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Karen Lambert

Monash University Lecturer. Addicted and compassionate traveler,

As a small business owner, start-up, or teacher, you can’t afford to bore people. They have come to your class for something and, even though it might surprise you, that something is YOU. And so, the roles you choose to take on as the leader of your class and the sharer of your knowledge are really important for determining the overall success of your class, as well as potential for repeat attendances in other classes you run.

In a small online teaching community like WeTeachMe, word of mouth is a powerful device for filling (or emptying) your classes. Choosing to be the teacher who drains, irritates, or devalues is a sure-fire way to empty your classroom; as too is preparing and delivering classes that bore the boots off your students.

Because they tend to expose the smelly socks indicative of student boredom, here are six teaching behaviours to avoid:

1. Mis-manage everything

Here’s what the mis-manager looks like: has no plan; is disorganized and sloppy, careless and tardy; forgets resources and other important stuff; is ill-prepared and unfocused, and has excuses about why.

2. Deliver death by PowerPoint

These are some of what cause PPT death: too many slides; slides where the text is too small, boring, and content-dense; heaps (and heaps) of pointless bullet points; no images; boring themes with poor colour choice.

3. Don’t ever run to time

Here’s what the time de-valuer does: starts and finishes late; runs into breaks; no scheduled breaks; late to class; draws or stretches things out to fill the space or time; waffles and rambles without direction.

4. Talk too much

This looks like: rambling, over explaining, and/or using too much jargon; irrelevant stories; excessive talking about self.

5. Be arrogant

This includes: assuming you know it all; not practising your presentation; treating your audience like they aren’t worthy to be in your class or they don’t know stuff.

6. Be boring

Display characteristics like: having little variety or variation; poor presentation skills; lack of clarity in course goals; disinterest; being detached and uninspiring; exhibiting low motivation; keeping your passion and drive hidden.

Ouch, I smell smelly socks!

How not to be boring

The opposite to bore is AWE. And at the crux of tilting the scales towards awe-inspiring classes is this brain-related fact: our brains don’t pay attention to boring things. This we know. And without appearing glib, the solution is “don’t do boring things and expect people to pay attention”. Because even we won’t.

The very first thing I ask myself when planning a course, presentation, workshop, assessment task, or even a short in-class learning activity is “would I like to do this myself?” If the answer is “yes”, I keep working on it (mainly because my brain is liking it). If the answer is “no”, I take it out (because if I’m not into it, it will come out in my class). It really is that easy because, even though you are the teacher, your brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things, either. I know, amazing rocket science.

Get your awe on

A key point to remember: awe (that is, the opposite to bore) is inextricably linked to you and everything that you do (and I mean every single thing, even down to what you wear) that engages, connects with, and challenges your students. You are simultaneously on display and being evaluated, as well as acting as a guide, mentor, or teacher. From my 20-odd years of teaching, there are many ways to promote awe and dispense with bore. Here are a few.

The content and message delivery aspect
  • Know why you are there and where we are all going
  • Set the scene carefully (agenda, process, timing, breaks, registration)
  • Mix your message for different learners/groups
  • Create a pleasure/towards response (lots of feedback and reinforcement)
  • Content is king. So provide condensed, clear, and engaging information (don’t force-feed)
  • Present with impact (think pace, colour, sound, images, and variety)
  • Switch things up from time to time (move, pace, voice, methods of teaching)
  • Avoid rambling or reading from notes/slides
  • Vary your style or methods during a presentation
  • Factor in movement (it increases oxygen to the brain and gives breaks)
  • Think audience and learner at the same time (you provide knowledge and entertainment plus value)
  • Challenge learners to think for themselves and to independently seek out new ways of doing things

The personal aspect
  • Be smart, but not a smart ass
  • Embrace your weird love for what you do
  • Be generous, listen, and share
  • State your passion and let it show
  • Watch your language (avoid being sarcastic, belittling/embarrassing learners)
  • Tune in and pay attention (notice eye glaze, fidgeting, falling asleep à react)
  • Seek to perplex, challenge, and engage
  • Promote curiosity (include novelty, suspense, pauses, intrigue, and meaningful stories or anecdotes; build fascination)
  • Engage and connect on a variety of levels (casual and formal)
  • Create in your class an adventure or amazing learning journey
  • Factor in fun, laughter, and a bit of silliness

As a small business owner, start-up, or teacher, you can only ever afford to awe people. They have come to your class for something more than they can get anywhere else themselves. Even though it might surprise you, that “more” may actually be you. It follows then that you might also be the awe they are looking for and so, predicting and then eliminating the bore potential from your teaching will be the reason they keep their boots on, send their friends to you, and turn up next time in a clean pair of socks.

Got an awe-inspiring classroom moment to share? Tell us all about it in the comments.