Some of the world’s most masterful marketers are, first and foremost, master teachers.
You’re a teacher when you write a blog post that helps solve a tricky problem your audience is facing.
You’re a teacher when you lead a webinar.
You’re a teacher when you overcome objections on a landing page. When you troubleshoot with a client on the phone. When you craft a product, make a video, give a speech.
Understanding yourself as a teacher, no matter what your business, makes your business more profitable and more fulfilling.
As an entrepreneur, you know the importance of finding a need and filling it, of knowing your market, of writing compelling copy.
Yet it’s tempting to overlook an equally important part of the recipe: how you actually teach.
- How you develop your content and deliver it.
- How you connect with your students.
- How you adapt to different learning styles.
- How you take care of yourself so you can teach without burning out.
All these are as vital as what you teach and how you get the message out.
But because many of us don’t see ourselves as teachers, we skip learning how to teach. And then we wonder why our businesses falter or our energy drains away.
Some people are natural teachers … I’m not one of them
The Woman’s Comfort Book became a bestseller when I was 29 years old.
I was instantly thrust into a teaching role. I did workshops and keynotes because I was invited to and I wanted to sell books. I had zero idea what I was doing. I flailed about. I would waste days over-preparing, then collapse when my teaching didn’t go the way I’d imagined.
And if the students didn’t rave? I was crushed. I felt so ashamed and alone in my failures.
Then I started to befriend other “famous” teachers at places like Omega and conferences, and joy! I learned the secret of “successful” teachers: most of them felt the same way.
Many teachers fear they suck, most of the time
We were all making it up as we went along. Sometimes that worked. A lot of the time: not so much.
I started researching: What makes an effective teacher? How do I get better? What do I do about those students who never talk? Or the ones who never shut up? Why am I so exhausted after teaching? How do I know if I did a good job?
Over my years studying teaching and learning, I’ve discovered several keys to sustainable, fulfilling teaching:
1. Don’t try to be the expert — Be the creator of safety and context
Trying to be the world’s foremost expert (especially when I was the youngest one in the room) tripped me up again and again.
Yes, you have to know your topic, but that doesn’t mean you have every answer. Truly, you can’t. Let “I don’t know” become your favorite words.
Besides, what you know is far less important than your real job, which is fostering:
Safety: Helping your students feel safe enough to take in what you offer and to ask questions — they’re as afraid of not knowing as you are!
Context: Showing students how this learning can benefit their lives. It’s just like writing good copy — you have to sell them on why they should care.
2. Nobody anoints you but you
Would-be teachers often hold back and wait for someone to dump holy water on them and say, “Yes, you’re ready to teach now. You know it all!”
At the same time, seasoned teachers can burn out when they get tired of beating themselves up for not being “legitimate” enough or knowing enough (see #1).
Sidestep all that mess: give yourself permission to teach. Ground yourself in what you do know, keep learning, stay humble — but stop waiting!
3. Know thyself
It’s so tempting to think teaching is all about establishing a niche or finding that “perfect” market, and has nothing to do with who you are.
I’d so love that to be true! But knowing yourself, warts and shining talents, and being willing to be honest with yourself will do more to increase your effectiveness than anything else you do.
For example, I really want everyone to like me and think I’m smart. When I can face that, and not pretend it’s silly or beneath me, I am more present, supple, and able to focus on my students instead of my own neediness. It’s hard inner work, at times, but skip it and you — and your students — suffer.
4. The best teachers teach as part of their own learning
Of the dozens of master teachers I’ve interviewed — they teach everything from writing to meditation to 3rd grade — most make mention of this.
It’s not only about staying on top of your topic — “sharpening the saw” by perpetually improving your skills.
Nope. It’s way deeper than that. Their teaching is always in service to their own learning.
They remain lifelong students. Especially in the front of the room. Teaching well is a powerful opportunity to learn. Learning is a life-long, perpetual, constant cycle for them. What they learn feeds their teaching, and vice-versa.
5. Self-care really does matter
As someone who has written volumes (literally!) about self-care, I find it highly adorable that this has been the hardest thing for me to learn.
I thought teaching meant serving myself up and giving everything to everybody. When I found myself schlepping baggage at one of my own retreats, I started to rethink that.
What do you need to feel your best when you teach? If that’s a cup of tea and Twitter turned off while you write, great. If it’s a day alone before and after an event, and (gasp!) a massage, make it so.
Teaching is a high calling to be of service (yes you can make money while being of service, but that’s another blog post) and teaching is a transmission of your energy and heart to another’s.
If you are called to teach, in whatever capacity, you owe it to yourself to give thought and attention to how you can best do that. You don’t have to flail and fail, I promise! Instead, learn how to teach. And then teach so you can learn.