June 19, 2024

If You Must, Here’s the Definitive How-To

In a perfect world, a lecture should be the least used mode of instruction. In fact, all forms of instruction should be as minimally invasive(1) as possible. That said, a great lecture by an expert can inform, inspire, or entertain.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an impressive lecture by veteran MIT Professor Patrick Winston, simply titled, “How to Speak.” The lecture was recorded in its entirety eighteen months before his death. While I don’t agree with everything he says, anyone who speaks publicly or teaches from the front of the room will find plenty to learn from this masterclass.

Links to course info and a timecode table of contents for the talk are on the YouTube page

Patrick Winston’s How to Speak talk has been an MIT tradition for over 40 years. Offered every January during the Independent Activities Period (IAP), usually to overflow crowds, the talk is intended to improve your speaking ability in critical situations by teaching you a few heuristic rules. Professor Winston’s collection of rules is presented along with examples of their application in job-interview talks, thesis defenses, oral examinations, and lectures.

New book!

You can get a sense of Professor Winston’s communication skills in his often hilarious tribute to his mentor, Marvin Minsky, at the 2016 memorial event. Patrick Winston and I are also contributors to the book, Inventing Minds: Marvin Minsky on Education.

MIT Press will publish a book inspired by the How To Speak lecture/course on August 20, 2020. Make It Clear: Speak and Write to Persuade and Inform not only addresses effective speaking, but writing as well. My copy is on order!


  1. Term attributed to Sugata Mitra and defined here at http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/MIE.html

One thought on “If You Must, Here’s the Definitive How-To

  1. I think I went to that lecture sometime in the 80’s. In fact, I’m pretty sure I learned the word heuristic from that lecture. Of course, at that time, one of his tips included not covering part of your slide on an overhead projector.

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