For those of you who are still reading, thank you for looking past my disclaimer. We do not often realize how full of these sorts of statements our lives can be. “This might be a stupid question, but …” “You might have already said this, but …” “Today’s lecture is pretty dry, but bear with me.”
That last one is one of my biggest pet-peeves: when a professor walks into class, opens up her or his power point and proceeds to tell the class that the material that will be covered that day is dull and boring. Nothing is more of a buzzkill than a professor letting the class know he or she doesn’t want to be there just as much as the students don’t want to be there. Every time a professor begins class with such a disclaimer, half the class automatically regrets the responsible decision they made to actually show up for the lecture that day.
It’s a teacher’s job to present students with all the material deemed necessary for them to learn that semester. The least a professor can do when necessary material might not be the most interesting is to try to make it somewhat interesting. Or at least not mention how uninteresting they find it. How would they feel if every time a student came to office hours or asked a question in class, he or she started with “You aren’t going to want to answer this, but bear with me”?
The problem with disclaimers is not the thought behind them, but the lack of confidence they imply in those who use them. I had an English teacher in high school who always called her students out any time they used a disclaimer and made them re-phrase their question or statement with confidence. Often, the disclaimer itself makes the question sound stupid, or the lecture dry, or the column bad.
We all have uncertainties from time to time, but it’s how we handle them that determines how aware other people become of them. Approaching an uncertain situation with confidence gives others confidence in you.
I understand the appeal of using a disclaimer. If your question really does come across as quite unintelligent, or your lecture actually does turn out to be one of the most boring you’ve ever given, or your column is truly one of the worst bits of writing you have ever published, then you have an automatic out: I told them it was awful at the very beginning.
The more confident you are in your delivery, the more confident your audience becomes in you. If you add jokes to your lecture, if you ask your question with conviction, if you publish your column proudly, then half the battle is already won.
Caroline Campbell is a senior in the College of Communication with a major in journalism and a minor in history. Email her firstname.lastname@example.org.