Learn to Teach a Lesson: Instructional Tips for Presenters, Employers and Parents

“Can you teach me how to teach?” Friends and colleagues who know I’m a veteran high school teacher often bring me this request.

They work for large corporations, own small businesses, or run medical and dental practices. They excel as doctors, accountants, and business executives, but they never learned how to deliver efficient and memorable instruction to employees, customers, and other executives.

I answer these requests with my four simple steps to effective instruction: describe, demonstrate, guide, and supervise.

These steps make memorable teaching of nearly any type of material simple and enjoyable. Good for almost any setting, the tips can help everyone from den mothers teaching sewing skills to physicians training employees to follow client service protocol.

Step One: Describe. Spend five to ten minutes overviewing the content of the lesson. Most requests I field related to “how-to” style trainings that teach a process or basic skill. For these lessons, be extra careful to limit your time spent lecturing. Learners remember best when they do. Listeners lose interest quickly, and time spent not paying attention wastes everyone’s time.

Pro’s Tips: Use plenty of visuals, such as writing on a whiteboard or PowerPoint slides, to help learners follow your lecture. Visuals make presentations more memorable. When possible, e-mail slides and other visuals in advance for learners to preview.

Step Two: Demonstrate. Model the process or skill. For instance, a physician instructing a receptionist on phone protocol should demonstrate answering the phone, delivering the answer script, and responding to common questions. Some instructors avoid modeling for learners because it seems childish or uncomfortable. But learners who watch a process from start to finish first learn more efficiently than those who don’t.

Pro’s Tip: Modeling the process or skill also demonstrates your expertise and performance expectations. Learners who feel confident in their instructor’s competence and reasonableness have better “buy-in.” You’ll improve compliance and lessons will move faster.

Step Three: Guide. Have the learners go “live” and practice the process or skill. For example, a manager could provide five files to her assistant that each need processed and re-filed. The manager would guide the learner step by step through the process with leading questions. The manager might ask, “To start the process, where do you look to determine the department that houses the file?” Then the manager would proceed with leading questions through the steps for each file.

Pro’s Tip: Be prepared for your learners’ questions. Anticipate common problems or confusing steps. Then, prepare clear, concise answers in advance. After answering, provide extra guidance and review of the step.

Step Four: Supervise. Once you’ve walked learners through the process or skill, take a step back. Learners benefit from space to develop mastery without worrying about making mistakes. Encourage learners to try on their own multiple times. To facilitate this practice, you might distribute sample problems, case studies, or model projects. Provide time for questions and individual help, but don’t hover.

Pro’s Tip: Many instructors require learners to demonstrate proficiency before the lesson concludes. If learners know right from the start that they must perform at the lesson’s conclusion, their motivation to focus and learn increases. Consider making a performance or project that demonstrates the lesson’s content an “exit ticket” for each learner.

Follow these four steps — describe, demonstrate, guide, and supervise — to deliver efficient and memorable lessons on nearly any topic.

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