public-speaking-fearYou’ve been given the assignment of leading a class filled with thirty college students. How are you doing?

Now add, it’s 8:30 Saturday morning and the last thing they want to do is get out of bed and attend your class. Then add, that the class is not an elective. It is required. How are you doing now?

Here’s what I do, since the above scenario happens at least once a month in my professional development world. Yes, I’m that guy. When the schedulers ask, “Is the class mandatory, are the participants resistant to the training, or, is the event right after lunch?” The response often is, “Let’s use Parker! He’ll engage them and keep them awake.”

Even though I would like the selection process to be more about my great knowledge, insights, and intelligence, I am, and remain, grateful for the work! In fact, over the years, I’ve grown to love watching resistant, negative, disengaged participants come alive and realize that this is the essence of customer service.

Following are tools I use to build interest and involvement with easy or difficult classes.

  1. Naming. I learn and write down every person’s name as I greet them individually at their table. If we have name tents I print their name for them. I used to have them print it but came to discover that I get to learn how to say their name, spell it with them when I craft it for them.

In the process, we often find something fun to talk about because of the way it’s spelled or pronounced. If I get the spelling or pronunciation correct they often compliment me. If I get it wrong then they become my teacher as we laugh at my attempt, and I ask them for help. Engagement builds!

  1. Reframing: To engage the attendees who don’t want to be in class, I’ll ask everyone, “Raise you hands if you were required to attend this class.” I get some nervous laughter and looks, and some hands raise pensively. It doesn’t matter how many do because now I’ve got their attention!

Then I ask “How many would rather be here than in jail?” That gets a big laugh and more raised hands. Plus, I’ve also just received their vote that they would rather be here with me! They’ve just reframed their thinking. Sure, they didn’t get to sleep in, but at least they are not in jail, and now being at this class may not be so bad.

  1. Rewarding: Finally, I ask the class if they’ve heard of Woody Allen. I say, “You know, he’s one of our founding fathers, you’ve seen his face up there on Mount Rushmore with the other presidents.”

Having established his credibility, I continue, “Woody Allen says, ’80 per-cent of success is just showing up!’ Then I direct them, “Turn to your neighbor and tell them, “I’m proud of you for showing up! You are a raging success!”

With big smiles they turn and tell that to their neighbor! It never fails. Everyone smiles and laughs and is engaged and even beaming. Now the whole class filled with successful participants and we are ready to rock and roll!

Interacting: Our first three steps include interaction. As often as possible, I shorten the lecture and encourage interaction. Fact is, people like to share their opinions and ideas if they feel safe.

Sharing with a classroom full of their peers does not feel very safe for most people. Some say the biggest fear people have is speaking in public. Dying takes a distant third.

Instead, I’ll ask class members to share with their neighbor. Next, I’ll ask them to share in groups of three or four. I avoid forming bigger groups than that because the “fear of speaking in public” factor starts kicking in and sharing diminishes.

Finally, the reason for using these start-up steps is that I care. For the sake of everyone in the class, including myself, and for the success of our sponsoring organization, I want my customer-participants to be engaged and interested.

What do you want for your customers?

Fervently seek the answer to that question. Then keep showing up to serve them. Even if you only get it right 80% of the time, eventually, you too, will be a raging success!