How Professors Engage With Students

In college, the professors are facing long class times with students as well as more intense information. My favorite professors were always the ones who found a way to present information in new and exciting ways. I did better in classes where my professors made me a part of the learning process. What can you do as a teacher to keep your students engaged in your lectures? Here are some things that my favorite history professors did in college that always kept us engaged.

Tell a Story

By the time they get to college, students know about the landing of pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. How does a professor keep students engaged in a lesson that they know the ending to? My professor would find a way to tell a story about events that we might know now about. When I was hearing the story of colonization again, I learned that the pilgrims didn’t bring enough women along in the beginning and that for a long time; the colonies were under the threat of simply vanishing because their population was not growing. This story made a subject that I knew a lot about seem fresh and new.

Don’t Rush to the End

Encourage your students to participate and engage in the conversation. If you are rushing through the slides to get a good handle on the information, you miss a huge chance to pull your students in through participation. Dr. Carter of European History always encouraged us to ask questions, present discussion topics, and weigh in on controversial statements. As we made notes, we could ask him at any time why a certain decision was made versus another.

Wait to Give Out Handouts

Instead of handing out a copy of notes or the slides at the beginning of class, hand them out as students are filing out of the room at the end of the day. It will keep students from feeling like they can “check out” of the conversation at the beginning of the lecture because they already know what you’re going to cover. The professors I had never did this. They didn’t want us to check out as soon as we walked into class.

If you want students to stay present in lectures you have to give them lots of chances to get involved. These are some of my favorite professor’s tactics that even eight years later, I remember so well, and they are still some of my most enjoyable classes.

The Hook: 5 Ways to Quickly Get Your Audience’s Attention

Arguably the most important part of any presentation is the beginning. It sets the foundation for the rest of your talk. If you come across as a strong, entertaining speaker at the beginning of your presentation, people will be forgiving if your material gets a little more routine as the talk progresses. Most peoples’ judgment is reserved for those first few seconds of the talk. So if you want to get people listening you need to hook them fast.

Think about it. How many times have you heard a speech that begins with, “I’m here to talk with you today about….” Or “Thanks for coming out to listen to my talk about…” or some variation of these intros. While they do get straight to the point, they do absolutely nothing to grab your audience, to rivet them so they’ll listen, or in other words hook them. With that in mind, here are a few ways to get your audience’s attention right off the bat.

Quote, Anecdote, Rhetorical Question

These are some of the most common ways to hook your audience. You must be sure to use a quote, anecdote, or rhetorical question that segues nicely into your material. If, for example, you were talking about the current recession, you could give an anecdote about the Great Depression and use it to underlie the point of your message. Or you could ask the rhetorical question: Just how similar is our current economic crisis to that of the 1930s? These types of lead ins will get people wondering, and help them tune in to what it is you’re saying.

New Twist on the Familiar

Take a common story, quote, saying, or anecdote and change it. This will give your audience a new perspective on the familiar as well as grab their attention. If you handle the twist skillfully enough, you can actually make quite an impression. Let’s say you were giving a presentation on nutrition in America. You could say something like, “To eat, or not to eat. That is the question.” The bolder the twist, the better the reaction will be. However, you must make sure it makes sense and fits into your material. One of the best ways is to simply find popular aphorisms online and try switching the wording around.

Personal Story

This will help introduce you as a speaker and gives a personal take on the material. Part of what gives you credibility as a speaker is the authority you have to talk about a subject. A good way to do this, for example, could be to lead into your presentation with a personal story about how you got involved in the field, started your business, or became an expert on the subject. The key is to be either funny or endearing so people will trust you.

Audience Participation Exercise

This is useful as an icebreaker, but typically only works in small settings. The simplest example is to have everyone introduce themselves. However, you can get creative, depending on the setting. Often in classrooms teachers will have people work in pairs and find out 5 interesting facts.

The Screening Question

Also known as the “Show-of-hands Question,” this gets the audience to participate, engages them in the material, and gives you, the speaker, an idea of how much the audience already knows.

With all of these options and a dash of creativity, you should be able to think of a good way to grab your audience’s attention quickly.


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Improving Communication Skills {Part One}

Part One: Define Exactly What You Want to Improve

The umbrella of “communication skills” encompasses quite a bit. It can come down to every aspect of how another person receives a message from you and this can be everything from your nonverbal cues to the tone in which you use to speak to someone. For me a skill is something that can always be improved and should be evaluated periodically. For example, I’m a good writer, but I just started a writing improvement course, because writing is a skill. I need to practice, define some strengths, identify weaknesses, and work to improve them in a practical way that I can incorporate to my daily life.

Communication skills are the same. Even the seasoned and experienced public speaker or presenter can find things that they can improve on. A lot of speakers chose to tape their events and much like a coach or player on a sports team, will go back after the game and see where they could use improvement. No one is going to be 100% perfect every single time and professionals know that.

So if you’re looking to improve your communication skills you have to first be able to define exactly what needs to be improved, otherwise you’re simply going to be all over the place. A pitcher will work on getting his fast ball perfected, then his slider, and so forth. He won’t try to perfect all of his pitches at once and any skill that needs to be improved needs to be approached in the same way.

I recommend recording your recent speeches or presentations and then reviewing them so that you can spot areas of improvement. Some things to be on the lookout for when you’re watching your video:

  • Are you reading the text from your PowerPoint slides? This should be avoided because it doesn’t encourage the audience to listen to your every word. There’s no fear that they might miss something amazing because you’re just reading something they could read on their own. Use your slides to enhance your presentation but don’t let it steal the show from you.
  • Watch to see if you’re standing in one place or dancing around like an extra from The Nutcracker. If you’re not moving enough then you’re not doing enough to visually stimulate your participant’s brain. If you’re moving around too much then you make it difficult for the audience members to keep up with you. There needs to be a happy medium between the two.
  • On a conference call or a webinar the power to stimulate your audience visually is almost completely gone. If you’re lucky you have your PowerPoint slides to back you up, but it could all come down to the way you sound when you speak. Do you speak too fast and make it difficult for participants to understand you? Are you speaking in a monotone and boring voice that almost always guarantees your audience is going to do something else? When the audience can’t see you, you have to use your voice to mimic the same kinds of movements they would be exposed to – and too much or too little of a good thing is never a good idea.
  • What’s going on non-verbally? The way your body looks on stage or on a video conference can be a huge factor in how much your audience retains. You want your body to be open to the audience and you want your arms to move in a comfortable fashion. If you are standing in front of the audience with your arms crossed over your chest, you’re basically throwing up a wall between you and them and indicating that you don’t care if they listen or not.

Those are just some of the communication improvements that you might notice you need to address. The next part of this series will talk about identifying your strengths and weaknesses within what you want to change so that you’ll know exactly what needs to be fixed. And I’ll tell you what I’m going to work on improving.

What are you going to work on?

{Image Credit to West Point Public Affairs on Flickr}

Are You Asking The Right Questions?

I’ve finally purchased a home and one of the (many) unexpected things I have to do involves transferring my utilities. My power company makes it very easy – all I have to do is go online and arrange for the start date at one address and the stop date at the other. (Thanks Reliant)

With my cable company, my husband and I have been considering switching to a different company, since my bill has gotten completely out of control. I joined the customer service chat with my current provider to get details on how to turn off the service, if we chose to do so. The person I chatted with was very helpful and I was very honest with her about what we were considering.

She gave me all of the information, let me know about when I would be billed again and how the bill would be prorated should we chose to disconnect our services. She forgot one very important thing – she never asked me why I was planning a switch of services. There’s a good chance that with the right price, I could have been persuaded to stay with them a little longer.

My reason for wanting to leave is the steady dollar or two rise of my bill over the last few cycles, which can add up fast. This representative failed to ask me one very simple question – Why is it that you are looking for a new service? It’s very important when a customer calls you to cancel or close their service you ask them why they are interested in discontinuing their services.

Even if you can’t retain the customer, they might be willing to give you some insight on how you can improve an aspect or two of your company. Are you asking questions when your clients call in to cancel services? Do you think it’s important to find out why they are leaving and going to another brand? What do you ask them instead?