Thursday, August 23, 2007

John Philip Colletta

On my FGS Conference - Favorite Session(s) post, Randy Seaver commented that he hasn't heard John Philip Colletta speak yet and asked if I could share some of his audience participation techniques. I was going to respond to Randy in comments, but I became a bit verbose ;-) thus, this post.

In my opinion, Mr. Colletta simply followed the basic precepts for a good speaker: Know the needs of your audience and match your content to their needs. Know your material thoroughly. Put what you have to say in a logical sequence. Emphasize your strong points. Look pleasant, enthusiastic, confident, proud, but not arrogant. Remain calm. Appear relaxed, even if you feel nervous. Speak slowly, enunciate clearly, and show appropriate emotion and feeling relating to your topic. Establish rapport with your audience. Vary the tone of your voice and dramatize if necessary. Etc., etc. He did all of these things, very well.

I attended at least one lecture during the conference where I wasn't sure that the speaker really even wanted to be there, and it showed during their presentation: monotone voice, little emotion, reading a script, etc. Perhaps it was their first major conference and they were nervous. I left the lecture feeling sorry for the speaker having learned very little in the hour spent with them. Quite the opposite with Mr. Colletta. Keep in mind, I can only speak of my own reactions and thoughts regarding his lectures, not those of others in the audience. Their reactions to him may have been different. But, to me, it was obvious from the beginning that he knew what he was talking about. It came across in his demeanor. You could see that he was interested in and enthusiastic about his topic. And he was enjoying himself.

He involved the audience immediately by starting out with a story that related to his topic, by telling only a part of the story to begin with, and letting us know that we would learn the rest of the story before the end of his presentation. A technique similar to that used by Paul Harvey. He evoked emotions by using humor and sometimes even sad, poignant stories. You felt what he was talking about, you weren't just listening. He was constantly giving examples to emphasize his point and to build the storyline. He asked questions during the lecture and encouraged those who had questions to ask them.

I had never previously attended one of his lectures. While writing about the conference I found his website in which the first paragraph speaks volumes to me about his philosophy:
"Searching for ancestors is a journey of self-discovery. — As you learn who they were, you discover more about who you are. The journey is not only enlightening, but great fun, too! My teaching focuses on seeing every ancestor as an individual living in a particular place at a particular time. Classes are interactive, as I respond to participants' questions as they arise. My goal is to help family historians optimize their efforts to uncover and write the stories of their forebears, and to enjoy all along the way the pleasure and humor of the journey."
His website:

Some of his lectures have been recorded on audio (cassette tape) and can be found at the Repeat Performance website. I don't know how well the lectures would translate because you wouldn't see the examples he used but it might be worth getting one of them to check it out. They are reasonably priced.

1 comment:

Janice said...


Thank you for taking the time to answer my question about your favorite presenter. Plus the additional commentary about their techniques is excellent! It is giving me some great ideas.