I’ve wanted to share my experience about being a speaker in the digital realm for a while. Officially, I have been a speaker in this field since 2015. I teach several classes on User Experience, including User Research, Interface Design (Web, Interactive Installation, AR / VR), Ideation and Decision-Making Workshops. I like to draw from real-life situations in the workplace, talk about joining a company, Junior vs Middle vs Senior positions, how to pitch ideas, how to make your point, in short — what I have personally experienced and witnessed first-hand.
I’ve been thinking about this article for a few months now, while at the same time questioning myself about my own role as a speaker, what I could offer to my students and how I could help the ones facing difficulties, especially during the pandemic.
Teacher vs. Speaker
Why do I differentiate these two terms? I believe that a teacher has been taught how to teach. They have learnt specific methodologies and acquired certain tools to know how to share their knowledge. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), I have not been trained to do this. I have simply observed my peers, tried to take the best out of what I’ve witnessed and added my personal touch. I consider myself as more of a speaker, a mentor.
I like the definition of mentorship.
Mentorship is about creating an interpersonal support relationship, for helping, sharing and learning, whereby an experienced person — the mentor — offers their wisdom and expertise in order to foster and encourage the personal development of another person — the mentee — who is less competent or knowledgeable in the subject-matter or wishes to achieve certain professional goals.
I think it is important to draw from personal experience, use common sense and intuition. I like to try to decipher and understand what the other person needs. That is why it is important to adapt, and go over the basics if needed, or skip ahead in the course outline and speed up the pace if needed.
What is it like to be a teacher?
Being a teacher in the digital realm is both cool and terrifying. We have inherited trades where basic principles already exist, like for example in Print and Graphic Design, where basic ergonomics principles and cognitive science are important. But these digital professions are still quite new, and are rapidly evolving. It is therefore important to stay up to date.
We cannot teach the same course outline year in and year out. We need to adapt it, tweak it, and of course, improve it. We must also take into account the human factor and adjust to our audience.
Areas of expertise are increasingly specialized — as reflected in job titles (especially French job titles as I have previously discussed here) — and corresponding skills are even further enhanced, we are constantly striving for progress. Fascinating, isn’t it?
The world is rapidly evolving
I remember what a speaker once said to us:
“This is how I did things with this software 10 years ago, but this is how you can do it now. I will explain to you how we got to this point.”
[20 minutes later…]
“Now, it can be done in less than 2 minutes by using this button.”
I found it really interesting to see the demo and fully understand the evolution.
But I have also sometimes felt like I was learning notions from the past, which aren’t really in sync with the reality of today’s market. It’s uncomfortable, both for the students and the teacher, and I don’t want to put anyone in this position.
Me vs YouTube or any other platform
I asked myself what is my added value as a mentor, compared to the plethora of resources available online. I got my answer a while ago: the value is in sharing my personal experience. This is priceless. Explaining the context, how we succeed but also, most importantly, where we have failed, in order to provide useful feedback and tips based on experience. We should not see these platforms as competitors, but rather work with these to provide as much knowledge as possible.
Steer your students toward useful resources, sort through that massive information and use applicable content in your classroom.
Striving for more as a teacher
What type of teacher do I want to be? Do I want to be strict, cool, or in-between? I am still rather young, and look even younger. So, my students are often not that much younger than I am. This sometimes triggers somewhat funny situations.
This reminds me of a scene in How I Met Your Mother, where Ted wonders what type of teacher he should be and how he should behave in a classroom. I never found the answer to that question. I usually try to go with the flow and with the energy in the room, and try to figure out how to connect with the class. This technique has its upsides and its downsides, but in most cases, it has enabled beautiful moments, and has fostered progress, desire to learn, and success.
After a few years, I have truly understood the importance of teaching. We help shape our future co-workers, or even people who will end up doing the exact same job as ourselves. We carry the knowledge that we have acquired, before transforming it and sharing it in turn.
It is very important not to idealise, but to stay as close to reality as possible, to allow projection. Knowledge sharing means sharing experience and being as pedagogical as possible. It means being creative! One approach may work on one person but not on another, and group dynamics depend on so many different factors. Finding what works best for your audience is a real challenge, but isn’t it also the coolest thing?
I try not to share just one point of view as gospel. Though I usually convey messages and teach things the way I see them. But I do believe that my knowledge and teachings are the result of multiple people, sources, and point of views.
When I see that students fully grasp notions that I wish to teach, I take a step back and try to share my feedback in a different way (for example, in a project management way, by challenging and giving my opinion).
Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic
Well, that was definitely not easy! The interaction is different, everyone is in a different setting, we don’t share the same space and each person has their own take on the situation. I will not write about how each administration handled the situation — what happened, happened. It is now up to us to learn from it, and see how we can do better.
On my side, I had to rethink the way I teach. I had to change the way I interact, how I present things, and how I stay alert to misunderstandings. Picture this: you are behind your screen, teaching a class, and each student is — more or less — there, also behind screens. Level of fun: close to zero.
On the technical side, we quickly adapted. We used a second screen for managing the various media, a good microphone for clear sound, prepared course material accordingly and relied on interactive services like Miro, Figma or Klaxoon.
On the organisational side, we laid out the outline, scheduled the various meetings, and then everyone worked autonomously. Depending on the energy of the class, I would sometimes nudge a student who seemed a bit behind or not entirely focused. If the same question was asked by several students, we organised a full class moment and answered the question for everyone. As a general rule, do not hesitate to switch up the class organisation throughout time in order to keep everyone on their toes.
I know that returning to face-to-face teaching will be a huge relief for many, but I do think that we have learnt a lot about how we interact with each other and how we can improve. Perhaps a mix of both face-to-face and remote learning will be part of every curriculum. I am pretty convinced this will be the case in the near future.
To conclude, I would say that being a speaker, teacher, mentor — no matter what you want to call it — is a great opportunity, a responsibility and a challenge. It is my passion to be able to interact and share my knowledge with people and watch them grow. It is like a breath of fresh air from my regular job.
👉 These are the 13 tips I would have liked to know before starting:
1- Be as demanding with yourself as you may be with your padawans. I hate being late, so my students know to be on time.
2- Share limitlessly, but keep in mind that the key is to not give all the information at once; the process is sometimes more important than the goal.
3- Ask for feedback regularly, concerning the rhythm, the content. Classes are designed 80% on your own and 20% with your students.
4- Not everyone will like you, deal with it. People get attached to personalities that stand out, so just be yourself.
5- Take the time to provide feedback, at least to the whole class, and if possible one-to-one with students. You can do this in many ways: in writing, visio conference or face to face. This can allow you to collect questions that may be shared by many and provide a collective answer.
6- The magic ratio is 40% theory, 55% hands-on practice and 5% anecdotes. The more you move forward in the curriculum, the more the hands-on practice takes over theory.
7- Prepare quizzes at the beginning of class. They don’t have to count or be graded, but they are useful for reviewing certain aspects and checking if everyone is on the same page.
8- Do not give homework that you do not have time to correct or provide sufficient feedback on.
9- Prepare class material that can be easily shared with students.
10- Be honest but not hurtful, just get to the point.
11- Awkward situations can take place, just diffuse the tension with humility, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
12- You don’t need to have an answer to everything. If you don’t have the answer to something — do not make something up! Take the time to find the answer or call a friend.
13- Build a relationship of sharing and mutual trust, welcome contradiction and free speech in mutual respect.