guide on the side." It's a great reminder, but even the best guide gets the stage everyonce in awhile. ILI-L was recently hot with a discussion of how to help break that monotone droning that some folks seem to slip into once they get the stage.

Here's my 2 cents on this:

- Practice popping out words in your sentences (in other words - concentrate on inflections). Try for a pop out every couple of sentences. I was in a training once where we practiced inflections to communicate nuances of meaning. You could do this at an instruction-related meeting every once in awhile and have folks say the same phrase but with entirely different meanings (sarcasm, doubt, concern, questioning, confusion). It's difficult to attempt this without popping one or more words in the phrase and breaking out of that monotone.

- It might help some folks if they have something on flipcharts (we pre-make flipcharts for our commonly taught workshops that we use class after class, keeping the flipcharts attached to the chart). Practice slapping the flipchart from time to time as you make a point, use a marker to tap something on the whiteboard, etc.. I know some of you are groaning, but an odd sound from time to time does jolt people out of their stupor and can help even someone with a monotone voice catch some attention.

- Sometimes "monotone" can also imply static/immobile. Move around in the classroom all the time. Teach from the side, from the back, walk around frequently. Avoid pacing though.

- And key to all this if you keep slipping back into the monotone is to tighten up the design of your workshop so that you are never talking for more than about 5-7 minutes at a time. If the learner is engaged every 5-7 minutes with a task, they might forgive some monotone lecturing for a few minutes here and there....besides, that's just really good instructional design. Check out chapter 12 for much more about this.

- And finally, if you'd like to bring in some staff training I'm sure there are folks on this list who would come in and give you a workshop on presentation techniques, but you also may want to contact your local ASTD group (Association of Staff Training and Development) to see if they can recommend a good trainer on this topic. Also, if you live near a city where Langevin Learning Services has sessions, I highly recommend their "Instructional Techniques for New Instructors." We actually brought them into the library to do a customized session for us on this - but they also offer generic ones in major cities.