Your 60-second lecture starts…now!

60 secondsIn a political debate or in a college classroom lecture, one minute can feel like forever—if you’re not well-versed in a subject you’re being asked about. But if you’re knowledgeable, a 60-second time limit can be a straightjacket. There’s hardly time to get in the main points, let alone clear your throat, meander, or tell an illustrative anecdote. Having recently helped prepare a candidate for such a forum, I can testify to the difficulties that a well-informed, articulate speaker encounters when trying to pour a gallon of information into a one-minute teacup.

But it can, and has, been done, not only by the candidate I worked with, but by other politicos and by “experts” in many fields of study. In fact, that’s exactly the challenge presented to a variety of speakers at an intriguing “lecture” series at the University of Pennsylvania. According to Brain Pickings, every semester for the past four years, the university has been inviting leading faculty to share their ideas on topics as far-ranging as poetry, pottery and political science in one-minute micro-lectures.

The lecturers are faculty members of the University’s School of Arts & Sciences. They present their talks on the campus’ Locust Walk, sharing perspectives on topics ranging from human evolution and the knowable universe, to poetry and fly-fishing. Among many others, you can see a math professor lecture on abolishing the study of fractions and a classics professor race the clock to ponder whether America is like the Roman Empire.

The most recent 60-second lectures are available on YouTube. To look at the complete archive, go to the University of Pennsylvania’s website. [Unfortunately, some of the older videos don’t seem to be compatible with current video software—I couldn’t view them using Window Media Player. But for these, the U-Penn website helpfully includes transcripts.]

Most of the micro-lecturers manage to beat the clock. But some don’t, and their talks violate the 60-second limit by spilling over to anything from a few seconds to a shocking two full minutes. I did mention that this was hard, didn’t I?