Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Have to Publicly Speak? You Freak! One-on-One (or One-to-Five)? You Thrive! What Do You Do?

(Happy almost Thanksgiving, all! I'm going to lighten things up since some of you may be prepping for presentations after the holiday. This week and next, I'm going to tackle some student questions. Be prepared for next Tuesday when I answer a question on profs behaving badly. In the meantime, I hope your holiday is incredible! PS: In follow up to my last post, I'd be glad to update with a photo once the construction next door is finished. For now, the building continues!).
I love, love, love student questions! Keep them coming!!!!

Here's one I just received and, boy, if I only had a quarter for every student who feels this exact same way! 

Dear Ellen,

I'm a university student from another country, an extrovert, and an eloquent, humorous person when with my friends, or networking with unfamiliar people (groups under 5 people are no problem). My problem with speaking arises only in a public context, for example when participating in a classroom discussion, or when forced to give presentations. I get so nervous that I'm physically unable to speak coherently. My heart beats really fast and I can't catch my breath to articulate my words. I sweat and tremble, and my mind also goes blank so I don't have the words to begin with. The bottom line is, people I interact with outside of class often assume that I'm a confident and fluent communicator, only to be surprised when I have to speak in class.

I know I have the verbal skills and wit to perform, but it's just the psychological/emotional aspect of speaking to an audience that really gets to me. How do I overcome this obstacle? I've already been practicing a lot, but it seems to be of no use once people's eyes are turned on me. I have a presentation coming up to a very large class. Help!!!!!!!!


Wow, I have had many students who are extremely articulate and comfortable in interpersonal settings, but put them in front of a group? Their entire persona changes and nerves set in.

Let's start by celebrating what's awesome:  This student (and so many other interpersonally comfortable students...) are eloquent, humorous and innately extroverted. This says that the skills, dynamism, and personality are there... we just need to comfortably transition these qualities to a larger crowd (and, preferably, while standing!)!

Here are my suggestions for the student, and questions that you can ask yourself: 

-I completely empathize with that feeling of being physically unable to speak and having those physiological signs take over. So, to start, what anxiety-reducing strategies are you trying? We need to get your body working with you, rather than flying away from you in panic. The best method I know of is called "cognitive reciting." So, when you start to feel symptomatic before the speech, go off to a quiet space (outside of the room, etc.) and begin to say (even whisper) everything you see in front of you out loud i.e., "There's the door. It's painted peach and has a silver handle. The room number is on the outside, number 14..."

The actual act of talking takes a lot of effort from our minds and bodies. Therefore, if you can try this technique, the physical symptoms may very well abate. I did a guest post on this subject for a public speaking coach's blog called Speak Schmeak.

-When you approach your speaking area, what do you typically do? Do you put your notes down and just begin? Where are your eyes? On your notes? Or on the audience? Believe it or not, setting down your notes, taking a step back, dropping your shoulders, and looking at your audience for a second or two (and smiling, of course) can decrease nervousness. Nervousness is typically far worse when a speaker looks at notes and then suddenly decides to look up:  Whoa! A flood of eyes, which would freak anyone out!

-Speaking of notes, tell me about them... Are you using note cards? Full text notes? The notes you use can be the single biggest stressor for you as a speaker, and can definitely create more apprehension and physical symptoms. Think about it:  If you're looking down and grappling for what to say next, or if your font is too small, your heart will start racing, you may have trouble breathing, and you'll find it difficult to actually squeak words out.

I always recommend that speakers use key word, large font notes and only practice from those notes. This way, you are more conversational with the audience, less scripted, and you don't feel the stress of having to remember every single word. The key word notes free you up to ad-lib and embrace natural conversational (extemporaneous) flow. I have a Camtasia presentation on how to use this technique in this post.

-You mentioned that your mind goes blank immediately. I will reference the key word notes here, once again. It's totally fine to look down and get your first word to trigger you... the audience won't have a problem with this as long as your eye contact returns to them... quickly! If you would feel more comfortable saying something like, "Welcome, everyone!" or "I hope everyone is well today!" or even "I'm so glad to be here" to break the ice a little bit, that's also just fine. It may feel more comfortable than launching right into your speech content.

Let's also talk about a quick reality check because mind blanking is one of the largest fears a speaker has:  Remember, the audience has absolutely no idea what you were going to say. So, whatever you say, in the audience's mind, will sound like it was supposed to be there.

-How much are you moving around during your speech? It sounds like you have a lot of physical anxiety happening and more movement i.e., deliberate steps--maybe two or three--and hand gestures can help your body work out some of that nervous energy. It will also give you a feeling of talking "with" your audience, rather than "at" your audience.

-I hear you saying that you are very comfortable in interpersonal situations, even with as many as five people. How can we turn the perception of public speaking (or even class discussion) into one big conversation for you? Is there a way to reframe the energy you're giving it? Because, really, depending on your delivery style (conversational is ideal...), you are having one huge conversation with your audience. Sure, they may not be talking back, but they are giving you those nonverbal signals... smiling, nodding, upper torso leaning forward to indicate interest, etc.

-I think your upcoming persuasive speech angle sounds fascinating and like a lot of fun (I omitted this in the question for anonymity). Be a little selfish about your speech content: Add some of the wit that you mentioned; phrases that you will enjoy sharing and feel excited about. Getting a positive reaction from your audience can help your confidence in the moment! 

Really, it sounds like there isn't as far to go as you might think. If you had severe communication anxiety in all settings, then I would say we need to determine other strategies. However, there are many strong communication attributes in place to draw upon for speaking.

Believe it or not, if you could find a way to feel even 1% better about your upcoming presentation and own that excellence, it will create further confidence for you and you may find that you actually enjoy presenting to more people. 

I'm going to think good thoughts for your next presentation!

Students, how are your presentations going this term? I'd love to hear about this... or any other class-related challenges! Other public speaking aficionados out there? What advice do you have for students who are interpersonally comfortable, but publicly hesitant?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When the Walls Go Up, How Do You Avoid Getting Down?

(I'm taking another little birdwalk from student-professor communication to talk about some life "stuff". Many of you tackle so much while you are in college. Does it ever feel like while you have the best intentions to "do school", and do it well, life just keeps threatening to get in the way? If so, read on... and enjoy my first inclusion of pictures!)

As I sit here in my dining room writing this blog post, there is building pandemonium just feet away from my window.

I never knew that banging could come in so many different rhythms:

Machine-gun:  Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch

Steady cadence:  Tap... tap... tap... tap... tap

Intermittent:  Pound (extended pause). Pound-pound (another pause). Pound. (You get the picture).

Baby tap:  (light) pop-pop-pop... pop-pop-pop

Impending disaster: KABOOM (Please let that be a piece of wood, and not one of the construction folks!)

A little back story:

I've lived in Seattle, Washington for seven years.

I live high on a hill next to an empty lot (See pic below. My first picture included in my blog--so exciting! Okay, I digress...)

B.U.M. (Before Ultra-Modern): The view of Vashon Island from my front door. Most of our windows face this direction.

The view from my front door now.

My house is on the left.

A.U.M. (After Ultra Modern): My house is still on the left. Ultra-modern has one more level to go.
My husband and I went into this home knowing darned good and well that at any given time, the lot next door may be sold. Sure, the owner (ironically, the son of the original owner of my house) tried to get us to buy it, but my husband and I didn't have an extra $200k just hanging around.

Really, most of the time we've lived here, there's been zero activity. Just an empty lot with raspberries by summer, snowman crafting some winters, and incremental young kid exploring in all seasons.  

Then, this summer, the lot was sold.

We learned that an ultra-modern house would go in. Although more of these homes-made-to-look-like-small-office-buildings are going up in our 'hood, the style really doesn't fit with its complexion: basement ramblers, Craftsmans, and "old world charm" abodes.

Something else about this ultra-modern house:  It's going to be an ultra view killer for us.

I am not writing about this to incite pity, by any means. I know about perspective:  I have two good friends going through cancer treatment right now and one friend losing a home.

Those are crises. Losing a view is not.

However, it is a shift, a change, an adjustment from the physical and emotional comfort I'd grown accustomed to in my home. We did not buy our house for view; we liked the fact that it was newer than other houses we'd seen. I do love the light and airy feeling from 10+ windows on that side of the house.

Right now, I'm looking at the ceiling of a first floor... and workers standing atop of it. Soon, I will be looking at a fixed structure. A large and tall fixed structure.

I had been surprisingly calm about the building, figuring there's not one damned thing I can do about it (and that's totally NOT like me!).

My husband woke up last night with bad heartburn and said, "I'm thinking about the house" (and that's totally NOT like him!).

My 8-year-old had a meltdown over the weekend. "Tween angst", I'm surmising, but at the end of her diatribe, she said, "...And they're building a house next door!" (and that's totally JUST like her).

My 3-year-old seems to be the only family member not only unfazed, but utterly enthralled! Really, how often does a little guy get to see Bob the Builder happening right outside his front door... diggers and all?

So, between the bangs, I'm supposed to be finishing my book. I'm on paid sabbatical this term for that. Of course, there was no way to know that during my sabbatical, this would be going on.

There have been a few days that admittedly, I've stared at my laptop screen for longer than I should have. I try to filter and ignore what's happening next door, but suddenly the audio and visual reminders are thisclose.

While I'm staring, I'm also fighting the anxious messages that inevitably bubble up in between hammer slams and  buzzsaw bzzzz's:

"How will this structure affect our home?"

"Will our minds forget 'the way it was' and simply adjust to what is?"

"What if we're terribly uncomfortable in our house after this modern monstrosity goes up? The market is not great right now... we wouldn't be able to sell. Then what?"

(As you can see, there is no end to the mental chatter spiral... Can anyone relate to this?).

I realize by now you are asking yourself, "What on earth does this have to do with college?"

For the first time in my authoring of this blog, I actually wondered that, too. But then I thought about the various distractions that I know many of my students live with every day:

-People coming in and out of their houses at all hours
-Unstable places to live
-Parents that suddenly resurface and "move in"
-Originally supportive family members who changed their tune now that they realize what you're being in school means for the disruption of the household and their lives
-And, of course, external, environmental noise... just like what I'm dealing with right now.

For all of us, the same truth exists:

We can't control what's going on outside of us. We can only control what's going on within us.

If I stop writing and waste this precious sabbatical (Not to worry, College. Won't happen!) and fail to finish my book, is that going to stop the building of this house? Is it going to stop the noise? Am I going to feel better about the situation?

No. There will be an ultramodern house residing right next door to my house and I won't have a finished book.

So what's the communication lesson? (Yes, there's one, even here...)

I am working with my intrapersonal communication. That's right: The messages within myself.

I tell myself that I have choices:  I can choose to work elsewhere while this building is going on, although working at home is most comfortable and everything I need is easily accessible. However, Seattle has enough libraries and coffee shops where I can take up residence. Students, you can do your work elsewhere, too. Give yourself permission to change locations if necessary, even to a quieter corner of your house, or the bathtub! Let's not forget that there are all sorts of quiet nooks on your campus.

I talk myself into continuing the things that get me out of my head... and this house for an hour and a half every day: Running, Zumba, walking with a friend. I'm far more productive when I return. Students, same goes for you. Be a little selfish. You can do something for yourself, even for :15 a day, that will get you through the day.

I talk to others: I haven't shared what's going on with my non-local friends, but I did start an accountability check-in with a friend who is also finishing a book. I have to report my progress to her every Friday. Students, if you are struggling to finish schoolwork due to external factors, tell someone else that you need a check-in, too. This will mean that regardless of what else is going on in your life, you have to stay accountable to your goal:  Your college education! (PS: Your prof may even be willing to serve as your check-in.)

I tell myself that while this is a very unsettling and unknown situation right now, it's temporary. The construction will end. My family will adjust to the changes, or we will make some new decisions. We've overcome far, far, far greater challenges than this.

Students, whatever is getting in your way of your studies is likely temporary, too. Rely on your past history of facing challenges to get you through the present challenge, and don't lose sight of your goal:  Completing this term! 

If you are dealing with a very new challenge, don't be an island. I bet your campus has free counseling to help you deal with obstacles threatening your education.

The walls are going up... still... as we speak. Bang bang. Pound pound.

I'm going to close this post with one of my favorite quotes from Randy Pausch:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

I don't think this ultramodern house will have any bricks, but the sentiment is still the same. I refuse to let the literal and figurative "noise" of those walls get in my way! Who's with me?

Students... all readers... are there "walls" hindering you from reaching your academic goals? What strategies have you found helpful to "climb over", so to speak?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Investigating" a Prof Ahead of Time? 5 OTHER Things You Should Know

(It's been a while since I felt the need to speak to another outlet's blog post about professors. When I saw 5 Things You Should Know About Your Professors from the TalkNerdy2Me blog (National Society of Collegiate Scholars), before I even clicked the link, I had a feeling I'd have something to say. So, here goes!)

"Investigate your profs before taking a class."

This is the primary advice of the above-mentioned piece, as well as what to look for once you meet the prof. While I have some thoughts from the "other side," I appreciated the NSCS article a great deal. The author, a student, correctly encourages to students to take their time with professors thoughtfully and seriously.

I love, love, love that idea! (Of course!!!)

Let's jump in by talking about the realities of meeting your prof early, particularly when registration occurs months ahead. Not to mention, you're probably mired in classwork for your current term and pretty busy! I know that waiting is a risk, too: If you get into your classes and can't stand a prof, you may find yourself without a class to take.

Here are your options if you want to try and meet your prof now: 

a) Go visit the prof during office hours and ask for a syllabus (the current one is fine; you can learn a lot about the flavor of the class from the tone); or,
b) Sit in on a class before you register (another great idea, if your current schedule allows); or,
c) Ask previous students what they thought of the prof (a questionable approach--everyone has their opinion, right?)

And once you meet the prof...

I'm going to give some recommendations behind the five criteria the author discusses.

Translation: Five criteria that students should stay away from.

As you take this advice, you will benefit from some back-story.

Otherwise, you may be left with very, very few profs from whom to take classes... and you might miss out on a ton of valuable learning from others... and about yourself!

5.  Flexibility
Yes, you do want a prof who is flexible... where it counts. The author says that profs should realize students are taking more courses than just theirs. We do! And we teach more than one class, too. However, we have objectives to cover. Those objectives are not typically just chosen by us, but rather by a department, committees, and administrators. We have to teach a certain amount of material. It's college--it's meant to be rigorous!

Where I do agree that students want flexibility is in scheduling, such as if the entire class isn't "getting it" or if some other issue happens that requires a democratic revisiting of the syllabus. Unfortunately, unless you ask the prof straight out, "Hey, let me give you a scenario: Whole class falls behind. Do you stick to the schedule? Or change it?", you just aren't going to know just how flexible the prof is until you're already knee-deep in class.

What can you say? Once you're in the class, ask for a schedule change if it's warranted: "Can we re-look at the schedule since we seem to need more time covering this material?" Have your other classmates ask individually, too. There is power in many single voices... more power than you saying, "Everyone's not getting this!", which can water down your argument/request.

4.  Personality.
Ugh. Hollywood, reality TV, and celebrities are not good for profs. We are on a "stage" every day and if we don't have enough personality, then the recommendation is to avoid us! Once again, there is no way to know about personality until you are in the class. Even a rock-star prof can have an off day or two... sometimes an off-term!

The author of the TalkNerdy piece suggests that if a prof calls on students at random and "makes them feel uncomfortable," this is another personality warning sign. My wonderful student readers, let's trade places for a second: Picture yourself standing in front of a class, asking a question, and waiting out three minutes (or more) of stone cold silence. We don't call on students to make them feel uncomfortable; we do it in the desperate hopes of engaging students in discussion. Also, we want all students to have a voice, rather than those who always speak up. Some profs don't know students' names; it's a bonus if they care enough to know yours and try to get you to talk.

What can you do? Speak up in class so you don't have to worry about being called on! Your thoughts don't have to be perfect like I discussed in this post. Your prof have an unpleasant personality? Guess what? A term is only about 10 to 15 weeks. You will learn a great deal about yourself by working with someone who doesn't entirely click with you. It's going to happen sooner or later with a boss or co-worker, so think of your no-personality prof as great work experience!

3.  Clarity
I fully agree that students should understand their professors and not feel perpetually perplexed by what they are saying. But this is where students need to advocate for themselves. Your prof needs to know that you are confused--it will make him a stronger educator. How he responds to your request for clarity is what you need to look at, not so much whether the prof is consistently clear to begin with. Once again, there is no way you are going to know how comprehensible the prof is until you are in that person's class a time or two.

What can you say? Ask a ton of questions in class, such as "Before you go on, could you please clarify...?" even if it holds up the lecture. Chances are, other students will be so glad you did! If you are still confused, go see your prof during office hours or send him/her an e-mail saying, "Professor Jones, these concepts are not coming across clearly. Can we send you some questions that you will address at the beginning of class? Can we have a Q & A session at the beginning or end of the next class?"

2.  Relevancy
The author is dead-on that profs should not assign busywork, nor should they "birdwalk" too far away in their lectures. But, how will a student know if what they are doing is busywork? Many of us assign smaller, incremental assignments to a) give students practice; and b) so we can offer feedback before a more high-stakes assignment/exam. Something else to think about: How many exams/quizzes are you assigned in your class? Not many? Your prof has to spend your points somewhere. If he/she isn't going to test or quiz you a bunch, then he's going to need you to write, speak, analyze, discussion forum post, etc. Again, make sure that what you are calling busywork... is.

With respect to getting too far off-topic in class, profs are definitely guilty of this. If it happens once or twice, that's fine and a little frustrating. A habit is unacceptable. 

What can you say? If you are concerned about how the work you are doing relates to the overall course objectives, then say, "Professor, can you explain how this assignment fits in with what we're learning right now?" If your professor can't answer that question, then you can either do the work anyway and take the points offered, or you can challenge having to do it in the first place.

And the tangent? Interrupt your prof's narrative about her last vacation and ask questions directly related to the material. You can get another classmate to do the same. That should get your prof back on track. If this doesn't work, then self-advocacy comes into play again. Say to your prof (or write it in an e-mail), "I'm afraid we're getting off track in class and I want to make sure I understand the material" or "It seems like we're behind and I'm concerned" or "I noticed we didn't cover Chapter 12 today like it says in the schedule. Will we be getting to this tomorrow?" If you remain backlogged the entire term and this ultimately affects your grade, then you can take the issue higher to a division chair or dean. Chances are, your prof will make the adjustments. He/she doesn't want to fall behind either.

1.  Approachability
The author has it right on all counts here... and you can learn about a prof's approachability early by a quick visit to his/her office before you take the class. Hopefully, you'll get a warm, welcoming, fuzzy feeling, but if you don't, the person could be rushed or having an off-day. Don't let this be a deterrent to taking the class. Instead, make sure the prof is available to you when you need help.

What can you say? "What are your office hours?" "Do you respond to e-mails in 'off' hours, like nights and weekends?" "What's your policy on reviewing work early?" A prof's responses to these questions will give you insight into her approachability. But remember, the prof is required to have office hours. Even if this person does not review work early or answer e-mails at a time that you'd need, you can still go to their office hours or set an appointment to make contact. So, essentially, you have the right to make the prof approachable... by approaching them.

I have said before in this blog that "like" is a bonus in the student-professor relationship... nice to have, but not a requirement. Your prof is required to deliver sound instruction, engage you in the learning process, and assist you when you need it.

Do I want you to love every prof you come into contact with? Of course, I do!

Loving a prof means that you will hopefully love or like their subject matter and love learning!

But the truth is that you're not going to love or even like every prof.

The good news is that you can deal with some of the "unlikeable" qualities and get through your term successfully!

The better news is that, like I said before, the term will, indeed... end. And, you will be so proud of yourself for getting through it!

Students, have you researched your profs ahead of time? How has this helped you? How have you previously gotten through a term with a prof that you didn't click with? Faculty, what do you think about the advice in the NSCS piece? I'd love to know! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Did You Get Stood Up This Week? So Did Your Prof! What You Should Know About Office Hours

(Before I start with my regular programming--I'm sure I'll write about relationships again--I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for all the public and private words about my last two posts. Many posts are my head. Those were clearly my heart. They were therapeutic to write and I hope equally so for you to read. I'm in reflection mode... still. I imagine you are, too, and I wish you gentle thoughts on that journey! 

Okay, back to it: In so many of my posts, I am a big promoter of seeing your prof during office hours. I thought it would be a good idea to devote a post to the subject and what really happens behind the scenes of that scheduled time.)

I've been stood up.


I'm beginning to wonder:  What is it?

My Bath and Body Works Enchanted Orchid lotion? (Too many floral notes?)

My clothes? (I don't have spit-up on my shoulder. My son is 3!).

My personality? (Not possible!)

Oh, wait...

It can't be any of those things.

I'm not waiting for a date (my husband wouldn't like that, would he now?);

I'm waiting on a student!

And the student didn't show!


Students would be surprised that on a college campus, more "no shows" happen in the student-professor relationship than in their romantic relationships/friendships.


I've had students frantically call or e-mail, sounding the alarms that they MUST come talk to me. They set an appointment, and, well, let's just say I'd still be waiting for them to show up.

No call.

No e-mail.

No carrier pigeon. 

No follow-through.

If you're thinking, "Oh, here it comes... she's going to say, 'Don't stand up your prof!'", that's pretty obvious. Courtesy and manners dictate that you give a prof--or anyone!--a heads-up that you won't make an appointment... unless you've been taken out by a freight train or lifted by aliens and you have no cell phone service.

More importantly, let me take you behind the scenes of office hours. Because that's what I'm here for, right? To demystify some of the professor-student happenings. And office hours can be pretty mysterious, all right!

When the Hell Are They There?
Profs are contractually required to hold a certain number of office hours. Yes, there are times that we are taken away from those office hours due to meetings or other on-campus obligations. However, if we simply miss office hours (and, to be fair, I know many, many students show up during a prof's office hours only to find that the prof is a no-show--and that's not okay either), then there should be a note on our door saying why we're not there and when we'll return. If the prof uses a course management system, sometimes they will e-mail their classes and let them know that office hours are canceled. Lesson here is that it's a good idea to always check your e-mail!

The number of office hours varies, based on the prof's contractual obligation with the college. At my college, five office hours are required. At other colleges, twice that number are required. A prof usually has flexibility to select when their office hours occur and, ideally, they will come at a time that also works for students. Many profs put in "unofficial hours"  because their office serves as a basecamp to do other college-related work. I've seen my colleagues in their offices late at night, on weekends, and on their "e-mail office" seemingly 24-7. I realize that latter does not help a student who shows up at a prof's door, but recognize that the term "office hours" can mean virtual. One of my colleagues even holds office hours some Sundays on Elluminate. Still, many colleges do require actual in-person presence for at least some hours on campus. If your prof is never there, find out what's required (any department/building secretary can tell you). 

And When the Prof is In-Office...
Most profs will see students outside of their office hours, by appointment, and some by drop-in, if they aren't tied up with a meeting, other students, class prep, or a particular project. If the prof has set a meeting time with you, then he/she has probably already worked around any possible conflicts, such as committee meetings (another contractual obligation with the college). If the prof knows that your time is limited and you've set an appointment to meet, he/she may have walked out of a meeting or rushed over from across campus... which is all fine, as long as you show up!

Your Prof Has Personal Obligations, Too.
I know some profs who have to be out the college door at 2:30 to get their children by 3 p.m.  Sometimes, the prof is part of a carpool that leaves at a particular time, or he/she may have to drive to another campus. If you set an appointment with the prof, especially at an "unconventional" time i.e., early morning, later afternoon/evening, etc., then that person may have jumped through personal logistical hoops to meet with you. All the more reason why you should honor that appointment!

So what's the communication lesson here?

First, when you set the appointment with your prof, be 95% sure that you can make it. You can say to your prof, "My schedule is clear, but if something comes up and I cannot make this appointment, how should I get in touch with you?" I'm not suggesting exchanging cell phone numbers, but if you and your prof both get e-mail on your phones, that may be a way to confirm the meeting. It's also good to be open about what the constraints are i.e., childcare, your job, or potential traffic if you are leaving for the college at a different time than usual.

Speaking of which, it is not a bad idea to confirm a scheduled meeting with your prof. By e-mail is sufficient. Say, "I have an appointment scheduled with you tomorrow at 2:30. Just making sure this still works." Once you're confirmed, be on time! You never know if your prof has another appointment right after yours. The same goes for your prof:  He should be on time, too, or have left word with the department secretary giving you a heads-up if he's running behind. If you are meeting right after your prof's class, know that he may have been held up by a student who needed immediate consultation. Give him/her about 15 minutes to get there, and then leave a note with your phone number if he still doesn't show.

If you have to leave work or make alternate arrangements to meet with your prof, let her know that:  "I am going to take off from work an hour early so I can make this appointment" or "I have to get a babysitter in order to meet you." This way, the prof will know that she shouldn't let any issues get in the way of meeting you.

So let's say that you did stand up your prof. If a crisis arose, tell the prof as soon as you know you can't make it. E-mail is probably best since he may get that sooner if out-of-office. Back up with a phone call to the person's voice mail and also press "0", which should take you to the department secretary and enable you to leave a message there, too.

If you simply forgot the appointment, you don't have to admit that you forgot, but be apologetic: "I'm sorry that I missed my appointment with you. I will not let this happen again." You may want to just use the prof's office hours next time or make another appointment, but be darned sure that you will be there. Two no-shows would be, well, let's just say very, very bad.

And if you're the one feeling stood up? 
Let's get back to the "My prof is never there!" issue. If this is the case, tell the prof after your next class, "I have tried to come to your office three times during office hours and seem to be missing you. I need to meet with you. What would be a good time to do that?"

You can also ask the department/building secretary, "When is Professor Jones usually in her office? I've tried to see her three times now and the office is always dark. Do you recommend another way to get in touch with her?"

When you do meet with your prof, if you need to see him/her again, ask, "I would like to come back. What times are you generally here because I must have missed you during office hours a couple of times?"

If you are finding that you habitually cannot get to your prof during office hours, catch her after after class and commit to a meeting time, but more importantly, note this on your student evaluation.

Remember, while face-to-face interaction is ideal in many instances, profs are typically connected to students in all sorts of other ways, like I said before. Some profs are even using new programs to make student scheduling faster and easier: YouCanBook.Me was discussed in a blog post by a colleague of mine and some faculty on my campus are singing its praises.

Bottom line? An appointment is an appointment. Keep open communication with your prof about your need to interact and the way you'd like to do that. Ask directly about his/her availability. Most of all, show up.

Leave the stand-ups and no-shows for the dating world.

(For others in the dating world... you wouldn't do that, right?).  

Students, how much do you feel you want/need to see profs in person? Do you rely largely on e-mail for your communication? What topics do you think are more appropriate for face-to-face conversations? Faculty, what office hours insight do you have for students? 

(Updated 2:16 p.m. Tuesday: Addendum: Another important perspective from an anonymous reader who gave me permission to share:  "Thank you for the recent rant on being stood up. There’s one thing I noticed that you didn’t cover but irks me. I schedule appointments for students to come see me regarding resumes, work study, financial aid, etc. I set aside that 30 minutes for that student. If that student doesn’t show, they’re taking away precious time that another student could have used. I can only see so many students a day, so when a student no-shows, I feel bad for the student I had to schedule next week (as I’m only part time) and they desperately need a job."

This reader is SO right! The time that is taken up with waiting could have gone to someone else!)

(Updated 12:05 p.m. 11/7: Another addendum! My colleague who writes the Technology for Educators blog just wrote in recommending these programs so students can keep track of their appointments: will send you an email reminder whenever you want it. (Read more here: If you live by text message try this service: Thanks, Sue Frantz!)