28 Jul How to Engage Your Readers through Teaching Classes
Inspired by the current writing workshop that I’m teaching, I want to share why teaching classes can be a great asset for many freelancers, and how to do it. If you don’t want to generate new business, don’t like the idea of teaching or just generally hate people, you should stop reading. Otherwise, I think there is a version of this for everyone. If you’re location independent or freelancing and looking for additional sources of income, this is a smart option.
For the last month, I’ve been teaching a media-based writing workshop for the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, showing people creative ways to craft blogs and posts to maximize their reach on social media. This included fine-tuning their individual narrative voices, zoning in on a target audience, demystifying social media, and big-time blog inspiration.
I’ve always loved teaching, mainly because when I’m psyched about something, I love to share my excitement. For me, teaching a workshop, whether online or in person, is an opportunity to interact with people who are passionate about writing and promoting their businesses – and that gets me excited too. Not only am I making new connections and sharing information that stimulates me, but I’m also being inspired by my students’ goals and stories, and how I’m able to help them.
What are the benefits of teaching classes?
Teaching is learning
An old adage says that teaching is learning. In other words, the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. That helps to solidify the knowledge in your mind and often provides insight, just through the act of explaining what you know. Sometimes, you discover something new, but more frequently, you gain insight by understanding your class from a different perspective.
Inspiring through sharing
Sharing something that you’re good at can be inspiring! Your students are eager to learn the information that you’re offering them and often have insights and ideas that can inspire you as well. We all go through the productive highs and dragging lulls of being creators – that is to say that the material (sadly) isn’t always at hand. By engaging with others, helping them to solve their problems, I often find myself replenished with new ideas, plans and goals.
Content isn’t limited to a one-time usage. Once you’ve created killer content for a class, you can re-use the material in other classes, parceled out in blogs, worked into larger E-books, or as free giveaways to build an email list or share with a member-only section of your website. Providing helpful quality information is everything! But once you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into something you’re proud of, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story – the end of the class doesn’t heave to be the death of the content.
Networking / Lead Generation
So, you’ve provided kick-ass materials, been attentive and well-informed, helped students make steps toward their goals and now it’s time to say goodbye. Don’t think they’ll want to stay in touch? If you’ve established a good connection with them and succeeded in teaching them what they came to learn, you better believe it! By staying in contact, they can hire you down the road for private tutorials, consultations or take other classes that you offer. Even more likely, they will recommend you, your classes, your blog, or your services to a friend.
But wait, you ask, what if I’m a newb? In the case of the inexperienced (or mal-experienced), I recommend having free Q&A sessions about what you do and how you’ve gotten to the point where you are today. Authenticity rules and people sense phonies like sharks smell blood – so be real, vulnerable, admit failures, and allow the material you share to help others advance. Even if you don’t have much expertise to offer, your openness will build relationships that will hang around as you advance and feel that you do have something to teach. Here’s an article where I let my guard down and talked about my branding mistakes.
Classes provide insight and skills. There are lots of different formats and options for designing a course. Before you decide, consider the following:
*What is my focus? How can it best be presented/demonstrated/explained?
*Which formats make me most comfortable?
*Who is my target audience? How do they prefer to learn?*
Different Takes on the Class Structure
Design an E-course
An E-course can be hosted on your website. Students sign up online, then have access to the course materials for self-guided learning. You can choose to incorporate and interactive element, incorporate 1-1 or group sessions, homework, and running dates and/or class size limitations. Conversely, you can leave the dates open so anyone can join at any time and have access to the materials whether a “class” is on session or not. Once you’ve designed a course it can be accessible indefinitely (as long as you keep it updated) and continue to work for you long after its creation.
Host a Google hangout or use Facebook Live
Google Hangouts are massive conference calls. This works well for interactive types of classes where students should be able talk to one another as well as with the teacher, like a writing workshop. This can also be a great format for Q&A and discussions. Facebook live video (which isn’t available for everyone yet) is a little more controlled, i.e. the teacher is giving the lecture, monitoring how many people are viewing the video and can see interactions in the form of comments, but isn’t necessarily interrupted by them (unless the teacher chooses to engage the comments).
Paid membership section of the site
Plan to post ongoing insider material in your field? A paid membership section may be for you. But before you jump on this would-be goldmine, remember that we should give away a significant amount of valuable content for free – after which, do you have enough additional and ongoing valuable content to maintain consistency on the membership site? This is a tall order. It’s not a commitment for the faint of heart.
How-to vids or slideshows
Everyone loves to learn through their eyes. We are visual creatures, informing ourselves more by watching something in practice or through eye-catching colors than static text. Videos and slideshows are both good visual formats for sharing information. Both the food and fitness industries are bursting with inspiring and easy-to-process how-to videos; business and marketing are finding fun ways to share otherwise boring stats and insights with slideshows. Have a lot of steps or dense info to convey? These might be for you.
Find a brick and mortar space to host one locally
Yes, old school. Newsflash: Some people actually still like to learn this way (me included). Firstly, people are willing to pay higher prices to meet in person and engage with other students (which makes sense, since it costs more for you to be there in person and you may have rented a space or equipment to host it.) If you’re trying to gain clients in your freelance business, this option could be redefined as a free class, giving away valuable tips for lead generation and networking. It could include a free Q&A on a topic you are knowledgeable in / work with or include short, free consultations.
So now you have some ideas of how you could have an amazing, beneficial class – but wait – how do you make an amazing class? This should probably be its own article (comment below if you’d like to see me expand this into a more-detailed article), but I’m not ready to stop. I’ve always had a thing for pedagogy and worked as a teacher for a few years; I’ve seen a lot of things come together to make a great class – here are some of the hallmarks.
Tips to creating a Great Class
Think about your students’ needs
Why will students be attracted to your class? What are their goals? What worries them? What will they hope to learn? Try to put yourself in your students’ shoes: if I were starting out, what would I want to know? What tips or tricks best helped me to discover my path in this field? By pondering your students’ needs, you’re more likely to answer the questions that drove them to your class. Build content based around the hang-ups and questions you imagine your previous self having.
Try to bring both the big picture and the details into focus
A common class critique is that the subject matter was too general, or hyper-specific. Try to find a balance between theory and practice. It’s great to present conceptual ideas, providing a theme or mission; it’s also helpful to give general advice like “be consistent on Instagram”. But that doesn’t stand alone. Follow a particular conceptual idea with examples and practice to show how it’s employed; for example, if you statistically get your strongest Instagram post interactions at 10 pm, try to post daily at 10 pm.
If a teacher gives conceptual information without practical application, the student won’t automatically know how to apply the new information to her/his actual life. If the teacher gives all examples and practice without discussing overarching concepts, the student can get lost in the details and miss the point altogether (how do I apply the concept to another set of details if I missed the big picture?).
This shouldn’t be a taker’s experience. Your class is constantly aware of whether something is for them (i.e. whether it helps them or not). Give them high-quality information in their lessons, including direct links to free resources and sources discussed, and pdf versions of written notes and slideshows so they can return to the material as a reference. When you go the extra mile, people notice. They appreciate genuine effort and recognize what value they are getting from the transaction. Not only will your students leave happy, they’ll be quick to recommend you.
Get through the thick of it with bullet points
(Almost) all classes have un-fun stuff to wade through. Whatever that means for your industry – go for it with bullet points. Make the material easy to scan and easy to come back to if distracted, because chances are they will be. Bullet points are great; readers are generally lazy and don’t want to work very hard to consume information. Whammy though that is, it can ease processing large volumes of potentially boring deets.
Bring in Your Creativity
Many claim that everything has been done before. If so, then why you? Why should I choose you to teach me a class instead of anyone else? Because of your creativity, because of whatever makes you different and the unique touch you bring to whatever you do. Let you voice shine. Be yourself. Do what only you can do. Introduce new ideas or ways of doing things. Share what’s particular to your version of the process. Whatever sets you apart, impart it to your class.
I hope my ideas have helped to spark yours! Are you considering teaching classes? Tell me (and my readers) about it in the comments below! Questions for me? Share them below as well.