Making Learning Come Alive
He looked like he’d stepped from a book and three times a week I got to enter his magical world.
Born to Hungarian parents in France and now living in Scotland, he was in his late 50s then, and spoke in a thick whisper.
His room was right at the end of a quiet corridor and it was more cozy den than classroom. There were rugs, ornaments, and pictures on the wall and at the front his beloved record player.
Otto Karolyi stood at the front, elegantly dressed. Always in a jacket, sometimes a black polo neck and sometimes a pristine shirt. His silver hair was short and well-groomed and his words bubbled up, jostling along and bumping into each other.
But the real transformation came when he spoke about opera. His eyes shone and his arms would swoop and fly to the melody.
When it got to a bit he really liked he’d be very still and close his eyes.
At the same time as being an incredibly intimate experience to share, this rhapsodizing did something else.
It made the music come alive for us.
And to an audience this is a gift, when the person at the front of the room shares their passion for a subject and takes us on a magical journey that enthralls us.
We get to experience it vicariously, we get to bask in their enthusiasm and there’s no better way than to learn something than from someone who lights up when they talk about a subject they adore.
Learning becomes infectious, it spreads from one mind to another and sticks.
Another maestro of being a passionate communicator was Hans Rosling, who sadly passed away last month.
Just as Otto introduced me to opera, Hans opened up an exciting world called statistics.
And for me B.H.R. (Before Hans Rosling), exciting and statistics were as compatible as water and oil.
But the way Hans presented statistics was exciting. His talks were unashamedly passionate and audiences loved him and by extension what he was talking about.
He unearthed rich data to tell us stories about a changing world and he did so with the enthusiasm of a Latin American football commentator during the last minutes of a close final.
In a public speaking course I teach, I love witnessing students watch Hans speak and see how they are captured by the vibrancy he had for his subject.
And for audiences everywhere, whether we’re listening to opera or statistics, this vibrancy and passion is what it’s all about.
So, the next time you’re presenting to an audience, remember that sharing your passion and enthusiasm can make both an immediate and a lasting impression.
Opera music still makes me think of Otto Karolyi, although it’s 25 years since I sat in his classroom, and thanks to Hans Rosling’s TED talks, millions of people around the world have been on an exciting adventure through the world of statistics.
Don’t be shy. Share your passion with the audience.
They’ll thank you for it.
And most importantly they’ll learn.