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The “making of” a lecture

People often ask me how long it takes to prepare a lecture. Obviously, it varies with the subject, whether I have already prepared some other related lecture or not, but I would say it takes at least one or two months of hard work.

First of all, I need to research the topic. I use books, the Internet, personal documents and experiences, once again it depends on the subject. It takes a long time and branches out into many side issues, which are necessary to establish a solid basis. I enjoy doing it, but it requires tenacity. Sometimes, I will undertake a special trip to sites where I can gather information and take photos to illustrate the lecture.

Then, I tackle the actual writing of the lecture. I need to condense all the information I have gathered in a format that will allow the audience to follow the thread even if they have no previous knowledge of the subject. In most cases, my first draft is too long and too detailed and I have to remove some sections, without oversimplifying and I need to let it rest or “infuse”. Eventually, things will mature, and I will be able to refine how I want to present the information.

At the same time, I need to decide how I will illustrate the lecture. I have an enormous number of photos, taken over the years, which are my main source of visuals. It does mean that I need to spend a lot of time cataloguing them and, if, as unfortunately happens, I have not been as rigorous as I should be, it is terribly frustrating to look for a particular photo in vain! I also resort to finding photos on the Internet if necessary.

Powerpoint has proved a fantastic tool as it allows one to present information in a sequenced manner. With slides, when you showed a map, it was static, there was often too much information, and you could do little except use a pointer to select what was essential. With Powerpoint, you can bring in elements as and when you need to, in order to illustrate a particular point. Being able to show text and pictures at the same time is also useful, when names of places or characters are in a foreign language, which makes it difficult for listeners to memorize.

Then comes the big day when I give my lecture for the first time. Generally, I will tweak the presentation after this, having tested the reaction of the audience. All lectures are due to evolve anyway: Each day, I follow the news in Southeast Asia thanks to several subscriptions on the Internet, which is essential to keep up to date. I also take new and better photos as I travel, so the quality of pictures does improve with better photography. And I also adapt lectures to itineraries when we are cruising, sometimes inserting photos taken during the voyage, to make the lectures as relevant as possible.

So, it is a long process before a lecture is born, but the feedback I have from the audience is always a plus. Some people come to see me with questions, others will give me information on some specific point, and it is always a pleasure to start exchanging and sharing items of mutual interest.

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