Tuesday, October 9, 2007

learning from 'the last lecture'

For those of you who have trouble starting a talk, the idea of a last lecture may sound like your heart's desire. It's part of a trend on college campuses, says today's Wall Street Journal:
Schools such as Stanford and the University of Alabama have mounted "Last Lecture Series," in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be mulled is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?
But with its focus on 46-year-old Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who's dying of pancreatic cancer, that question sharpens--and informs--the challenge.

You can watch a video of Pausch's last lecture via the link above, or read the book, also titled The Last Lecture. It's an affectionate romp through disappointments and dreams in his life and career, and it offers reminders for those of us who still have speeches to give:
  • Share with the audience exactly where you stand today: You may have changed your mind about a major policy, be celebrating a special birthday or have been dreading the speech. But sharing this morning's thinking with your audiences gives your speech a freshness missing from many lectures. It's what they came to find out.
  • Get out into the audience: Walking off the stage and into the audience is still the best way to engage them. Hand things out or pass them around. Pausch, who recounted fulfilling his childhood dream of winning giant stuffed animals at carnival games of skill, had the toys brought out and distributed them to audience members.
  • Move: After showing x-rays of his tumors, Pausch does one-handed pushups on stage to make a point about his health. It's a gripping moment, powered by movement.
  • Don't avoid the emotional or the personal: In the course of his last lecture, Pausch showed photos of his bosses and students; gave a birthday cake to his wife; and shared how his mother described him as "a doctor, but not the kind who helps people." It's these gestures that best connect you to the audience. Once discouraged and dismissed as a technique women brought to public speaking, top speakers today understand that audiences of all types, from television to the lecture hall, value personal connection.

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