Are you a fan of SNL? During my college years, I watched every weekend. At that time Mike Meyers created a character, Lank Thompson (Lank Thompson: I’m a Handsome Man). Lank had a series of infomercials demonstrating how you too could become a handsome man/actor, etc.
One of his tips was to use people’s first names when speaking to them. After he used that “slick move” on an unsuspecting woman, she remarked, “I love how he kept using my name when he was talking to me.” That sketch made such an impression on me. First, I love Mike Myers – he usually cracks me up. But secondly, there is much truth revealed in jest. It is really nice when someone remembers your name and then uses it when they address you. That is the first step in building a relationship with someone.
In the past few years, I have seen the power of the personal touch. I am actually terrible with names but it is something I am working on. Why? Because I can see how disappointed some students are when I call them the wrong name – or don’t remember their name at all. I told my students this year (I see about 700 per week) that I am really trying but I need their help. One little girl took my plea to heart and asks me every time she passes me in the hall or on the playground, “What’s my name?” She beams every time I get it right and I am relieved and gratified! (Here’s an article I wrote years ago on that very topic of using names.)
Keep It Personal
At one point, I worked for an administrator that would regularly express appreciation for her staff by putting little gifts in mailboxes like chips that have a sticker on them that reads, “You’re all that and a bag of chips!” I thought it was pretty cute but a colleague said she was tired of the little gifts and would rather a sincere exchange of, “Good morning. How are you?” I absolutely get where she’s coming from. More evidence that keeping it personal goes a long way.
Prior to that, I was a long term substitute for a group of 2nd graders in Vermont and at the end of my tenure, I wrote acrostic poems for each student to try to express my impression of them. 3 years later, I had many of those same students in my 5th grade classroom. One of my students used an impressive adjective in class one day and I remarked on it. She told me that I had used that word in the acrostic poem I had written about her in 2nd grade. Talk about making an impression! I had no idea that poem could have meant so much to her.
I found when trying to reach out to teachers that sending a mass email rarely got a complete response, like when looking for help producing our school musical. The better way to ensure that I actually heard back from all the staff was to send a personalized email to each teacher. The basic message was the same but it was addressed to each person with a quick personal message to open and/or close the email. It does take longer but it’s much more effective. When you take the time, the recipient is willing to put in the time as well. Or make personal contact and have a live, in-person conversation. Again, it takes more time but might yield better results.
But back to Lank Thompson. If he created an infomercial “I’m a Handsome Educator” I think his rules might look something like this. These steps may seem obvious but if you use them all, people just might think, “Hey, that’s a very handsome educator!”
- Use people’s names when talking to them.
- To express appreciation, write a personal handwritten note rather than a mass-produced message.
- If you REALLY need a response to an email, when possible send individual personalized messages rather than mass emails.
- When there is a big ask, try an actual conversation. People are much more likely to seriously consider the request if it’s made in person.
- Be genuine and sincere. Everyone prefers someone who actually cares. Don’t just say, “How are you?” or practice people’s names to get what you want. Really listen and be human.
There is nothing more handsome than that.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.