The lecture is the most used method of instruction in adult education. Bear in mind that it is a method of instruction: The intent of the lecture is to teach rather than to talk to a group. A carefully constructed lecture that includes meaningful examples, frequent summaries, simple language, and an appropriate speed of delivery is the most effective. It has greater impact, however, when more creative methods, techniques, or devices are also incorporated into the process of communicating with the learner.

An accomplished lecturer can intellectually stimulate, engage, and excite a learner's mind. Not every lecturer on your program is likely to fit this description, however, especially when budget considerations come into play. Therefore, diverse methods of maintaining the momentum generated by a keynote speaker at an opening plenary session or general session must be part of the approach.

During a lecture, the learner takes a passive rather than an active role in learning. It has been found that attendees are not paying full attention to the presentation 40 percent of the time. In fact, retention of material presented during the first ten minutes of a lecture is 70 percent, but falls to 20 percent in the last ten minutes. Because the adult learner tends to mentally check in and check out of the listening cycle periodically, it is important to keep the learner involved with the material being presented. To break learners out of their passivity, lecturers should evoke some response every 15 minutes-by inducing laughter, posing a question and answering it within the context of the lecture, or another technique.

TO LECTURE, OR NOT TO LECTURE For the purpose of transmitting information, a lecture can represent economy of time and energy. Lecturers can get across a lot of information without interruption in a direct, clear, concise, and logical manner. Lectures accommodate large groups of learners at once, while providing face-to-face contact with a human instructor. Lectures are easy to organize, and the logistics of lecture organization are familiar to just about everyone, an important factor when dealing with volunteer staff and/or inexperienced hotel staff.

Overuse of the lecture method, however, dilutes the content of a program. Lectures present the ideas and viewpoint of only one individual, and interaction between speaker and attendees is ordinarily limited to a question-and-answer period squeezed in at the end of the session. And bearing in mind today's emphasis on results, the lecture is limited in its ability to discover whether attendees have in fact learned anything.

If expression of divergent opinions is the purpose of the presentation, the lecture method is not appropriate. Nor is it appropriate if more effective learning would be ensured by group consensus. Lectures cannot resolve differences of opinion.

THE SINS OF SPEAKERS A lecture's success depends on the expertise of the selected speaker. Inaccurate, biased, or distorted information can be disseminated by a careless or irresponsible speaker. A speaker who does not take into account the level of attendees' knowledge and education is virtually guaranteed to fail. Worse yet is a speaker who expects to be judged on his or her ability to entertain rather than to impart knowledge. And most experienced planners have more than once seen speakers who don't know when to stop, who read their lectures, and who are unaware of the soporific effect of poor-quality slides in a darkened room.

MAKING IT WORK: DESIGN FOR LEARNING The meeting organizer should select the lecturer on the basis of his or her knowledge of the topic, and presentation skills-remembering that the two are not always the same. When possible, select presenters who have the ability to capture the attention of the learner and to maintain interest. Choose professional speakers, especially for a general session that opens a multifaceted meeting or convention.

The meeting organizer should decide on the purpose of the lecture and the atmosphere to be created, e.g., formal, casual, or collegial. The course director and meeting planner need to ask themselves questions, too:

* Are the attendees well motivated and eager to learn? (Remember, uninterested attendees resent being lectured to.)

* Would the topic be better presented in a different format that would achieve the same end or be more effective?

* Has the lecturer been fully informed about the learners, including demographic information? For example, if the lecturer is from outside the profession, he or she must incorporate examples that are relevant, understandable, and applicable to the learners.

A meeting organizer can provide the lecturer with specific targets for learners to achieve during the course of the presentation. Finally, if appropriate, some time should be allotted at the end of the presentation for a question-and-answer period.

MAKING IT WORK: LOGISTICS The great advantage of a lecture is that it can be presented to literally thousands of people at once, especially when learner aids and/or technology are used. Here are a few key planning points:

The stage must be sufficiently elevated so that all can see. Microphones must be provided for the speaker, especially with a larger audience; a podium microphone may be all that is needed.

The audience must be comfortable, and, of course, the room must be large enough for the group. Take care to avoid distractions such as glaring lights or reflections.

Visual aids almost always enhance a presentation, because they have been shown to increase the retention of information. Placement of visual aids where all can see them easily is a critical part of planning the physical configuration.

POSTSCRIPT In the years to come, the traditional 50- to 60-minute lecture will probably be superseded by shorter presentation segments that are interspersed with interactive question-and-answer periods and discussions of how to apply theories in everyday life.

The size of a lecturer's audience will grow, because his or her message will be transmitted by satellite to hundreds and even thousands of locations where learners have gathered.

On-site facilitators will play a crucial role in helping learners discuss and elaborate on practical applications of the speaker's message. The challenge to the speaker will become not to say more, but to say it better, and to work with a broad network of facilitators to provide them with the background and resources they need to ensure that real learning takes place.