The first paragraphs of a novel play a decisive role in its success and similarly, the first minutes of the class you teach are more important than you may think. We tried to understand why and have come up with a few ideas to get your class off to a good start.
Score sympathy points!
To state the obvious, the introductory moments are the ideal occasion to earn your class’s trust and affection. How likable a speaker appears is an important factor in whether we pay attention – that’s simply how our physiology works (David Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence explains why). I once met a professor who would always present himself with a short photo slideshow. He projected pictures of his family, his home country (Greece) and used the opportunity to humorously point out the effects of French wine and la Cuisine Française on his now substantially larger figure. Needless to say, that he immediately scored a few points with his students and won over most of the audience.
Craft your story
During an extraordinary Ted Talk (that you can watch here), Andrew Stanton explains how to construct a spellbinding talk. He focuses on storytelling – but the parallels are obvious. According to Stanton, the introduction plays an essential role in intriguing your audience and sparking their curiosity. For example, a speaker concludes his introduction (pun intended) with the words, “So, why do we keep going out to attend conferences if we could just as well watch them from our couch?” After a short moment of silence, he declares, “Because we like beer.” Some laugh, the majority of the room remains doubtful but every single member of the audience now wants to know what is hiding behind his absurd statement. Carefully choose your angle of attack, add a pinch of humor and suspense to keep the room on their toes.
Create a relaxed atmosphere
You probably remember at least one awkward first class that is met with a wall of silence by the students. Facing an audience of strangers is always intimidating, no matter whether during a conference, talk or class. One professor found his solution to overcome the uncomfortable silence: Before any of his talks, he pushes the PLAY button of his Morning Fun playlist. While the music resounds in the room, he doesn’t say a word but quietly waits for his students to settle down. Then, he gets up, walks around and chats with small groups of his new students. When the actual class finally starts, the atmosphere is relaxed, the students have got to know their new professor a little and even after the music stops the smiles stick around. If you appear likable and manage to spark your audience’s interest all in a relaxed and open atmosphere, then you can consider your introduction a full success!