Feature

The one simple thing that can make you much more impressive

The power of passion, as explained by research

Show more enthusiasm

Professor Stephen Ceci taught his class the way he had for the past 20 years, replicating nearly everything imaginable. Same book, same lectures, same exams… even the same student demographics.

He took great pains to make sure everything else about the class was the same as it had been the previous fall; he used the same book, the same lectures, the same grading policies, the same exams, the same office hours, the same syllabus, and the same slides, videos, and transparencies, and the student demographics were the same. He listened to the audio recordings he had made of his fall lectures and tried to memorize each before delivering it in the spring. He used the same detailed outlines and transparencies to ensure he talked about the exact same content. At the end of the spring semester, two naive coders listened to several randomly selected lectures from both the semesters. They found 100 percent agreement in the ideas communicated in the fall and the spring. [The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are]

There was zero difference in the content.

The only change was this semester he presented more enthusiastically, gesturing with his hands and modulating his voice.

What happened?

His student ratings went up — in every single category, even those that had nothing to do with enthusiasm.

[The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are]

He was seen as more knowledgeable, more tolerant, more accessible, more organized.

As you can see in the above graphs, the data were clear. Students exposed to Ceci's enthusiastic presentations were much more positive about both the instructor and the course — even though everything else was identical. They perceived him as more enthusiastic and knowledgeable, more tolerant of others' views, more accessible to students, and more organized. [The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are]

Students said they learned more. They felt the grading was fairer. They even said the textbook was better.

And all he did was gesture more and modulate his voice.

In terms of the course itself, students in the fall reported that they learned about an "average" amount, whereas in the spring they reported learning "a lot." To test this perception against reality, the researchers compared students' exam scores and final grades for both semesters and found them virtually equal. Students taught by "Enthusiastic Professor Ceci" only thought they learned more than those instructed by "Reserved Professor Ceci." The students in the spring semester also reported that the course goals, expectations, and grading policy were more clearly stated and that the grading was more fair. They even rated the identical textbook more positively in the spring. [The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are]

Next time you need to impress, it might be worth being a little more enthusiastic.

(Yes, I was slightly tempted to end that last sentence with seven exclamation points.)

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