3 Hours: Is NSTP “Boring?”

I have this one memory from my high school years, of a particularly acad-heavy week. I can’t remember exactly what things I had to do back then, but it definitely involved studying for at least two different long tests and finishing at least one paper or project. As I was working on these, my dad walked into the room just to check up on me. “What’s up?,” he asked. “Just cramming some things,” I replied. He then asked me if I had time to go attend this family lunch-reunion or something. I told him that I would probably be busy the whole day, since I had around two to three things on hand.

Being very understanding, my dad let me stay at home to finish what I had to do. However, he did leave me an interesting bit of advice regarding my work ethic. “Son,” he said. “Don’t worry too much about the time you have for work. Most tasks worth doing can be finished in around three hours. Several years later, I still find myself trying to apply my dad’s rule-of-thumb in my college life. Be it academics or org-related activities, I keep trying to get myself to accomplish as many meaningful, productive things done in a three-hour time period.

Speaking of three-hour time periods, a regular NSTP lecture is technically one of the longest classes an Econ student can take this semester, lasting from 2 to 5 pm every Monday. Every week, those enrolled in the class must sign-in, find a seat, and endure a three-hour string of lectures. These lectures cover a variety of topics related to Philippine culture and society, ranging from women’s rights, to social media, to anthropology. Highly qualified experts are invited to deliver these talks, and many of these lectures include an open forum in which the students may ask questions.

While these lectures have the noble goal of making Econ students aware of Philippine issues in preparation for CWTS duties next semester, note that I used the word “endure” to describe what many of us do at these symposia. The problem apparently faced many of those involved with the NSTP program is that the lectures often failed to stimulate their audiences, generating little interest in the topics being discussed. In short, many of the NSTP lectures are alarmingly viewed as boring, unnecessary, and worst of all, a waste of time. It seems that a valuable three hours are spent on something that doesn’t get anything done.

As an Econ student, I believed in the potential of the lectures, seeing as how the act of “serving the nation” requires one to know as much as possible about said nation. However, I also believe that the full potential of the talks has not been reached, since many had failed to capture the complete attention of students, myself included. As much as I don’t want to sound ungrateful (I’m not. Just mildly bothered.), I have to point out the shortcomings of what would otherwise have been a very good academic experience. The main problems of the NSTP lectures lie not in the content of the speeches, but their delivery.

First of all, there is the matter of what an NSTP lecture is. A typical NSTP talk is a large lecture, with one speaker addressing an audience of over a hundred. Unlike a usual classroom setting with two-dozen or so students per teacher, an NSTP lecture requires a speaker to divide his or her efforts among a much larger audience. In fact, with such a large group all listening to just one person, the speaker can usually just treat the entire audience as a single entity, delivering a whole speech and not inviting individual questions until much later. The problem with this format is that a lecturer cannot easily identify the people who aren’t listening to the speech, unless the audience becomes significantly rowdy and noisy. As such, the lecturer must speak under the assumption that they have the audience’s full attention. As previously stated, this is not always the case.

When it comes to attention spans, NSTP lectures really do test our generation’s ability to pay attention. As our professor said in the very first class, we are members of Generation M, otherwise known as the “Millenials.” We grew up alongside the rise of the Internet, and have immersed ourselves in a heavily digitized environment. Ours is the generation of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our screens are full of status updates, hashtags, and likes. Google put massive quantities of information at our fingertips, with all sorts of knowledge just a click and a few seconds away. Media constantly pulls our attention in every direction at once, struggling to grab what few brief moments of thought we can spare. Even the academic world of UP is competing for our attention. Every hour spent in CWTS is one not used to study for a test or exam. Knowing all this, it seems ludicrous to expect us to hold still for a whole afternoon and listen quietly to a single person and whatever “boring” topic he or she has to share.

Right?

The thing is, such an idea is not completely ridiculous. We aren’t mindless teenagers and twenty-somethings, but UP students. We all have some level of intelligence and love of learning; otherwise we wouldn’t be in UP. We recognize that we need to learn from classes because we don’t know everything. If we did, we wouldn’t be going to UP in the first place. If NSTP offers to teach us about valuable topics, such as the role of activism and the origins of our race, why can’t we just hold still, stop talking, and just listen?

Here lies the second issue of NSTP’s inefficiency at imparting new ideas to its young audience: Delivery, delivery, delivery.  When the audience consists of Millenials in their late-teens, every gesture that captivates people more effectively goes a long way in making a successful speech. An ineffective (i.e. “terrible”) way of going about a speech is to walk up onstage, stand behind the podium, and remain there for the duration of the speech, either reading aloud from notes or rambling continuously off the top of one’s head. A handful of NSTP lecturers have done this, and almost all of them had lost their audience’s attention before finishing even half a speech.

So what is a lecturer to do, with a student class apparently so easily distracted that they must fight for every last bit of their consciousness? The answers lie in the fundamentals of Comm 3. Econ students who have taken Comm 3 will know that a crucial element that a speaker must have is “ethos,” roughly translated as “credibility.” A speaker’s credibility increases the level of respect and attention received from the audience, thus a strong ethos is the foundation for an effective speech. The ethos of an NSTP speaker oftentimes appears even before the lecturer does. For instance, the lecturer’s academic credentials and achievements are read aloud before he or she is formally introduced onstage. From the appearance attire to the flow of voice, the speaker either builds or erodes their ethos over the course of the talk. Point is, by the time an NSTP speaker walks up onstage, he or she already presents a fairly stable ethos in front of the Econ student body, and it is up to them to uphold it. If they start out as appearing highly credible due to past achievements, but give a boring speech, the audience will simply think, “You were interesting then, but you’re boring now.

UP Econ students are by no means as spoiled and self-entitled as the stereotypes make us out to be. We understand (with a little help from Comm 3), that both speaker and listener have responsibilities to each other. We respect our NSTP lecturers and professors, and thus resolve to stay still and quiet for the duration of their talks. However, if the delivery of these talks is dry and uninteresting, then it doesn’t matter how valuable the content is. Little by little, our attention will fall away.

What then, is the best way to deliver a proper, engaging NSTP lecture? Should the professor-expert-speaker make use of numerous visual aids and powerpoints to grab our attention? Must they make stand-up comedians of themselves, cracking jokes often as possible to keep us entertained? Will the content of the speech suffer if they try to hard to keep us awake?

            There is no single way to give an exceptionally effective talk, but there exists a simple model that, when followed, almost always brings positive results. It’s spelled out with three letters: T.E.D.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhInsc

 

            TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an international series of symposia where experts are invited to deliver talks about interesting and groundbreaking new ideas in their fields. These talks are meant to encourage thought, reflection, and action in our complex, ever-changing world. In essence, TED is like NSTP happening on a global scale, with an even broader range of topics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwGEQcFo9RE

While TED speakers are diverse in their backgrounds and knowledge, their speeches all derive their effectiveness from being short, structured, and properly engaging.

TED talks typically range from 5 minutes to half an hour, with most falling in the 5-20 minute range. Only in rare cases does a TED speech reach up to an hour (conversely, NSTP speeches are EXPECTED to last at least an hour). By keeping their talks short and sweet, focusing only on the core details, a TED speaker says much more, using less time. The first video is of Ken Robinson speaking out about the faults in the United States’ educational system. In the span of just over 19 minutes, he managed to share a good deal of his life experience, share interesting and valid points with his audience, and convince them of his stance. All while keeping them captivated via a strong ethos in his flow of speech, as well as an atmosphere of good humor and openness.

NSTP speeches need not last an hour each. In fact, so much can be shared and effectively instilled in the audience’s minds using a half-hour speech. Carelessly going over this limit will most likely be counter-productive, as the information begins to slide off the students’ minds. Several NSTP lecturers did in fact deliver entire speeches within 10-30 minutes. However, this had less to do with original intent and more to do with the fact that the previous speaker went grossly overtime and ate up the time allotted for others. What Econ students wind up hearing is a long, overdrawn speech followed by a compressed, abbreviated one. When they sign out at 5 pm, they would have carried away an equal amount from both speeches, which is to say… almost nothing.

Another reason why TED speeches work so much better than most of the NSTP speeches was that they are structured to fill the short time they are allotted. Ken Robinson outlined his three main points near the beginning of his speech, then spent the rest of his time giving a balanced explanation of each. On the other hand, a particular NSTP lecturer (no name-calling here), simply stated his (her?) topic upon walking up on stage, then spent the remaining sixty minutes rambling on and on about each and every topic and experience that was remotely related to the subject. She (he?) would often repeat points, veer off track, and linger over topics. At this point, even the most attentive students were at a loss to process what was being said.

The use of visual aids won’t hurt as well. It might be asking too much, expecting each lecturer to make a powerpoint or video for every talk, but one can’t deny the effectiveness of a well-used visual. Imagine how much harder it would have been for Michael Norton to convince the audience that it was a good idea to spend their cash on other people if not for his simple yet striking infographics. In our Econ setting, all it took was for one guy to bring a Ukulele, sing a song, and open up a Twitter feed to get everyone involved.

(In hindsight, Ken Robinson’s TED speech proves that a good speaker can forgo visual aids entirely)

Overall, encouraging visiting speakers to model their speeches after TED will likely be a net gain to everyone involved. With (reasonably) less time devoted to each speaker, more people will be given a chance to speak, and speak more concisely as well. Econ students will be less likely to get distracted and miss out on the educational experience. Everyone gets to go home on time, and as they leave the SE Audi, they carry with them the significant insights and lessons from various experts, ideas that can enrich their lives as UP students and future nation builders.

In closing, I recall the words our professor tends to say when the class gets too noisy during a speech: “Please pay attention. This is a rare opportunity that you won’t experience very often.”

I’m sorry to say that those words alone do not add value to a poor experience. Whatever value it has is already there, and it must be shared properly to be appreciated properly.

We can do a whole lot more in three hours. Let’s make sure we do so next time.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “3 Hours: Is NSTP “Boring?”

  1. Vito, I totally agree with you. There must be some sort of structure in NSTP based on the TED format. I have seen and heard so many speakers, all very good at their respective fields, who failed to impart valuable knowledge simply because of their poor communication skills and/or the time that they are supposed to fill up.

    I hope this gets attention as constructive criticism from some students who simply want to get more out of the NSTP experience.

  2. I too have been mildy bothered by some of the speakers reaching and even exceeding one hour in their speeches. While what they’re saying is no doubt valuable, the reality is that by one hour of continuous talking, you begin to lose the audience. If we could strike a balance between content and time management, more people would enjoy NSTP, excellent points.

  3. While I admit that I did find it at times difficult to keep my attention fixed on some lectures that were delivered in a manner not as interesting as others or took extended periods of time, I have to give credit to our course facilitators for inviting people from different disciplines – a large percentage of whom nonetheless are, as we Pinoys call them, bigatin – to share their knowledge with us in the hope that we become more productive members of Philippine society.

  4. I too believe that the layout of the course can indeed be a valuable and useful tool if taken advantage of and used by the correct students. Like anything else in life, it is up to us whether we choose to do or not to do. I also admire your effort, such a post is the longest I’ve seen on the whole site. Long live CWTS!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s