Tip #75: Building interaction into a 30 minute lecture

The Challenge: You have only thirty minutes to cover a lot of information, yet know you should use some discussion to break up the lecture.

Possible Approaches: The key focus in responding to this challenge is to avoid the myth that you need to use a lecture when you have a lot of information to cover in a short period of time. The first question you need to answer is: What do the participants already know? You do not want to waste precious time teaching them what they already know. The only reason to lecture is when you have information that no one else has. If others already know the information, lecture is inappropriate and should be replaced with a questionnaire or some other more interactive method that allows the participants to tell what they know.

  • Use a task analysis to determine which information is essential, then identify a focus question that will enable the participants to tell you what they already know. That way you can pare down what you need to add.
  • Have the participants work in pairs or small groups to discuss their responses to the focus question, then use directed large group discussion of their responses.


  • Format the information you want to convey in a questionnaire, which asks the participants to agree or disagree with each statement.
  • Give them five minutes to discuss their responses in pairs, then have them signal their responses (thumbs up means they agree with the statement, thumbs down means that they disagree with the statement, or thumbs to the side means they’re unsure of the answer).
  • Ask representatives of each thumb direction to explain the rationale for their responses, indicating which is correct.
  • Then build on the information they already have provided, where necessary.


  • Use pop ups to have participants jump up and give you in one minute six key points covered or three examples of how they could use this information in their jobs. (Don’t forget to reward each person who pops up with an answer with a Tootsie Roll Pop!)

The second question you need to answer is: What level of learning do I need to achieve?

If you simply want people to know that the information exists, but you are not worried about them understanding it, then by all means use a lecture. My guess is that you would at least like to achieve comprehension, so you need to add visuals and written material, and interrupt the lecture every 5-10 minutes or so with questions or brief “what if” case scenarios to the group to check their understanding.

If the desired level of learning is application: knowing the information, understanding it, AND being able to use it, then two things need to happen:

First, you need to reopen your conversation with the primary managerial sponsor, draw from that person how important it is that the participants reach a level of application for this content (it is much more effective if you ask questions that will enable the sponsor to come to the same conclusion on his or her own), and renegotiate the amount of time you’ve been given so that you can use a more appropriate method.

Second, if additional time is absolutely not available, then you need to be very creative to incorporate methods that will provide an opportunity for the participants to apply their new learning! It will be critical for you to conduct a task analysis to determine the essential information (you can provide written material for their later reference that covers both essential and non-essential information) and then decide how to convey that information to all learning styles as quickly as possible:

  • Perhaps a brief lecturette that explains the information (augmented by a written job aid and visuals) and a brief story that illustrates how the information is applied. Allow yourself no more than 10 minutes for this.
  • Check for comprehension with a few questions to the group for about 3 minutes.
  • Then give them an application exercise to do in pairs or in small groups. This should be a brief case study or a “what if?” question that they need to read, discuss out loud, and answer 2-3 questions (that require them to apply what they’ve learned to analyze the situation, identify potential responses, and select one). Allow them 8 minutes for this, giving them a warning when they only have 2 more minutes.
  • Draw the answers from different groups and make a very brief summary statement in the remaining 9 minutes

My point is that interactive participant-centered exercises can and probably should always be used in training, regardless of the time!

[Note: If you are new to Laurel Learning Tips and would like to know more about the use of stories or pop ups, or how to use focus questions, questionnaires, or case studies, all of this information can be found in previous Laurel Learning Tips, which are posted on my website.]

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