Off Topic

5 Ways to Improve Your Teaching Skills

By Ron Pereira Published on June 28th, 2010

Have you ever been forced to listen to a monotone, boring, and oh so irritating instructor teach a class? I’m guessing most of you are nodding your head up and down.

Well I have and can tell you one thing… it hurts. A lot!

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Over the years I have learned some tricks and tips that have helped me immensely. And while I don’t claim to be the world’s best instructor… I can hold the attention of a room no matter the topic – even descriptive statistics!

1. Know Your Stuff

This one may sound obvious. But you’d be amazed how many times I have seen instructors attempt to “teach” a class by reading the slides back to me.

If you don’t have a deep understanding of the content you’re about to present I suggest you take the time to gain a deep understanding of the material.

In other words, you should have some real life, practical experiences to share with the students.

2. Work the Room

I am not 100% sure what the “presentation police” teach in presentation school… but standing in one spot doesn’t work for me.

I need to move about the room in a fluid manner. I especially like to “work the U” when the students are sitting in a U shaped manner. This allows me to connect with students and make the training more personal and less sterile.

3. Lighten Up

Life is too short to not laugh a bit… so be sure to have some fun.

I mean if I can find ways to make people laugh and smile while teaching them how to calculate sample standard deviation by hand anything is possible!

While not an exact science, I try to find a way to make people smile and preferably laugh every 12 minutes. Research shows that adults need some sort of stimulation every 10 to 15 minutes so do your best to keep them smiling.

4. Speak with Confidence and Passion

This tip is related to tip 1. You see if you really know the material you’re far more likely to speak with confidence and passion. If, however, you’re up there faking it there is little hope you can pull this off.

Speaking with confidence means you NEVER say things like “I believe the answer is…” or “I think you’re right…” or any other wishy washy phrase.

As soon as you use a wishy washy phrase you’ll lose half the room since they’ll believe you don’t know what you’re talking about… which won’t be true if you listen to step 1.

5. Memorize the First Sentence of Each Slide

When I was first learning to teach I would often write out what I wanted to say for each slide. Of course I rarely said these exact words… but the simple fact I at least had a plan gave me a lot of confidence.

So while I don’t propose you “memorize” every word you plan to say it can never hurt to have at least the first sentence or two for each slide on the tip of your tongue.

What do you think?

Do you agree with my list? If you’ve ever done any teaching what techniques have you found to be useful?

  1. John Hunter

    June 28, 2010 - 4:31 pm

    I think the keys are 1) Know your stuff backwards and forwards. 2) Teach

    Actually doing the teaching is so important. Ok, those who you teach first miss out on you being more polished but actually teaching is irreplaceable.

    After that I think some techniques to be engaging, responsive, entertaining… are also useful.

    Take your time with questions. You don’t have to answer the second the person stops speaking. Thinking is ok. Thinking out loud, a bit, can help give you some time.

  2. Erin Fields

    June 28, 2010 - 7:16 pm

    I especially agree with the lighten up idea. I see so many people get all robotic like and simply put people to sleep when they teach.

  3. Mark Welch

    June 29, 2010 - 7:04 am

    This is a very good list, and I know you could have listed many more if you wanted.

    If I could add just one more to this list it would be to tell stories related to the points you are making. They can be very powerful to illustrate points and enhance learning. Good senseis are full of stories that bring their points to life. If ayone reading this blog has read “Stories from my Sensei” by Steve Hoeft, it’s an excellent example of what I am talking about. I saw Steve train in Michigan a year ago and he masterfully told stories to make his points.

  4. lazaro

    June 29, 2010 - 7:25 am

    It had been very useful to me, Thankyou and congratulations.

  5. lazaro

    June 29, 2010 - 7:32 am

    I cannot sign up to receive a FREE copy of your 70+ page book, “LSS Academy Guide to Lean Manufacturing”, please, could you send mi the book to the following email address:
    [email protected]

  6. Blake Merrell

    June 29, 2010 - 8:24 am

    This blog post sounds ALOT like a trining I just attended where the trainer just read the slides verbatem. True to what is written here, the modles that person taugth were DRY and it was really hard to learn. What really bugs me is when the teacher does not tap into the resourses of the group. There were some modules that were being taught where i have more expirence than the presenter, but when I went to comment I was told no. Cummon people! when there are people in the class that know more about the subject matter than you, let them share what they know.

  7. Ray McBeth

    June 29, 2010 - 9:35 am


    I agree with your list, but I would like to add one additional perspective.

    When “teaching” (especially with adults) it is very important to take advantage what they already know (as working professionals) and build on that to create an interactive learning experience for all (including the instructor).

    In so much education and training the participants are treated as passive receptacles into which the sauce of knowledge is poured. How sad. Learning should be exciting, yet it is difficult to be excited when one is expected to “just sit there and take it.”


  8. Bronwyn

    June 29, 2010 - 6:12 pm

    Hi Ron,
    I agree 100% with the points you and others make above. I have been teaching lean manufacuring concepts for almost 3 years and one of the biggest learnings I have encountered is the power of practical activities to enhance the learning process. A large percentage of the population are “tactile learners” and if they can see, touch and feel it, the learning experience is much more powerful. I think this is why so many of the lean manufacturing “games” using simulated factories etc are so successful and also help to make it ‘stick”.
    The best part about this as a presenter, is that you are challenged to come up with new and fun ways to simulate the concepts, and before long the use of powerpoint becomes only a small component of your delivery tools!


  9. Dave L

    June 30, 2010 - 8:03 am

    Know your audience – this will allow you to adjust your teaching technique to the audience and present examples that relate to their specific business. The goal is to use what they already know so you can “build the bridge” between the old (what is familiar and they understand) to the new (the concepts you are teaching).

    Humility – one boss would say, “None of us is as smart as all of us”, taken from the book High Five. Use the experience in the room to provide examples besides just your own. I will poll the class to ask how long they have been in their particular business. Then I will say, “There is a total of___ years of experience in this room; you folks can do a lot together”. The goal is to break the silo mentality. For some, this is the first time they considered themselves to be part of a team.

    Always questions – I ask the class questions to help develop the next point in the outline. Here is my example, “We just discussed how to find the mean, median, and the mode. Why do we need to know all three? Is one better than another or is this just a way for a math geek to try to impress you?” When asked a question, I repeat the question to ensure all in the class hear it and allow them to consider an answer. After I give the answer, I ask, “Does that answer your question or does that make sense?” The goal is verify understanding. I seek to develop the class to ask questions about the subject with a goal to have them to start to question their processes.

  10. Marc Richardson

    June 30, 2010 - 8:01 pm

    1) You have to have applied what you’re about to teach. You have to have tried it and failed and learned and tried again and slowly, lesson by lesson, figured out how to do it correctly. Else, how do you answer the inevitable question, “We tried that three years ago and it didn’t work.” “Well, sixteen years ago I tried like that and it didn’t work either and this is how I learned to make it work.”
    2) Don’t talk to the screen or the board. Face your class and talk to them.
    3) Yes, have them put those corny little tents in front of them with their names on them and then call them by their names.
    4) If possible, enlist the support of an aide who can work the back of the room and home in on those who are struggling. This individual can help you immensely with pace.
    5) Use plenty of real-life examples from your experience. Nothing dulls down a training like a dry recitation of the slides. Of course, this means you need a deep well of experiences from which to draw. See #1!
    6) Use questions to take them from where they are and what they know to what you want them to learn. Example; when teaching statistics, ask “What does the word average mean to you?” Write their answers on the board and then use the answer closest to being correct to build into the correct definition.
    7) Finally, use well-constructed exercises that tie to the material being taught. For example, when teaching about averages and the effect of process adjustments, I have found the venerable quincunx to be invaluable.

  11. Krunal

    August 3, 2010 - 10:18 pm

    I would relate training the adults with a war, and the lead warrior being the trainer. if he is not knowing his audiance, and their skills, he may not be able to utilize them at all and it would be considered a muda of human talent. when i am training and i come to know that i have a guy in my audiance who is more experienced then i am, i prompt him to share his experience about the topic, he may not build good ideas, but he surely provides me the corner stones to build my building…one should prompt such audiance to share their organization’s approach and thinking, and then carry forward the discussion with the point. hence utilizing the skills of each person in the room would make the training interesting as well as interactive. if i have a person specialized in swrod, another in archary, another one as boxer and someone else as a sharp shooter, i would surely utilize them all the win the war…similarly examples from different industries would make the topic clear to the audiance in different ways, and hence they would be able to relate it to different application.
    oops….i almost forgot to praise the original article….

    Ron…you’ve given a beautiful article….

  12. Jennifer

    August 24, 2010 - 8:56 pm

    Ultimately you want people to remember what you’ve told them and take action. To accomplish this, consider checking your messages and delivery against the Made to Stick framework: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and stories.

  13. Bryan o.

    September 7, 2010 - 7:25 am

    I always try to have some fun and make people laugh. I have found the best way to feel comfortable fast is to have lots of speaking time before the class…..may be the day before or just the 45 minutes before. Once I connect, I relax and feel better about standing up front. I only train people 3 times per year and I am actually a lean employee, not a speaker.

  14. Raj Subramani

    December 20, 2010 - 10:33 pm

    Excellent compilation Ron. I have one small point to make here and that is whether it is teaching or training, we need to engage people in meaningful discussions.

    In the case of training, I like to take an example (real working example) from any participant from her own company and work on that to illustrate how to apply the concepts to real life problems. I keep the participants engaged by switching over from one participant to the other as I progress with different ideas to ensure that I have covered most participants in the time available for training.

  15. Thanh Trang

    August 12, 2011 - 8:36 am

    These ways really are wonderfull tricks and tips for teaching to students. Thank you so much for your real sharing. I obviously feel to be confidence more than last date. Thanks again.

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