Oct 30, 2009

The Tale of Two Professors

I am lucky to have graduated in commerce from the best college in my city. I had 16 papers in three years. Though my main subjects were accounts, tax and economics my favourite subject was law. Law is obscure and arcane to almost every commerce graduate I have known on this planet. But it was my favourite. Why?

There were two professors in my college who used to teach law. One was a maverick middle-aged man and the other was an old man. The maverick prof was Mr. CM Rath. Let's call the old man Mr. Dutta (obviously not his real name).

Mr. Dutta used to come to class, start speaking like a radio, students trying to make notes of everything he said. He stopped when the bell rang. He gave 'great' notes which will help you score full marks in the exams. He taught what was 'important' from the exam's point of view. And he taught the same thing year after year. That was his 25th year as professor.

Mr. CM Rath
, the maverick, never taught from any book. He was a violinist who used to tell us stories. Stories from his personal life. Stories often unrelated to law. He was lost in his own world. In the first year we were supposed to study 5 acts (legislations). He only taught us two (whereas Mr. Dutta completed all 5 well in advance). He never completed the course and never encouraged us to commit and vomit. Instead of reading the book, he encouraged us to read the 'bare act' (the exact legislation which lawyers read). He made us understand how to read the law and understand it. He taught as if there was no examination.


Who do you think I studied from?

Obviously from Prof. Rath. His passion for his subject was contagious. When he spoke of law he used to give us goosebumps. He used to pick up one small area of an act and go indepth. Give real life examples we could relate to. Then tell us what happened in a case in 1924. And he used to narrate as if it were a movie. Full of emotions and reality. As if it was happenning in front of us. And then he would stop and ask, what is it that happened? Who won and who lost?

He would not let us worry about notes. To ensure we listened to him, he discouraged any notes in class. He applauded students who made no notes. He would, however, narrate some notes at the end of every class and would tell us about it right at the start. Hence, during the entire 35 minutes no one ever did anything else but listened to him.

He left me with immense amount of understanding for the subject. Understanding which will not end immediately after I finish my final papers. And more than understanding he made me fall in love with the most arcane subject on earth. He made me fall in love with law.

As I look back today, I can see some great traits in Prof. Rath. Traits of a great speaker.

1. Passion. And loads of it. My professor taught law because he loved law. He did not do it for just money. Do what you are passionate about. Immerse yourself in the subject and you will never worry about audience attention.

2. His command over the English language. He told us to start reading the English grammar book from Class 1 and upwards and master everything. He stressed on learning how to speak from good newsreaders on TV those days. He suggested we listen to the news for the deaf and dumb because the newsreader used to read slowly (while the other person translated it for the differently-abled). He also advised we recorded the same speech and see how our pronunciation varied from the expert newsreaders.

3. Care. He knew students wanted notes for the exams. He knew we will write when he speaks and end up not listening everything. To prevent that, he told us not to write anything. Later, he would share notes of things that were important. Thus he managed to get our complete attention. You can use a handout in a similar manner with your presentations. Read more on handouts here.

4. Stories. When you are dealing with complex topics (what could be more complex than law?) you need to find a way to make it interesting. He found a tool in stories. I am sure you can do the same. If a boring legal case can be explained as a story then anything and everything can be presented as a story. You just need to think differently.

5. Concrete stuff. Instead of talking in the air or talking about abstract situations he took real life situations. He would create situations then and there. Complex legal cases were explained by taking a simple example which happens between two of my classmates. We could see the characters and visualize the event.

If you can follow these 5 techniques in every presentation you give, you will leave your audience mesmerized and in love with your stuff.

Finally, if you are still wondering how I managed to pass the exam without studying the other 3 acts (when my prof only taught 2 out of 5), well he taught the 2 so well that we figured the other 3 out.