What the Voice of Morgan Freeman Taught Me About Improving Classroom...

Professional Development

What the Voice of Morgan Freeman Taught Me About Improving Classroom Engagement

By Brian Buffington     Dec 10, 2018

What the Voice of Morgan Freeman Taught Me About Improving Classroom Engagement

Just recently, my organization put on an epic education state leadership conference in the mountains of Georgia. It had the usual general session speakers, breakouts, multi-colored name tag ribbons and vendor halls. However, we wanted to grab educators from the moment they sat down, and let them know our event was a bit different—and we were proud of it.

For that, we turned to Morgan Freeman.

Before the conference, the planning committee and myself got together (imagine The Office “Party Planning Committee,” but with educators). We devised a plan and I paid some guy $26 on Fiverr.com to record a welcoming message in the voice of Morgan Freeman. (Fiverr is an online marketplace where freelancers do all kinds of random, creative work for as low as $5.) We wanted it to seem as if Morgan himself was calling in live to the conference, having a conversation with the director and audience.

I wrote the script, making light-hearted references to Shawshank and a classic Whitney Houston song. The writing was probably my favorite part, as I had to dig deep and channel my inner Morgan, imagining what he might sound like saying these words. To paint the complete picture, I am a 36-year-old, balding Caucasian man. Clear? I digress.

The freelancer at Fiverr delivered my audio files in a timely fashion. When I previewed the project, I immediately knew I had hit gold. Even though I tell myself that people like to hear me speak, my voice does not capture attention quite like Mr. Freeman’s. It’s classic.

Just as I imagined in my overly-optimistic mind, the conference audience was in utter awe and laughter bellowed throughout the room as they heard that familiar voice blare out loud over the ballroom speakers (you can listen to the audio here). I watched their happy faces from a distance and felt all the internal fuzzies. The experience set the mood for the following keynote speaker, and the conference in general. (A word of caution: Using a Hollywood superstar’s voice can have its complications. I had planned to use Morgan’s voice for another event, but just prior he was accused of inappropriate behavior. This was after I had written the script and paid for the recording. We decided to scrap the project.)

As an educator of educators, I understand that engagement is everything. It’s not optional. When visiting a school, I generally get 30 to 45 minutes to share edtech updates and strategies with teachers. In most of these settings, their planning time has been diminished to accommodate my training. This time is not taken lightly. I could easily put the pedal to the metal and dive straight into the content. But I’d rather start by making connections, leading with laughter, and/or doing my famous “catfish dance.” And it works with audiences of all ages—including classrooms.

There are many ways to effectively engage an audience. But these five will never let you down:

  1. Humor. Laughter breaks down classroom barriers, such as student-on-student drama, too-cool-for-school-syndrome and the fear of not belonging.
  2. Video. This thing called YouTube is a goldmine. Just because you can’t find a rocking video on the Pythagorean Theorem, doesn’t mean you can’t start out your lesson with the “Yoda Seagulls” video.
  3. Storytelling. We all know teachers, preachers and distant uncles who tell the best stories. They captivate everyone around them with their enthusiasm, mannerisms and school-appropriate colorful language. Shout out to Uncle Joey!
  4. Vulnerability. Every time a teacher tries something new and innovative in the classroom, they are being vulnerable. It’s embarrassing to crash and burn in front of your class. But taking chances takes bravery. Show students your willingness to be relevant and future-ready.
  5. Compassion. Sometimes students need a break, just like adults. And I’m not just talking about grades. If you can let the people you work with know that you truly care about them, by consistently backing it up with action, then you have their attention.

Some of my other purchased projects include an islander from The Cook Islands singing a “Happy Retirement” ukulele song and an MGM old-school classic lion roar intro—with my face as the centerpiece. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Best of all, you’re showing the audience a willingness to take risks and have fun. In my experience, those are some of the most memorable presentations.

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