I took a workshop a few years back given by a very famous person in the writing industry. He had been one of the forces behind some of the most successful books in recent years. His track record was truly astounding. No, really it was.
His workshop sucked eggs.
And I don’t say that lightly. It was awful. It should have been amazing. The venue was well-lighted and perfectly temperature controlled. The seats comfy with plenty of room for computers and even plugs! The audio-visual was great; they had clearly hired the best A/V nerd they could find. I was so excited to hear from this successful person.
Then he began to present.
O.M.G. It was bad.
Not just kind of hit or miss like he’d not spent enough time preparing but BAD like he had no idea why his books flew off the shelves like those bizarre spinny-things are doing right now. He sounded like he really had no idea what he was talking about. I walked out of there certain I knew more about selling his books than he did, and I mostly spent the class time on Facebook and Twitter. Yep, the wifi was great, too.
What went wrong? Honestly, we may never know, but what I did learn is that success in your specialty does not automatically translate into success in teaching it. That old truism “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.” Should really be “Those who do successfully, should be darn sure they can teach before they try to.”
But not all of us want or need to become professional educators so we can teach a simple workshop.
I completely agree!
In my years here at SavvyAuthors I’ve seen more than 1,000 workshops, classes, and webinars. I’ve seen amazing ones and ones that were, well not so much. And IMO there are really three things that separate an O.K. class from a truly unforgettable one:
1) A single key idea
If students were asked months (or even years) from now, they would state succinctly, this is what they learned. I took an editing webinar from Liz Pelletier and I will never forget one thing: Edit the Story. It stuck with me and now when I sit down to edit or critique I first and always EDIT THE STORY. It’s the perfect takeaway and something I will always use.
2) Class content correctly focused at the student’s level
Beginning classes that really assume you do not know much about the topic or advanced ones that explain what you have to know to get the most out of the class then actually start from there. Most of our instructors totally get this but, June Diehl is really wonderful at this. She teaches craft classes and mentoring. I will drop in on her classes occasionally just to see what’s going on. She’s got a knack of knowing exactly what level the content needs to be and it really makes a difference in her classes.
3) A logical flow of the material
In a sense, a class is like a story the first lesson should build on the second and so one. That helps people to remember the content. Meg LaTorre-Snyder who both blogs for us and teaches has this down. Meg is a new instructor for us this year, but her experience as an author and Literary Agent really shows in her logical flow.
I only pulled out these three as examples of people who do this well. And there more aspects to delivering a great class, but if you get these three you are more than half of the way there. Because I tend to noodle on everything I developed an infographic outlining one approach to deliver a workshop that meets these three criteria.
Take a look and tell me what you think! Develop a Superb Workshop Infographic
- The site director and owner of SavvyAuthors.com where she sits behind the curtain most days turning interweb knobs and twisting network dials.
- A complete and total slacker-writer who, if she does not get off her laurels and WRITE, is going to be flayed by the very talented writers who keep SavvyAuthors going.
- A rabid hiker who, when not on the trail, pours over the REI catalog, Sierra Trading Post website, and tries to justify buying more gear to shave another 1/2 ounce off her base pack weight.
- A medical device consultant who, when not hiking or thinking about hiking, occasionally works helping companies bring exceptionally cool and useful medical devices to market.
- A biology and chemistry teacher at SouthMountain Community College.
- An enthusiastic grandmother of the two cutest babies on the planet!!!!
OK, I’m out..time to sort the latest crisis is to afflict SavvyAuthors ;-).