Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, has often said of his time at GE, “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.” He believed that one of the primary roles of a manager is to teach others. Consequently, Welch presented more than 250 lecture sessions to over 15,000 managers at GE’s training center.
So what makes a good teacher? Meagan and I have conducted seminars all over the world and we’ve discovered some basics of teaching that seem to raise the odds a seminar will be successful. We believe you can apply these basics to teaching subordinates and colleagues as well.
1. Capture the listener immediately. Back in the 80’s, I was on the faculty of a seminar company that marketed it’s programs in cities across the US via direct mail. In addition to teaching these seminars weekly, the faculty met annually to discuss how the business was going and to exchange ideas for improving the programs. And every year, to remind us of how much it cost to entice customers to sign up for the seminars, we were told by the company’s management that the typical response rate to a direct mailing campaign was about .3 percent. In other words, the company had to mail 1000 brochures for every three customers who signed up for the session. This seemed interesting, but not nearly as impressive, however, as the year they rolled in a 4×4 foot pallet, stacked five feet high with brochures and told us that this was how many they had to mail in any particular city in order to fill a seminar room with 90 registrants. Wow! That really captured our attention.
The experience taught me to lead off any lecture or presentation with a powerful story or vivid demonstration that grabs the listeners’ attention and creates a picture in their heads of what I want them to remember. Doing so resulted in an immediate jump in the evaluation scores of my programs.
2. Engage the learner. When I’m teaching a management class, I’ll often ask the audience to write a list of words describing the best and worst managers they’ve ever had. Then we discuss these characteristics in a back-and-forth. This allows the audience to participate in the learning process so they contribute while they learn. Once the audience is engaged and has a framework in their minds of what good managers and bad ones look like, they are ready to hear about how they can put to work whatever management theory you are trying to convey.
3. Show rather than tell by using stories. Stories are powerful ways to show concepts, which is why books and movies are so popular. You can tell someone that a one percent reduction in the interest rate on a home loan will result in a significant savings, or you can show them by working out the numbers on their own mortgage so they can see for themselves what the savings will be. You can tell someone how to drive a car, but it’s better to show them so they can see how you do it. You can tell someone that if you never say “no” to a child, you will likely create a monster, or you can show them by telling a story about someone you know who created their own little monster.
4. Have them try while you watch. In many cases, showing is not enough. You can tell someone how to swing a golf club until the cows come home, but until he experiences it for himself, he will never be able to do it. No amount of discussion prepares him for actually doing the deed. Until you watch the student perform, you don’t know if he truly understands how to correct his mistakes.