Before You Teach

There’s a sign in a Boy Scout camp down in Alabama, and it says:

You can’t teach what you don’t know

like you can go back to where you ain’t been

Poor grammar aside, it is a truism. To teach one of the most significant requirements is that you actually know what you’re talking about. And yet, it is not the only requirement.

To teach others, you need to meet them where they are. After you have the connection, then you can guide them to wherever they need to go. Failure to do so would mean a collapse in the transfer of knowledge. And that could happen no matter how knowledgeable the instructor is.

The greatest thing you could have in teaching others is to know and understand those you are working with. Until that understanding occurs, more likely than not, there merely groups of people trying to search for something in the dark.

The question becomes if you are writing a course, how do you really know your audience and what they need? The answer to that is easier than you think. You need to go out and interact with them.

Many people miss the step because they think it can’t be done or is very hard to do. Yet, is one of the easiest things in the entire training process. To know your students, you just need to go out and communicate with them, be with them, empathize with them. Then, you will know how to teach them and what they need to learn.

Where and how you may ask? If you’re teaching people, who build computers, go to the factory and be on the line with those people for a while as they build the computers. If you’re writing lessons for vets, go to veterans organizations and military bases, and maybe a bar or two near those places.

Coffee houses are great places to learn about other potential students and what they have to live with on a daily basis. Restaurants, parks, charities, organizations, and meet-ups are just a few of the places you could go to talk to people and learn something before you teach others.

Worried you’ll be ignored? Say hi a time or two, and you may be surprised. Offer to buy somebody a cup of coffee, and then listen to what they say. Watch their mannerisms. Their timber and emotion in the voice will tell you where the pain points really are.

When you teach somebody something, you are actually offering them a better way to deal with the pain point. Students need to know something which you are going to teach them so they can do something better. And that relieves the irritation, pain, or worry.

In doing this preliminary work, you are actually removing your own worry, stress, and pain points. Because once you have done this learning about your students, you have made your own work of teaching much easier to accomplish.

Talking to Others

Did you know that you can say just about anything to just about anyone and have it well received? Absolutely true.

It is not what you say, instead of how you say it.  I have taught so many classes and given so many line training sessions in my career that I have learned how to do this.

No one can run into a strange situation with a bunch of strangers, just say something and expect them to understand and agree with what you are saying. You need to be a known quantity who cares for and respects your audience.

I think it’s time I told you the secret, and also let you in on a secret of mine.

There is a tone that you can use when speaking to people. It’s the same tone that you use when you talk to a puppy dog. If you want a puppy dog to pay attention you have to speak to the dog nicely. You need a calm voice and an easy-going cadence. We start off telling the puppy dog that it is a good dog and you know that it is doing good things.

When you first start doing this do not go over and try to pet the puppy dog. That is how people end up with the nickname lefty. Rather, talk nicely to the puppy dog, and fairly soon it will come to you and nuzzle your hand for a pet or lick your hand. I usually speak to puppy dogs through a fence. When I do so, at some point, whether it is 10 minutes or 10 days, the puppy dog will put its front paws up on the fence, and then I can cautiously offer it my hand.

The same is true with humans. Talk to them nicely, tell them you appreciate what they do, let them know you’re here to help and give them enough space that they feel comfortable. Use the same calm voice and consistency. Understand their problems and explain that you are here to help them.

The humans probably will not lick your hand. If they do, it may be the time to involve HR. You will be able to tell you are making a good impression on the humans when they start trusting you enough to ask why, or they start to participate in the activities.

For you, this is a learned activity. The more you work on the way you talk, the easier it will become. Like everything else, start slowly at first and build upon your successes.

My secret? I used to be very embarrassed to tell people they needed to talk to other people like they should talk to puppy dogs. Actually, I got that wrong. You should talk to puppy dogs like you should talk to other people.