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The crucible of teaching: Want to learn in a hurry? Teach!

When I decided to seriously consider switching careers to productivity coaching, I realized that I'd have to create my own "Master's Degree" in the subject [1]. The program I made up includes:
  • extensive reading of competing/complimentary time management books,
  • weekly blog posts to help explore the concepts through writing,
  • "clinical" practice via one-on-one coaching with clients, and
  • one-to-many presentations at workshops and seminars.
To that end, I committed this January to design and facilitate a four hour workshop on campus, something I've never done before. My thinking was this would help me quickly deepen my knowledge of the field, and simultaneously evaluate whether I'm any good at this kind of work [2]. I'd like to report on how the first half went, what I covered, and some tips I found helpful.

Note: The workshop described below has to do with managing the multitude of information streams that workers at the university have to deal with.

Status and outline

The interest on campus was overwhelming, and I decided to cap enrollment (at least for this first round) at 25. I spent a ton of time preparing for it [3], and presented the first session last Wednesday. (I decided to split the workshop into two two-hour sessions with a week between.) I thought it went great [4] - my estimated timing for the parts was very good, and we had lots of discussion and questions. I'm really looking forward to the second half this Wednesday.

Issues and challenges

The main challenges for me were:
  • Deciding what parts of the content could be reasonably covered in just four hours,
  • Choosing how to present that material,
  • Managing procrastination [5], esp. with such a large new project,
  • Having the courage to face the fear of failure and looking like a fool (in spite of daily visualization of wild success), and
  • Working to enjoy the process, even while being well outside my comfort zone [6].

Advice for new trainers/teachers

Finally, I'd like to share some information that I found helpful when getting my head around this huge new project.

First, in the article Ten Tips for New Trainers/Teachers Kathy Sierra tell us:
  • Keep lecture to the absolute minimum.
  • It is almost always far more important that your learners nail fewer subjects than be "exposed" to a wider range of subjects.
  • For classroom trainers, the greatest challenge you have is managing multiple skill and knowledge levels in the same classroom! Be prepared to deal with it.
  • Work hard to get everyone to complete the lab exercises, but NEVER give out the solutions in advance!
  • Do group exercises whenever possible, no matter what you've heard.
  • Designing exercises
  • Leave your ego at the door. This is not about you.
  • Have a Quick Start and a Big Finish.
  • Try never to talk more than 10-15 minutes without doing something interactive. And saying, "Any questions?" does not count as interaction!
  • Don't assume that just because you said it, they got it. And don't assume that just because you said it five minutes ago, they remember it now.
  • If you're not passionate, don't expect any energy from your learners.
She finishes with:
Remember: It's not about what YOU do... it's about how your learners feel about what THEY can do as a result of the learning experience you created and helped to deliver.

Second, Marc Shiman passed along these very helpful thoughts:
  1. What do you want your audience TO DO when you get done with the workshop? There's your goals. Focus on that. Then - focus on what you must achieve for them to DO what you want them to do. Some achievements might be "complete understanding of the system", "complete buy-in and commitment", "establish that they have a problem", etc.
  2. The human brain has a short-term memory of 8 minutes before it stops absorbing. Once you hit that 8 minutes of information, it needs to be transferred to long-term memory. That's the role of the exercises. Try to structure everything in chunks - short presentation, reinforcing exercise, and, most importantly, thorough debrief.
  3. Use a variety of activities, people get easily bored which is a learning killer. Have them discuss things in a large group, have them discuss in small groups. Put them through very structured dialogue, put them through very open ended dialogue.

Last, a friend who teaches in high school suggested attitude really counts, and encouraged me to let my passion for this work come through. He thinks passion is absolutely necessary to reach the audience, but not necessarily sufficient (you have to know and repeat your content.)


Naturally It ain't over till the fat lady sings, but so far it's been well worth the effort and challenges. However, the real hope is that my students take away something that significantly helps them manage their stuff. In the first session's group sharing exercise I heard lots of issues around stuff - challenges facing many of the participants that were emotional and went deep. And that's why I'm doing this - to try to help by sharing what I've learned.

And this is just the start. As Jason Womack says in Positive Focus on Successful Outcomes:
To be honest, it's a dream come true. Why? Well, I think I'm finally beginning to realize what this is about ... really.
NB: This is after teaching 50 seminars.

  • [1] Creating your own Master's in Personal Productivity is an idea that hit a nerve with readers, esp. Marc Shiman and Pascal Venier.
  • [2] I've always loved public speaking, and being in the spotlight (I'm a rock-and-roll guitarist from way back when), and I enjoy making people laugh, so I thought it would be a good fit.
  • [3] I've heard various estimates of the amount of time required to prepare for an hour of in-class content. My WL&D person said 3:1, and a fellow worker suggested 8:1. The best I can tell, it ended up being somewhere between 10:1 and 15:1.
  • [4] I am rather looking forward to learning from the participant evaluations after the second session.
  • [5] A corollary to this post: "Want to overcome procrastination? Commit!"
  • [6] You may enjoy reading Don't close it.

  • In his excellent book Love is the killer app, Tim Sanders says
    When you talk about a book, it forces you to know it inside and out.
  • In Time power, Brian Tracy suggest we become teachers in order to learn (which is a primary reason I blog):
    What the experts have found is that if you think about how you would teach new material at the same time you are learning the new material, you seem to absorb it and internalize it far faster than if you just thought about learning it and using it for yourself.

Reader Comments (5)

Matt, that is so cool!!! Congratulations!

April 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRainier

Hey Rainier, thanks very much for the support, and for reading.

April 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Matt, thanks for sharing your knowledge and work. It's my opinion that many people fail in their personal and work endeavors simply because they lack education in personal productivity. We must learn how to organize and not agonize.

Best Regard,

April 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thanks very much, Alfred!

April 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell
Good stuff as per usual, thanks. I do hope this kind of thing gets more exposure. nrgxhw nrgxhw - <a href="http://www.louboutinschaussures.fr">louboutin schaussures</a>.
November 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterujjenp ujjenp

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