Once I found comfort and confidence in just standing in front of a class and talking the students through my work, I learned to begin with a story I had heard somewhere, using it to loosen up the audience and show them that we were all going to have a good time.
The story is a fantasy about the day Einstein died. He goes straight to the pearly gates, where St. Peter, dressed in his finest robes, welcomes the genius.
He tells him how thrilled they all are to have Herr Professor among them, and that heaven has a glorious mansion for him to live in for eternity.
“Just one small problem,” St. Peter explains. “I wasn't told by You-Know-Who that we have more souls arriving than usual, and that we're asking people to share their space. So, if it's all right with you, we'd like to place three other people with you in your mansion.”
“Of course,” replies Einstein. “But I would like to meet them first, just to figure out in advance how we can relate.”
Being the genius that he is, he says he can ask just one question of each of the three, and know what they can discuss through the end of time.
St. Peter agrees, and they go off to meet Einstein's future roomies.
He's introduced to the first one, explains the situation, and asks just this one question: “What is your IQ?”
The answer is an impressive 145.
“Wunderbar!,” exclaims Einstein. “You can help me work on the unified theory – perhaps together we can finally solve that problem!”
St. Peter brings the great man to the second candidate, and this one's IQ is the average – 115.
“Good,” says Einstein – we can discuss the paradox of time travel and enjoy a good game of chess.”
The third roommate candidate turns out to be more of a challenge – with an extremely low IQ of only 65.
Einstein tries not to show his disappointment, as he searches for a subject that would engage a person with a sub-par intelligence.
After a few uncomfortable moments, his face lights up with that familiar smile of his, and he cheerfully announces, “Aha! We can talk advertising!”
It always gets a laugh, and gives me a chance to explain that my chosen profession is actually more complicated than you think, and I will be explaining why.
Next time: Teaching a college course.