Change of pace

As teachers and speakers, when we deliver a talk, a workshop, a class, or other type of teaching session, we need to think about how to structure a class. We need to think about how people learn — and one of the things we do to ensure people can learn effectively is to create change of pace in our classes.

You can’t talk at someone for 45 minutes and expect them to stick with you. You need to change pace so that they’re paying attention, aren’t bored with the material, and stay engaged in the conversation.

For many speakers, trainers, and teachers that means switching up what is happening in the class. From the teacher’s perspective it often goes something like this:

  • I will tell them something
  • I will show them a demo of the thing
  • I will show them a photo/video of a thing
  • I will tell them some more things
  • I will share resources with them

The idea is that we are putting different things in our slides or on the whiteboard, and changing it up. Change of pace.

But it isn’t.

That is a change of pace for you, the teacher. But not for the people that are learning. Look at that list again — what are the learners doing in each of those examples? Listening to you. Watching you. Listening to you. Watching a video. It’s all variations on the same theme.

I have been working on this concept in my teaching for almost 25 years. I owe this cornerstone of my teaching to my friend and then Professor of Education, Peter Chin. I remember the revelation in his science teaching methods course at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

What does a change of pace really look like?

Change of pace is about what the learner is doing, not what you, the teacher, is doing.

Particularly for longer classes or workshops — think 90 min blocks or half or full day workshops — change of pace is really important.

Sure, there’s always some listening, but what else could they be doing? There’s a lot of options. Look at all these verbs!

  • watching
  • analyzing
  • testing
  • drawing/sketching
  • creating
  • reading
  • thinking
  • laughing
  • writing
  • sharing
  • presenting

Next time you’re planning a talk or a workshop, take a look at your outline and your slides. What are the learners doing when you’re on each slide? How have you blocked out the time so that they can partake in different activities that aren’t all just listening?

Use different verbs. Change the pace, and keep your learners engaged.