For about the first half of my college career my least favorite day of the semester was the very first day of class. This disdain for the first day had nothing to do with the class itself, the course material, the professor or anything of the sort. It was actually due to the anxiety-inducing exercise of classroom introductions.
If I found myself in a lecture hall with 300 plus students, then I had nothing to worry about. With that many students, no professor would every ask everyone to stand up and introduce themselves. But if I found myself in a classroom that dwindled bellow forty or fifty students, then I knew there was a chance that the professor would want each student to stand up and tell the class their name, their hometown, their major and an interesting fact about themselves.
Now, I don't mind speaking in front of people. I have absolutely no issue with giving a presentation or some sort of speech. I'm very comfortable in front of an audience, and really enjoy interacting with a crowd. Speaking was not the hard part. It was the questions themselves, or more accurately, the question.
You see, I had not a problem with 75% of the standard get-to-know-you introduction questions asked on the first day. Name, hometown, and major are all programmed responses. There was only one answer to each of them, and those answers had all been so ingrained in my college experience, and my entire life, that answering them came with no difficulty at all.
But an interesting fact about myself?
What kind of homicidal maniac came up with that question?
Name, hometown, and major are specific, direct and simple questions with easy answers. Interesting facts, on the other hand, are much more broad, way more vague, and can become easily judged by the entire classroom in an instant. It felt as though my entire semester and my relationship with the peers in my classroom hung in the balance of this question. And eventually, I came to realize that there were two sides of the spectrum that I did not want to fall on when coming up with an interesting fact about myself: uninteresting vs. too interesting
An uninteresting fact is the guy who says, "I like football." I went to school in Texas where we invented the dang sport. Everyone likes football. There's nothing interesting about that fact. Liking football in West Texas is as interesting as water being wet. If I fell on the uninteresting side of the spectrum, then I felt as though everyone would assume that I would be a lazy group partner, or study buddy and no one would want anything to do with me as the semester progressed. But being uninteresting is at least a little bit better than being too interesting.
A fact that is way too interesting is the guy who says something along the lines of, "well when I was three years old, I was actually the president of the United States for a few days." Okay, first of all HOW? Secondly, this kind of response typically came from the people who were way too into themselves. If I fell on this side of the spectrum, I would feel like people would avoid me at all costs because I would want keep tooting my own horn, or totally take over a group project and force people to do thins my way.
So, my struggle with the interesting fact was trying to find something a happy medium of not too uninteresting that I'm boring and lazy, but not so interesting that I'm snooty and boastful.
The Happy Medium
During my junior year, I finally found the perfect response to this question. It took a little bit of thinking and a big moment of sudden inspiration, but I finally found the response I had been looking forever since I walked onto campus. And it all happened because I realized that my classmates were not the enemies. It was actually the professor. Instead of walking this mental tightrope of uninteresting vs. too interesting, I found a way to thrust all of that fear and anxiety right back onto the professor. And the results were fabulous. Suddenly I began looking forward to the first day of school. I relished the opportunity to retaliate against the torture of classroom introductions. And I'm here to divulge my secret of the greatest way to combat this stupid practice.
There are essentially two elements that are required to make this response work.
1. You must act completely uninterested, and just ever so slightly annoyed. You've got to act like you're simultaneously a seasoned veteran who is 2 cool 4 school, but also caught just a leeeeeeetle tiny bit off guard by the questions being asked. If you do not sell your response with your attitude, then you will not be successful with this response.
2. Patience. More on this in a moment.
When the time finally came for me to stand up and introduce myself, I tapped the breaks a little bit, and slowed down my traditional speed.
"Hello, my name is Josh Jackson. I'm a business management major. I'm from Dallas..."
I'd take just a really slight pause, almost like I had forgotten what the last question was
"Umm... interesting fact about myself? Uhh... Oh! When I was seven years old I killed a man."
Now, let me make something perfectly clear. I have never, not even once, hardly hurt another person let alone killed them. I'm a very docile dude. But for the next ten seconds after I delivered that bombshell, I was a cold blooded killer. And this is where patience comes in. After you confess a horrible (completely false) crime to your classmates, you just have to let it sit for about ten seconds. And let me tell you what, if you do it correctly, you'll be able to hear a pin drop in the state of Oklahoma. That classroom will fall silent. DEAD silent. If you can keep a straight face, and you can sit through ten seconds of your classmates squirming in the chairs, and coming to grips with the reality that they might be sharing a course with a murderer, then you can break the tension with a smile and say,
"Nah, that's not true at all! I actually just really don't like that question."
You will be surprised at the amount and magnitude of relieved laughter and borderline cheers that come from the people in the classroom after that little response. The color will return to your professors face, and everyone will have just a grand ole time. And the beauty of this response is that you can follow it up with whatever you want afterwards. You can even say that your interesting fact is that you like football, because literally anything is better, anything is better, than what you had originally said to the class.
So if you have been plagued by anxiety of classroom introductions and you are desperately seeking an out just like I was, give this method a try. But keep in mind that in order for this to be successful, you must sell it, be patient, and you must make it very clear that you are not a murderer.