Somewhere around the time I mentioned our college’s honor code, I looked up at the students sitting in a “U” around the room. Several of them sat with their hands to their cheeks supporting their heads. One was leaning so far back he was nearly sleeping. Our Peer Advisors (undergraduate student staff) were trying their best to stay awake. I thought to myself “self, this is painful.”
I’m a fairly energetic presenter. One of my favorite crowd tricks is to ask them a question: By a round of applause, how many of you are excited to be here? The initial response varies, but it doesn’t matter. I then place both arms out, palms up, waist height; raise my eyebrows and slowly lift my hands. Even the comatose crowds tend to get a respectable clap going. If it’s a good crowd, I’ll even lower one hand while I keep another one up — about half the crowds make it that far.
I’ll then transition into one of my favorite energizers — I avoid the term “ice breakers” because of their inherent negative connotation. I explain the rules of the rock paper scissors tournament. You know the one, where if you win, you accumulate the person you beat and all of their fans (the people they beat) as your fans. By the end of the ice breaker you have two groups raucously cheering on their respective representative. The best energizers are the ones that are easy to understand, and hard to do while looking cool.
Then we break into smaller groups. Everyone leaves cheery and riled up. We get to a classroom, sit down, I turn on the projector, *WHAM — I’ve lost them.
*That was someone’s sleepy head bouncing off the desk
Sometimes I sympathize with Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Only the difference is that he gets to see the same people every day. The people I meet are there for one day only before I get a completely new crowd. I try the same jokes — every day. Sometimes they work. When they don’t, I’ll say something like “well… it’s pretty clear I need to work on my jokes… or maybe my audiences!” That one works half the time.
For inspiration, I weave into my presentation little tidbits of my story. That is, the experiences I’m comfortable sharing with my advisees about my undergraduate years. You know, to give them something to look up to (yes, that was simultaneously sarcastic and completely serious). I’ll even get our Peer Advisors involved by having them discuss their experiences.
Later on I meet with each of my advisees one on one for a few minutes. We chat for a few minutes about their interests and come up with a set of classes. This is the time when they’re most alive. It seems a fair number of them are too careful to fully engage when we’re with the group of nine.
When we’re preparing for orientation, we spend SO MUCH TIME discussing the same of orientation. How much time do we devote to energizers and ice breakers and how much to presentations. How much to organized time and how much to free flowing conversations.
And the worst part is, when you ask them later on why they joined a particular extra-curricular, or how they knew about our tutoring program, some of them will say “I remembered it from orientation.” It’s as though they all get together and agree one which parts they will each individually remember. Come on guys, we can do this. Frank, you remember the first slide of the presentation. Tina, you pretend to be asleep for the first half, then at the very end ask a question that clearly indicated you were paying attention the whole time. Thomas, you pretend to sleep for the whole thing — only, actually be asleep.
When I make up names, I almost always go with Frank and Tina. I’m not sure where Thomas came from.
It’s orientation season folks. No matter how you lay out the time, just about everything you do will be well-received by a portion of the group, but not everyone. Some students are worried about making friends. Others about if they can handle college. Some wonder if they’ve picked the right one. While I don’t think there’s a perfect way to do orientation. It seems to me that orientation should be a time of meeting people (both students and staff), thinking deeply about their college experience, and learning just enough to make do for the first semester — they’ll pick up the rest.