Most training experts agree, that some subject matter experts can be successful teachers; even more agree that subject matter experts can be coached to become excellent teachers.

If you are wondering if you need a bit of coaching to spruce up your teaching skills, or if you are going to teach for the first time, there is ONLY ONE question to ask yourself:


Are YOU the Center?

OR is YOUR AUDIENCE the Center?

When I asked Training Experts this question, a common theme emerged:  they thought subject matter experts need to think like an audience member. They called this approach user/learner/or audience centered.

Yes, there are other aspects to consider; however, if you think about it, most of these really come back to taking this learner centered approach.


A learning style is categorizes the method in which you prefer to learn. (Keeping this simple for now), typically teachers consider those styles to be: auditory (learning by hearing), visual (learning by seeing) or tactile (learning by doing).

What is your learning style? Are you assuming your audience learns the same way? OR are you addressing all learning styles?

Why is this important?

Well think about it. If you are a visual type, and your trainer just talks, talks, talks, are you going to learn the material? What if you are an auditory person, and your trainer just shows diagrams and instructions and does very little talking? Is your learning optimal? And heaven help you if you are a tactile learning and your trainer is just a talker, you’ll possibly fidget the class away.

Regardless of the teaching material you have inherited or developed, you need to think about addressing all learning styles. If someone hands you a script, there is nothing stopping you drawing pictures on a whiteboard for clarification. OR if someone hands you a PowerPoint presentation, consider adding in a discussion or an exercise.

In trying to address these styles, you should consider making use of appropriate teaching techniques (methods). Those methods include: lecture, the use of questions, demonstration, exercises, stories, role plays, discussion, etc. (I won’t discuss these and other techniques in detail: that is a discussion for another day.)

Just remember the audience is there to learn. You need to think about HOW you will address all the different learning styles.


Some think subject matter experts are too wrapped up in their own expert world with their expert colleagues (having their own expert conversations and debates)…

There is nothing wrong with that. After all, where would we be without experts?

However, experts may use language, terms, acronyms, vocabulary that only their (expert) peers understand. That may be appropriate for their work environment when they are working with other experts.

In a learning environment, using an expert vocabulary may not be appropriate. If you ever have attended a convention and walked into the wrong room or enrolled in a more advanced session than you should of, then you can appreciate the challenge of trying to understand someone else’s expert vocabulary (when you don’t possess the same expertise).

Think about speaking in the language of your audience with appropriate vocabulary, defining any acronyms that may not know of.

[Ironically, I wanted to use the phrase, “use problem decomposition methods” in the next section. Then  I realized that it may be considered programmer-speak.  I rest my case with my points on appropriate use of vocabulary.]


Consider dividing the subject matter into understandable bits or presenting the content (concepts, ideas, etc) in manageable parts that make sense to your audience. Those chunks should have a reasonable number of simple steps for your audience to internalize and execute on. (I always use 7 plus or minus 2 as a good rule of thumb.)

An old friend of mine was a large animal veterinarian. Sometimes on dairy farms he’d run into a cow with a number of medical challenges. Did he tell the dairy farmer about all the aliments?  No, he presented the few major challenges and explained how the farmer could address them in a few steps. A few weeks later, he’d be back: those major issues where dealt with, leaving a few more issues to explain and remedy. The result was a healthy cow and a happy farmer. Had he presented 10 health issues and 14 steps to address them, the result would not have been the same: the farmer would have been overwhelmed.

How would you explain your topic to a typical person in your audience? What would be an appropriate starting point for your audience? Do they need a fifty thousand foot overview to give them a framework? OR do they need to understand some basic terminology, concepts or tools?

Developing the right building blocks for your topic for your audience lays a strong foundation. That foundation is a strong base of knowledge which can be built upon over time.


Do you give out advice, tell stories or show demonstrations that are appropriate for the audience’s skill level and that are down-to-earth and applicable to real life, their life?? OR are you talking about academic topics and theories?

Would you ever envision a member of your audience walking away from your session and actually doing what you are telling them? Is it too basic, too complex or something that you just would never do in the field?

Again, depending on your audience’s life and skill level, give them something practical to think about and apply in their environment. You can discuss, demo or have a hands on exercise to introduce them to a new skill, a resource or a tool.

Just remember, you wouldn’t teach someone new to woodworking how to use a router in the first lesson. Chances are you’d discuss the dangers of woodworking and give them a hammer and a pair of safety glasses.

Think about the audience and where they are coming from: their skill level, their industry and their work environment. Are you giving your audience advice, discussing topics or showing them demonstrations that are appropriate and applicable in THEIR world?


Make sure the Center of Your Universe is YOUR AUDIENCE, by ensuring you:

  • Address all the different learning styles
  • Speak the language of your audience and not revert to your expert-eze (i.e. speaking with fancy acronyms and other gobbly goup)
  • Present the right building blocks(concepts, ideas, etc)  in manageable realistic chunks
  • Are practical about advice, discussions and demonstrations.

Always think about where your audience is, who they are, what experience(s) they have and why they are attending your session.

It is your responsibility to enable them to learn. If you CENTER on them, they will learn.

Until next time…


Flickr Creative Commons Image by CLUC