Three Things I Wish I’d Known Before Teaching Grown-Ups

I wish my future self were able to travel back in time and warn me about a few things before I began my journey teaching courses at the School of Visual Concepts (also known as SVC).

Don’t get me wrong. I love teaching and I love the students at SVC. It’s sort of a de facto “technical college” to enhance the marketing skills of working folks. These are people already employed at numerous agencies and brands like Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft and REI.

I love teaching about strategy and the essential tools to develop great strategy–like the seemingly simple, but oh-so-hard-to-write creative brief.

But there are a few things I’ve learned through my own school of hard knocks about teaching grown-ups:

There’s No Right Way to Teach
Similar to the adage that the best manager adapts her style to what each employee needs, the best teaching method for me has been to adapt to the class itself. Every class I’ve taught over the past five years has been different in composition. Sometimes it’s a room full of fully-caffeinated, MBA-bearing questioners. Sometimes it’s laconic creatives. Or jaded executives mixed in with newly-minted graduates. The fun in those first 15 minutes of class is measuring what everyone is bringing to the table and what they want to get out of our session together. It keeps me on my toes because I’ve got to tailor my content and delivery style to the tempo of the group that day.

“Eat Your Guide”
No, I’m not advocating some form of cannibalism. “Eat your guide” is a phrase I learned when I became certified as a qualitative moderator. The idea is to know your discussion guide so well that if you were to eat your notes, you’d still be able to run the entire focus group. When you’re teaching a full-day class, it pays to know your material so well that you can jump to any portion of your content to answer a question. It also means that if you encounter the dreaded but inevitable technology failure, you can still teach–because you have completely internalized your ideas.

Feedback Is Fuel
After teaching a seven-hour course, the last thing you might want to look at is your class surveys. But I can’t wait to get mine and get to the last question: What can we improve? I revise at least 20 percent of my course every time based on the thoughtful feedback of students. It’s easy to get locked in your own head. Feedback in real time or on paper helps get you out of your thoughts and see how your content is, or isn’t, landing. Sometimes you can just tell what you need to fix by the questions asked or the perplexed expressions. But it never hurts to ask directly. And quickly. I force myself to write out what I’ll change within 48 hours of finishing a course.

The only other thing I’ve learned is never to take DayQuil™ with a double Americano before teaching a seven-hour class. But that’s a different life lesson!