"How to" Guide

Which comes first: the topic/theme or the speakers?

  • The answer to this question is: it depends. On one hand, you might have an idea for a theme, for example, as part of the International Year of Astronomy, your proposed theme is “How Physics Shapes Our Universe”. Or LaserFest, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser. You now have a theme, and you can approach colleagues and ask them to take part.
  • On the other hand, you also could call a meeting of your colleagues (particularly those who are good speakers) and discuss as a cohort whether they would be interested in participating and then work out the subjects and theme

Determine how and when you will present your series

  • think about how you will present the topic – will you use powerpoint slides? Will you incorporate a demo? How will you relate the topic to the theme?
  • What should the frequency of the lectures be? Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has a lecture series that takes place every Saturday for a particular period of time. Your series can be once a week or once a month, for example. The frequency that you pick will depend upon how many speakers you have, how much information you want to present (ie how many speeches relate to your theme?), availability of space/location, and several other factors.
  • Dates: assuming you will be speaking on your campus, check the University’s master calendar first. You may find that you can schedule at least one of your lectures around a university-wide special event, such as Homecoming, which may ensure you get and reach a wider audience (plus you can take advantage of their public relations resources). But of course you also want to ensure that your lectures don’t conflict with some other major event that your audience might be interested in attending instead.

Come up with a catchy title

  • this is important and it relates to the public’s knowledge of the subject. You don’t want a title that is similar to one you might see in a technical seminar at an APS meeting. You want a title that peaks the interest of the public.

Find and book a location

  • You preferably want the location to be the same for every lecture in the series
  • You also preferably want a location that is near accessible public parking
  • contact your university parking department to find out about what is available and when (for example, after 5pm, many universities don’t charge for on-street parking or parking in official university lots.) Some university garages or parking spaces may be always available to the public and others may never be available. Know this in advance and tell the parking department when your lectures are so they know that the public will be parking on campus in a certain location at that time. What you are trying to avoid is having people park and then get ticketed because there was a miscommunication (or non-communication) between you and the parking department. Be sure to get any parking arrangements in writing. 
  • if you plan on using powerpoint or incorporating a demo, the location should have or allow for the AV equipment you have and/or the space needed to do the demo 

Publicize your series

  • write a (very simple) flyer which will include:
  • title of lecture series
  • title and dates of individual talks
  • name and title and title of talk for each speaker
  • “presented by” your university, your department
  • time- the time should be the same for each lecture so as not to confuse the public (include how long the lectures will last, ie 5-6pm)
  • location: address, and possibly a map and/or description to the location (since universities tend to be very confusing to the outside public)
  • include pictures or graphics
  • short abstract explaining the theme
  • parking info
  • cost – Free!
  • contact info – that can be you, or a project manager (see below) or even the admin in your department, but here is the obvious key: if you include someone’s contact info, tell them first and make sure they know about your lecture
  • Promote it on listservs within the university, put it on the university’s master calendar, post it around your department, send the flyer to the university’s student newspaper.
  • You also want the non-university public to attend, so see Public Relations for tips to publicize your lecture series.

Prepare your lectures

  • work with each speaker to ensure they are rehearsed and prepared to speak in front of a large lay audience
  • if you are going to use power point slides, make sure they have:
  • large type, readable by the last row
  • few words – the slides are meant to act as a supplement to your spoken words, not the other way around. So don’t have paragraphs of text and use bullet points
  • pictures on them, especially when explaining a difficult and/or new (to the public) concept. But stay away from too many charts and graphs, unless they are completely relevant to the core subject.
  • Consider using a demo that goes with it – Expert Dick Berg of the University of Maryland suggests that you use the powerpoint slides as a guide to explain a concept and then have a demo to actually show it to the audience.

Practice your lecture

  • As project manager, you will need to meet with every presenter and do a rehearsal with each one. Do not take their word for it that they are ready and that their speech is jargon-free and ready for public consumption      
  • Do a dress rehearsal with the computer, LCD and microphone you will be using, in advance if possible
  • Do a dress rehearsal in the room in which you will be speaking
  • Time it – make sure that if you advertise your lecture for 30 minutes, plus time for questions, that that is exactly how long you take the present it.

The moment has arrived…

  • you and your speaker get to the room at least 30 minutes before the lecture is to begin to ensure all the AV is set up, loaded with your talk, and is functioning properly (whether you are setting it up yourself or not)
  • test the microphone
  • bring a hard copy of your slides, just in case there is an AV malfunction, and be ready to use the hard copy as a guide
  • you and your speaker should dress appropriately
  • be personable, thank the audience for being there, look them in the eye, use your hands for gestures as needed and appropriate
  • since you are the “host”, introduce each speaker with a short bio, and when you are the speaker, get someone to introduce you,
  • speak slowly, project your voice, talk out, not into your chest, smile, express enthusiasm and excitement for your subject and your audience
  • insert humor as is appropriate but be careful with this (a good thing to practice in front of another person)
  • When you are finished, thank the audience again and invite questions
  • For any questions, repeat the question back to the audience (in case it was not heard by anyone) and say “thank you for your questions” or “that’s an excellent question” – in other words, don’t belittle the question or the questioner
  • If it is an especially big room, consider having a wireless mike that you can pass to the questioner so that everyone can hear. Alternatively you can have a mike on a stand set up in the aisle for questions.
  • If you end up with a lot of people asking questions, you might want to cut off the time of the Q and A session and tell people that you are available to answer questions individually.
  • have business cards available, because undoubtedly you will totally rock and audience members will want your contact info to invite you to speak at other events.
  • have a sign up sheet available for audience members to get on a mailing list or listserv for your department to not only get more info about these lectures but other info about the department and university as well.
  • have brochures about the department available at the event
  • have copies of the lecture series promotional flyer available to give out so people remember to attend the next time