Make Your Audience the Hero

One of the biggest mistakes lecturers make is failing to connect with their audience.  Last week’s post on the “Dr. Fox Effect” generated a bit of controversy about whether or not presentation style can affect the audience’s ability to learn from the teacher.  While this certainly can be debated, one thing we do know is that emotion has a strong influence on learning and memory.1

Building an emotional connection is one of the most effective methods to keep an audience’s attention and persuade them that what you are teaching is important. One way to build this connection is by viewing your audience as a hero and incorporating the power of story into your lectures.

The classic hero’s journey involves:

  1. The Current State – represented by the current state of the world, and what the audience already knows and believes.
  2. The Journey – Represented by the internal conflict an audience will experience as they are taught something new, which may make them feel uncomfortable.
  3. The Resolution – The final destination that is reached as the audience accepts the teacher’s perspective and adopts it as their own.

In medical lectures, persuading an audience of physicians to change their behavior can prove to be challenging.  The teacher can expect an audience to be skeptical at first and initially unwilling to change – because the lesson will require the audience to let go of personal beliefs of what has been taught to be true for years.  But the facts stated within a lecture can be brought to life by regularly incorporating story and anecdote that support the teacher’s position.

Miyagi & Daniel

A common mistake made by educators is that they view themselves as the hero, and that their teaching will save an audience from everything they don’t know. Whether you are in the classroom or in the lecture hall, the role of the teacher is NOT to be the hero. The teacher must embrace the role of a mentor. You are not Daniel Larusso, you are Mr. Miyagi.

A mentor is selfless and has a primary goal of making sure the student succeeds. A good lecturer should embrace a stance of humility and place the interests of the learner first.  Their goal should be to act as a facilitator and guide the audience along their personal journey of change. Think of this as audience-centered teaching.  Take your audience on the Hero’s Journey – and they will not only remember your presentation, but will be able to take the tools you have provided them back to the bedside, and ultimately save a life.

Mr. Miyagi says:  “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher”

Reference & Additional Reading

  • LaBar KS, Cabeza R. Cognitive neuroscience of emotional memory. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2006 Jan; 7(1):54-64.
  • Duarte, Nancy. Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.

Check out the Resonate Multi-Touch iBook, definitely a great read with lots of included multimedia.

Contact me on Twitter @JohnGreenwoodMD



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