Your partner, your family, your coworkers, your Uber driver and maybe even your dog will thank you.
Imagine this: it’s early in the morning. Against their will, a troop of texting teenagers shuffles towards you. They smell like gum, Axe body spray, Doritos, sweat, passionfruit cherry lip gloss and angst. They have pink, purple, blue hair. They wear ripped jeans, combat boots and their native language is meme.
Your task? To get them to put away — and even forget about — their phones. Get them to pay attention, share their ideas, learn hard words and wrestle with hard topics. Convince them that learning is cool, that the world is amazing, that trying hard is awesome and slacking off is for losers.
You have fifty five minutes to succeed or fail.
Then you have to do it all over again. And again. And again. And again.
As a high school teacher, this is what I do 180 times each year. The only way I survive, other than coffee, is to make sure that above all else, my classes are interesting. There are other teachers that are more organized, cover more material or give better graphic organizers than me.
But when it comes to holding kids’ attention, I do pretty damn well.
It’s not that I’m just naturally interesting. It’s that in order to survive in my job, I’ve had to discover and develop habits that make what I’m talking about interesting to my students. And what I’ve learned is it’s very possible to make any topic interesting if you take the right approach.
We all behave differently when we’re interested in something. Think about how you act when you have to sit through a boring meeting:
Slumped posture? Doodling? Eyelids heavy, slightly downturned mouth? Checking your watch, your phone? Putting on chapstick, brushing nonexistent crumbs off the table? BORED!
But when you’re with friends or sharing a new idea with a coworker, you behave much differently. Maybe you’re leaning forward, eyes darting around the room as you follow the thread of the conversation into new, uncharted territory. You’re breathing more quickly and it doesn’t occur to you to check your phone or fix the hem of your pants. Your mind is working hard and you’re not thinking about chapped lips because you are INTERESTED!
It’s fun to be interested. And it’s fun to be interesting too, which is why I’m going to share my tried and true tips, developed over a decade of classroom teaching. It doesn’t matter what you have to talk about — with the right attitude, you can make it interesting to almost anyone.
Being interesting isn’t about writing the perfect speech, delivering spot-on punchlines or providing flawless data to prove an important point.
It’s about opening the channels of communication with someone so that they want to understand what you have to say. And even better, once they understand it, they want to keep talking about it.
It’s not hard to be interesting. And it will make you fun to be around. You’ll have better dates, job interviews, meetings, phone calls and family dinners.
Also, when you’re surrounded by cannibals, they might decide not to eat you because they’d miss your little anecdotes and stories that remind them what it is to be a real live human existing on planet earth. Win.
Use these top tips to become more interesting today:
If you’re using your breath and brainpower to say something, you’d better have a reason for saying it. Whatever topic you’re talking about, you have to be its number one fan if you want anyone else to care about it.
Every year I teach about photosynthesis. Remember? How plants make food from energy stored in the sun?
When I start teaching about it, one of the first things I say, which becomes more and more true each time I say it, is “Folks, photosynthesis blows my mind and I can’t wait to tell you why.”
Throughout the unit, I’ll refer back to that moment and say “Remember when I told you photosynthesis blew my mind? Here’s another reason why.”
Whatever you are talking about, don’t sell it short by apologizing for talking about it or admitting that you find it dull too.
If you do have to talk about something you actually find dull, then try to connect it to something that is more interesting.
Years ago a health insurance rep came to my job. Her enthusiasm about the different insurance packages was startling. I made a comment about it, and she was taken aback. From my perspective, her job seemed mind numbing. But she explained that she loved helping people find the best way to get health care so that their families could worry about fun things like planning trips or building a home.
When you are interested in what you have to say, other people will find it interesting too.
Talk and Listen
Don’t rant, ramble or lecture. Don’t treat a conversation like it’s a medical procedure that nobody likes, but they just have to get through.
If you want people to hear what you have to say, then you have to give them a chance to be heard too.
I always make sure that every student speaks at least once during every class. The sheer act of saying a few words is a show of participation and it makes everyone feel like they are part of a conversation. When people feel like they are being talked at, they are much more likely to fade away into phone-checking land.
Today, I was teaching about the epidermis. Before we got started, I asked every student to guess how many hairs an average adult has on their body. It was a low-risk way to invite everyone into the conversation.
There was about a hundred percent chance that everyone would be wrong, so nobody was afraid to share their answer. But it was a chance to celebrate thinking, celebrate trying, and we even had a few laughs talking about the scientists who did the work to actually come up with the answer — which is 5 million.
One student ventured, “so is there, like, a person whose, like, job…is, like…to count pubes?”
Had I skipped over this part of class and instead gotten down to the business of teaching about Meissner’s corpuscles and Merkel’s disks, it would have felt like the class was a one way street. Without any expectation of participation, my students would have resorted to the Yoga like poses that they rely on to try to check their phones under their desks without detection.
Instead, we all had a laugh and kicked off the class together. And while I can’t guarantee that nobody looked at their phone, I do know that when the period ended, I was the one that had to kick them out of class because they had so many questions about the skin on their feet, their scars and their uncles’ hairy backs.
No matter who you’re talking to, make sure you’re giving them a chance to talk too. Ask them questions. Ask them what they think about what you’re saying. Let them tell you what they don’t understand or what they can’t wait to hear more about.
And when they talk, make sure you’re listening, not just waiting for them to stop talking so you can get back on your soapbox.
Use Stories to Make Unexpected Connections
We store so much information in our brains — important stuff like the names of our friends, and stupid stuff like the the tune to that 1–800-kars-4-kids commercial. It can be hard to fit new information in, especially if doesn’t connect easily to any of the information that’s already there.
That’s where storytelling comes in.
Earlier this year, I attended a cadaver dissection workshop, where I got to explore the insides of human bodies. I held a heart in my hands and I felt the smooth bones of the legs and feet. I traced the nerves from the hands to the arms to the spinal cord, and I lifted the intestines out to reveal the kidneys.
Sometimes students have a hard time visualizing blood vessels. When I tell them what it felt like to roll between my fingers the hardened arteries of a woman who had died from heart disease, they hang on every word.
I could give them a handout, show a video or read to them from a textbook. All of those things are perfectly acceptable and easily forgettable.
But I doubt they will forget my description of the crackling sounds that the plaque pieces made as they fractured into small shards against my thumb. And they might even remember to eat a little healthier too.
Whether you’re pitching your ideas, explaining your fear of mayonnaise, chatting up the crush of a lifetime or just talking to your mom on a Sunday morning, you can make what you say much more memorable if you connect it to a personal story.
Stories give your ideas shape and allow people to get to know you better in a free and natural way. Plus they are way more fun to listen to than a list of definitions or a flow chart of terms and ideas.
It feels good to laugh. People who laugh together feel connected to each other. Laughter helps cement information in your brain.
Today I showed the class a picture of a hair follicle under a microscope.
“That looks like a peeled banana coming out a cat’s butthole,” one student commented.
“Yes,” I replied. “But it’s what all of us — even Ariana Grande — are covered in. Isn’t it great to be a human?”
We all laughed. Laughing doesn’t mean you’re not learning. Laughing doesn’t mean you’re not communicating information.
It’s ok to laugh at meetings, at doctor’s appointments and even while you’re meeting with a health insurance rep.
Laugh at yourself, laugh about things that are absurd, gross or unexpected. Laugh at being wrong and laugh when you’re right.
Laughter is a sign of a good time. And when people are having a good time, they are less likely to tune you out.
And if they don’t tune you out…it must be because you are interesting!
Congratulations..and keep talking! I want to hear more!
If you’re interested in reading more, check out these articles below:
How to Have More Fun
What you do for fun and what you have fun doing aren’t the same thing.
How Long Are You Going To — Uhh — Keep Using those Verbal Fillers?
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Adopt this Mantra and You’ll Be a Hero
This is great advice for everyone except my dentist and my car mechanic.