Author visits and workshops are excellent ways to build connections with people. They’re also great vehicles for communicating your enthusiasm for what you do — and light that fire in others. They force you to clarify and articulate the principles and processes you follow to accomplish your creative work, which is a huge boon.
However, teaching doesn’t come easily to everyone. Especially if you haven’t done it much yet.
But mastering the art of delivering engaging workshop presentations is worth it. It’s a valuable skill that can elevate your profile — and make you feel great! Teaching and making an impact on others can be just as fun and morale-boosting for you as for the students.
In this blog post, I am listing some of the key strategies that will help you deliver powerful presentations that leave a lasting impression.
- Know Your Audience. Age, experience level, and the context of why people are at your workshop are all really important. Factor all these things into how you design your presentation, and don’t be afraid to incorporate light-hearted activities into your workshop, no matter how formal the venue. What people want more than anything is to be inspired.
- Get Students Engaged Right Away. Start off with a warm welcome, and ask your audience or students to introduce themselves, or ask an icebreaker question that puts them in an interactive frame of mind. The goal is to get them from “I’m sitting and passively listening to a teacher,” to “I’m actively engaged and this experience is relevant to me personally!”
- Positive Energy is Infectious. Humans are wired to mirror the energy of people around them. When you teach, do whatever you need to do to summon lots of “good vibes.” Maybe listen to your favorite dance music before you teach, or do jumping jacks, or make goofy faces at yourself in the mirror!
- Talk Slowly. When we’re nervous, we tend to talk quickly. And when you’re teaching in a new situation, or if you’re not used to public speaking, you’re usually nervous. Try to remind yourself that your listeners are excited to learn from you, and you can help them by slowing down and speaking clearly. (When you’re nervous, you’re focusing on yourself, so one good way to combat nervousness is to focus on other people rather than yourself.)
- Beware the Firehose. It’s tempting to deliver a firehose of information, especially when you’re excited to help people. But this is much less effective than breaking things down into digestible chunks and focusing on one core concept at a time.
- LESS IS MORE With Slides! Don’t put everything you want to teach in writing on your slides. This is a sure way to suck the energy out of your presentation. On the slides, boil your concepts down. Use simple visuals and pithy statements. Then use your spoken remarks to expand on what’s shown on the slides.
- Be Honest and Vulnerable. The more you bring your “whole self” into teaching, the more students will open up and be honest about their own struggles. And the more you can foster an environment of trust and respect, the better students will learn.
- Do Not Fear the Dead Silence. When you ask a question and no one jumps in right away, it’s easy to start feeling uncomfortable. You want to fill the empty space with talking. Resist the urge! People need time to think. Practice waiting patiently after you ask a question until someone finally raises their hand.
- We Have Physical Limits to Our Attention Span. People can only stay focused for about an hour at a time. If you’re teaching longer than that, incorporate breaks and stretching.
- Make Your Teachings as Interactive As Possible. Always keep the focus on how your individual students can put learnings into practice as quickly as possible. Ask questions, give free-writing or doodling prompts, and incorporate discussions during your lessons or presentations, not just as “homework” afterwards.
- Accept Divergent Paths to the Same Goal. It’s good to teach what works for you, but ask attendees for their own processes or solutions or alternative ways they accomplish things. Soliciting other points of view doesn’t diminish your credibility as an instructor; it actually enhances it.
- We Often Learn More from Peers than “Experts.” The more you can facilitate relationships between your students, the better. If possible, incorporate breakout sessions into large group meetings. Or organize your students into small critique or accountability groups. Or have audience members “turn to their neighbor” for a quick one-on-one exchange.
- Be Over-Prepared! Practice your presentation in advance, time yourself, and brainstorm all the questions you think students might have. The more you over-prepare, the more relaxed you can be when you actually teach.
- Remember That It’s Normal to Feel Nervous. Public speaking makes almost everyone feel nervous. People who do more public speaking are just more used to the nerves. If you feel anxious before you begin, you’re just like 99% of other human beings! Try to focus on your students, not yourself, and remind yourself how excited they are to learn the content that you’re going to teach them.
Thank you to Rivkah LaFille, Patrick Wirbeleit, Roger McMullan, Jess Chrysler, Bonnie Lambourn, and Rori de Rien for contributing valuable insight on teaching to this post!
I would love to hear if any of you have more Principles on Teaching that you’d add to the list! Please comment below if you have anything to add!