Occasionally I’m drawn in to youtube via links and twists so convoluted that I can no longer remember where I began. That’s how I came across this delightful video of M.I.T.’s Walter Lewin this week:
It’s interesting to see discussions around Lewin and pseudoteaching, but that doesn’t deny his high production values here. Every lecture was, he claims, rehearsed at least three times in full before his first audience was brought in. Clearly, when he decides to do something, he is interested in mastering the art. Even if that art, at first glance, appears mundane.
There are many things that we do that could be tweaked and improved. All we need to do is look at ourselves from the outside occasionally and see what else we can give. If we do something many times during the day, in front of an audience, we may as well learn to do it with finesse. If we’re on a stage, we should deserve it.
Seeing that drawing a dotted line can help make us engaging, memorable and inspirational, perhaps like me, you too want to draw dotted lines like Walter Lewin. You’re in luck.
Or perhaps you’d just like to rock your syncopated head to his dubstep. You can do that too.
Not science. Not a demonstration. But look at the range of ways Wilde says ‘Shut up!’. Impressive.
ScienceDemo blogger Elin Roberts has an exercise/game (once memorably, if incongruously, played in the library of the Royal Institution) called ‘Sandeels.’ The construction is that all participants are puffins, and that puffins have very limited vocabulary and topics of conversation. Specifically, the only thing they ever discuss – and the only word they know – is ‘sandeels.’ Players take a card which specifies an emotion or mood, and have to perform that emotion using only the word ‘sandeels.’ Ian Simmons’ ‘cantankerous’ puffin is a sight to behold.
These sorts of exercises are useful for exploring our range as performers, and they help us think about the details of how we deliver demonstrations.
A few weeks ago I was part of a crack team of science presenters (James Piercy, Debbie Syrop and Matt Pritchard) presenting a session at the Science Communication Conference, How not to present science. It consisted of our favourite pet hates, brought to life, and a number of people have asked for notes on the session. I thought I’d provide my ‘script’ on one section, titled The World Cringing Championships.
The premise had my co-presenters on a sofa with ‘buzzers’ commenting on my cringeworthy performance, whilst I attempted to break every ‘rule’ in the science communicators’ handbook. This was very peculiar to put together, as I was deliberately trying to insert comments and foibles that I’ve spent over a decade deliberately minimising, or intentionally inserting comments that don’t come naturally. It was joyfully liberating, however, to know that whatever went wrong on stage I could assert was my intention all along.