I have written previously that an instructor should be able to give an introduction in no more than 90 seconds. This was in response to some (too) long instructor introductions that went into way too much detail. I have recently come to realize the opposite is true – it is possible to give way too little detail. This article is a guide to effective instructor introductions that give students everything they need and nothing they don’t.
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The Importance of Instructor Introductions
The purpose of the instructor introduction is to prepare the student’s mind for learning. As humans we are constantly sizing up every other human we meet. This is also true in instructional environments. When a student sits down in your class, he or she often wonders what qualifies you, the instructor to talk about the topic at hand. Many (if not most) of you national-level firearms trainers could probably get away without giving a bio – most of your students probably come to your class because you are the instructor and want to train with you.
Many other classes are not this way. If you are an instructor in a CPR class, the students showing up probably don’t have a clue who you are when class starts. Instructors teaching entry-level firearms classes and state CCW class are also unknown commodities to most of their students, most of who are brand new to the gun world. People in a group of instructors – like the group of instructors teaching my mountain SAR class – are unknown to some students. Providing an introduction lets the student you know have credibility on the topic. It puts students at ease that they are in good hands. It prepares them to learn.
Instructor bios that are too short, or too long, can prove detrimental, however. Let’s take a look at both of these.
Too Short…or Non-Existent
I never realized the importance of instructor introductions until I attended a class and didn’t get one. I recently attended a course with a number of instructors. Students were broken into teams and did a “round robin” through the various groups of cadre. At the beginning of the class all the instructors introduced themselves. The instructor at the medical station had only introduced himself as, “I’m Dave,” and sat back down, glancing around to the other cadre, seemingly pleased with himself. I immediately had the distinct impression that he was more concerned with what the other instructors thought than with the students. This created a HUGE learning barrier.
When we got to this station he gave us a tour of his wilderness first aid kit. During his lecture and subsequent, very blunt criticism of our IFAKs, I mentally wrote him off. “Who the f*** is this dude? I’m a paramedic. Does he really know more than I do?” Turns out (I found out later through word-of-mouth) this guy is a trauma PA at our local trauma center. Meaning he knows a lot more and has vastly more experience than I do. Unfortunately, he didn’t tell us that upfront.
The cost of his failure to give a bio is that I (and several other students) failed to get much information from him. I even discarded a couple bits of advice he offered, again because I had no clue who he was, his education, or level of experience. This could have been solved very easily by simply standing up and professionally stating, “I’m Dave, I’m a physician’s assistant at ___ hospital, and I’m a member of ___ SAR team.” You don’t have to talk for ten minutes about yourself. In fact. that can create its own problem…
Just as bad as instructor introductions that are too short are ones that are too long. We’ve all been there: an instructor takes the podium and the first half hour of the class is his bio. He feels the need to tell you every military unit he was in, every badge, medal, letter of appreciation, and pat on the back he was ever given, the position he played on the high school baseball team, and the time he got promoted to corporal (meritoriously).
Often, during bios like this my mind begins to wander. I question how long the instructor is going to talk about himself. I wonder how much of the class is going to be this guy telling war stories. And in some cases with a really phenomenal fact-pattern, I wonder if all of these wonderful accolades could possibly be true. Here’s an example of this kind of bad instructor behavior: I was teaching a class in Coronado, CA to some Naval Special Warfare types. My co-instructor had a bad habit of making his bio way too long, and making himself the hero of the all the stories in it.
About 20 minutes in the class a SEAL officer got up and walked out of the room. Normally I’d think he was going to the bathroom or doing “officer stuff” like making a phone call. This officer packed his stuff and it was clear he wasn’t coming back. On break I asked the unit’s rep what happened. After lunch I received an answer: the officer said the didn’t “have time to listen to a bunch of war stories.” I really took this to heart (read: was embarrassed to death) and had a long conversation with my assistant instructor after class that day.
Instructor Introductions: Nailing It
The ideal instructor introduction should do a few things. First, it should set the tone for the class. If your class is professional (and you know I love a professional instructor), your introduction should be professional. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, but it should contain just enough information and be concise and well-delivered. Your bio should make you approachable to students. The thing “Dave” inadvertently did with his non-intro is delineate the staff in the students into two groups. Unless you are a drill instructor you want your students to be comfortable enough to ask you a question and take your advice.
Finally and maybe most importantly, your bio should give students confidence in your mastery of the material. You should cover any relevant training and experience you have, briefly and succinctly. If I were teaching a shooting class, I’d highlight my military experience and subsequent firearms training. If I were teaching a digital security class I would instead focus on my background working in more permissive environments and training and accomplishments in that domain. When teaching shooting, no one wants to hear about my digital security background. When teaching digital security, no one cares that I’m a paramedic.
I’ve said before that you should be able to deliver your bio in 90 seconds or less. You don’t need to use all that time, but you probably shouldn’t go much longer than. You never want a student thinking, “ok how much longer is his guy going to talk about himself?”
A truly great instructor introduction should basically be transparent. Your students will see it in the moment but won’t be thinking about it later. And it won’t impact their learning. They probably won’t remember much of it…but that’s not the point. In fact, it doesn’t matter if they forget your name, as long as they remember the material you are teaching. An effective instructor intro is a huge step in the right direction.
Retention of taught material should be. your number one goal. If it’s not…why are you teaching in the first place?