The secret of great comedy (and teaching. And GMing…)

“What’s the secret of great comed…”


So goes the old joke. But timing is important in a class, too. Pacing, when to break up your presentation with an activity, when to introduce a “set piece” like a video or demonstration. I was in a Twitter discussion this morning on my way to work about running role-playing games. When to build up pace, when to slow things down or take a break, how to structure a session. And thinking about it, I realised that this was one of the crossovers with teaching. And not only in structuring a session, but in adapting as it plays out. Many times, circumstances disrupt a lesson plan. A previous session overruns, or a class is smaller and finishes an exercise quicker. Adapting your timings on the fly can be vital – just as when your players do something unexpected, or a scene takes longer than you expected to play out.

Presenting the joint undergraduate induction this September, the library team found ourselves short of time as our presentation was last before the lunch break. And I was last up to present. My manager commented how neatly I had finished on time. As I’d seen the clock ticking down, I’d mentally pared my section to the key elements and selected what to drop, what to keep. Had I been facing a longer window, I had already identified where I would have expanded the material.

I had seen two of our student associates do the same earlier this year following an over-running keynote speaker. A swift whispered conversation, and they stood up and presented as if they’d been rehearsing a seventeen-minute (rather than half an hour) presentation for weeks. They had found the secret.