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8 Tips to Giving a Great Lecture

I have been giving genealogy lectures for several years now. I enjoy them very much, but I enjoy them even more when the attendees leave happy.

But, I have been to a boring genealogy lecture or two, have you? The warmth of the room, the low lights, and the drone voice just lull me to sleep.

If you are interested in lecturing about genealogy, here are eight tips for keeping your audience engaged and awake during your presentation.

1. Appeal to the Masses

I have a list of eight presentations that I change once a year. I choose topics that appeal to the masses. Immigration, naturalization, using social media, and courthouse research are just a few. Though sometimes needed, I shy away from presentations that may not have a great amount of interest. Native American research in Ohio is not as relevant as it might be in say, North Carolina.

Consider the area in which you are giving lectures and what the people of that area need. If you live near a state repository or other special resource, have you considered a lecture on that?

2. Arrive Early

To arrive early, one must often leave early. Many times, my lecture is in an unfamiliar place to me. Road closings, detours, accidents, and weather may increase the time it takes to drive there. Plan on leaving early and giving yourself plenty of time.

One thing I have learned the hard way is the parking problem. After a few hard lessons, I have learned to ask ahead of time where I can park. There is nothing like coming out after a lecture to find you were ticketed because you parked somewhere you should not have.

3. Invest in the Right Tools

The best purchase I ever made was my own projector for PowerPoint presentations. Many locations where I lecture have their own screens and projectors. However, I find that many people do not know how to use their projector. You will become familiar with your own devices and not have any problems setting up and working the equipment.

I would also suggest buying a projector with a remote control, which is pretty standard these days. The remote allows you to go forward and backward in your PowerPoint presentation without having to stand by the computer and click a button. I can freely walk and move without being tethered to one location. My remote also has a nice laser pointer which comes in handy.

4. A PowerPoint Presentation is Must

I have been in lectures where no PowerPoint presentation was given. It was not very stimulating and I found my mind wandering. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. One exception could be using an overhead projector with slides or some variation.


Attendees now come to expect a level of professionalism and showmanship that comes from a media presentation as well as a lecture.

I not only prepare a PowerPoint presentation for my topics, but I memorize my lecture notes so I can easily move from slide to slide without getting hung up. I find this allows me to manipulate the lecture to fit the needs of the audience as well.

5. Create an Outline

For each presentation, I provide a lecture outline for attendees. I typically send this over to the contact person one week prior to the day of the event. The group provides the copies of the outline for the attendees.

Though many people bring their own paper or laptops to lectures for note taking, I find they are better able to be engaged in the lecture when they are not writing down every last thing you say. Giving them an outline with key points and websites you are referencing helps the listener to enjoy the lecture.

6. Work on Your Presentation Voice

The most pleasing voice to listen to is a lower voice and one with some movement. As a woman, your voice may be high and dare I say, screechy. Practice lowering it and enunciating your words. When I was beginning to lecture, I would watch my favorite news broadcaster and try to emulate her voice and intonation.

Men or women who are not using volume changes and movement will get stuck in the drone zone. This is when every sentence is basically at the same volume and sounds like a lecture from an old college professor.

Add some clean humor, never use questionable or offensive language, and remember to smile.

7. Encourage Questions

I like to give my listeners permission to ask questions right up front. When your audience asks questions, you find the lecture may take a different route. As long as you feel comfortable getting back on topic, go ahead and take questions throughout the lecture.

If you are concerned about getting off topic, then allow time at the end for a peppering of questions.

8. It’s Okay to Not Know

As a presenter of a topic, you want to make sure you are educated in the material. Take time to do your homework and learn from the most reputable sources, which is typically not Wikipedia.

Inevitably, you will have questions that you do not know the answers to. It is okay to say “I don’t know.” Don’t be a perpetuator of bad information. If you are unsure, say you are unsure. If you think you know the answer, then simply qualify it with “I think” or “I believe.” Attendees will be more impressed by you honestly stating that you do not know something, instead of realizing you are pretending to know, and giving out incorrect information.

In conclusion, anyone can learn the techniques in becoming a great speaker. There’s no need to become “that lecturer” who put the audience to sleep and was rather unmemorable. Hopefully these eight tips will polish your already beginning skills or help you feel more confident in pursuing a dream of becoming a lecturer. Practice makes perfect, so start today and good luck.

Amie Bowser Tennant Amie Bowser Tennant

Amie Bowser Tennant has served as a volunteer at her local Family History Center for more than 10 years. She was awarded the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course Scholarship in American Genealogy in 2011. She also enjoyed the position as newsletter editor for Miami Meanderings, a local county genealogical publication, for two years. Now, she is a research genealogist, speaker, and writer.

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