by Kelly Beischel PhD, RN, CNE

Have you seen the Broadway show Kinky Boots?

There are many great lines in the show.

But, one of my favorite lines reminds me of what I believe all college students ask themselves when they’re sitting in our classrooms.


The shop owner is excitedly explaining his ideas about expanding his shoe shop to Kinky.

And a bored Kinky asks the owner, “Are you going to get to the part about where it concerns me?”

In other words, Kinky’s asking, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) meaning, “How is this relevant to what I want? 

I’m curious.

How often do we educators charge into our classrooms and similar to the shop owner splatter our students with content before answering the WIIFM question?

I admit that I’ve done it.

Typically, it’s because I’ve had “so much material to cover” that I’ve lost myself in trying to get to it.

How do we know when students DO NOT perceive
the material as being relevant to them?

  • Eyes are glazing over.
  • Cell phones are in use.
  • Social media posts are rampant

In other words, we have a classroom full of inattentive students.

How do we get into this spot?

We have agendas, objectives, and a curriculum to satisfy. That’s naturally where our thoughts live.

And to deliver all of our material to satisfy the curriculum we, like the shop owner, splatter our students with content  – ignoring the WIIFM question.

But, our satisfying the curriculum is of no importance to students.

What is important to students is feeling an urgency about the topic, feeling as though learning the material matters.

But, how do we elicit urgency about the topic?

We begin with a hook, an important means to grab student attention.

In fact, neuroscience tells us that the hook is essential. Without it, the brain feels no urgency and doesn’t pay attention. (And, tell me, when have your students learned anything when they weren’t paying attention?)

Answering the WIIFM question is one type of hook. A powerful one, for sure.

When we use the WIIFM hook – we’re stimulating student interest with how they will use the content and how it’s relevant to their future goals.

Here’s an example.

While the importance of learning about hemorrhage and shock may seem obvious to nurse educators when teaching nursing students, not so much to students.

Especially not when we play PowerPoint karaoke and cite the numbers of red blood cells in the human body, blood volumes, and vital signs.

Wow, I can feel my eyes drop to half-mast just writing that sentence. Can’t you?

Instead, when we begin with WHY  learning about hemorrhage and shock is relevant to them as nurses first and then proceed with red blood cells, blood volume and vital signs, we have satisfied the WIIFM question and students are hooked.

Effective strategies to address the WIIFM question

Ask students their perception

of why it’s important to learn the material being presented. Or how they will be using the material when they’re in practice. Not overly stimulating but it works.

Narrate a story.

Tell your students about the time you were working as a new graduate nurse in the ED. The charge nurse informed you that you were assigned to take the next patient. You were scared.

When the next patient arrived, he was yours. He had been shot in the abdomen and was bleeding profusely. Blood was everywhere.

Describe what it was like.

How your heart was pounding. How your palms were cool and clammy. And how you wondered if you knew enough to be assigned to care for this patient. A story like this will have their attention standing upright.  

It’s the ultimate case study, right? And we know that case studies are effective learning tools. If you don’t have a true story to narrate for the topic at hand, create a case study from your knowledge about the topic.

Using a case study is a great way to begin class because you can refer back to it throughout the lecture.

Another strategy for using the WIIFM hook

is citing frequency statistics to identify the prevalence of the issue. Discuss their perceptions of the likelihood that they will require this material in their own practice.

Draw learners in

with a culturally current movie clip demonstrating care for a hemorrhaging patient.

Pairing these strategies with one another

makes the hook even sharper. Try one or pair the strategies outlined above and you will grab your students’ attention. Your students will perceive the material as relevant, as interesting and worth knowing.

What will happen when students perceive the material as relevant?

Students will turn off their cell phones. They will close their social media sites. And they will tune in.

Let’s build community here. Let me know in the comments below what strategies you use to address your students’ WIIFM questions.