Things I Have Learned From Teaching
My 10th KelbyOne class was recently released….10th! I never thought I would ever record one, let alone 10. But here I am today, calling myself an instructor. Here’s some thoughts about that journey…
I entered the world of training very late in my career, it wasn’t something I had ever thought of, I had never done any public speaking, I was the kind of person that loved learning and attending courses, events, launches etc but never though of myself as a teacher, let alone standing up in front of others to teach them, despite helping many people throughout my career in design on a 1:1 basis. Then one day in 2016 that all changed. Scott Kelby asked me to teach a session in the vendor expo hall on InDesign, at Photoshop World. In Las Vegas. I was 50 years old, so when I say I came into this late, it was so late it got a tardy slip!
That moment changed my life (one of the many moments being associated to NAPP/KelbyOne that made many changes to my life I might add). I went from being a learner to a teacher. I had about 30-40 people turn up to watch my 1 hour session. 40 mins into my session, the projector broke down. I hadn’t finished and had 20 minutes left. 20 whole minutes. The projector was dead. This was my first ever public speaking gig, my first ever Photoshop World session, people had taken time out to watch me. Thankfully my brain kicked into a new gear, it loaded up all the memories of watching all the instructors I had ever seen, numerous Scott Kelby classes, watching my best mate Glyn Dewis teach many workshops, I had unknowingly learned more than techniques from them, I had also learned how to connect with an audience, how to think on my feet and how not to panic, not to break into a cold sweat and not hyperventilate. In those few seconds of adjustment I started talking to the audience, asking them if they’d learnt anything so far, how was their PSW experience, what had they come to learn and just engage with them for the final 20 minutes. It was like I stepped out of myself and into the person who loved that situation. So many people came up to me and said how well I had handled the situation and assumed I was an experienced instructor. That moment cemented my desire to do more of this…..but without the equipment breaking down of course!!
It’s now 2023, in 6 and a bit years I have recorded 10 classes on KelbyOne, taught at Adobe Max twice (online during the pandemic), presented a 1 hour session at a Russell Preston Brown Adobe Max pre-con, taught at four in-person Photoshop Worlds and two online, recorded for the Photoshop Virtual Summit, the online Illustrator Summit, a live online session at Lightbox Expo for Xencelabs, spoke at Creative South, recorded a class for the Print Design Summit, teaching at CreativePro in June and done two live sessions at the UK Photography Show. That’s not meant to be a flex, it’s a personal accomplishment that proves “an old dog can teach new tricks” :)
So if you’ve been thinking about branching out into teaching, here’s some things I learned along the way that might help.
Know Your Community
I have seen many instructors teach how an application works, let’s say Photoshop for the sake of using the app we probably use the most. They teach what Photoshop does in terms of the functionality but sometimes miss the connection with the audience. That’s not to say it’s bad, but understanding what your audience are looking to learn makes for a better experience for you and them. There’s no point showing off frequency separation for the umpteenth time because it’s clever when the audience are designers looking to find ways to use Photoshop to help them design. Before you even prepare your session, research your audience, think about the techniques you can teach them, real life solutions rather than what the tool’s function is, but how that function helps them. The connection enables attention, it makes for a better session and you will learn a lot from the feedback you receive.
There’s More Than One Way
Sticking with Photoshop, we know there’s more than one way to achieve something, and we all learn a different way. None of them are necessarily wrong, some may be a very long winded or destructive way, some may have specific shortcuts to speed up, some may even be easier with a newly released feature. You will eventually learn all the ways so don’t fear that person in the crowd (or another instructor) letting you know there’s a different way. Embrace it and then share with the room, show that you are willing to learn as you teach. We are all in this together, nobody is trying to be better than you. I don’t like instructors who speak to the audience like they are dumb, like they are the almighty expert and you don’t deserve Photoshop if you don’t do it their way – both Scott Kelby and I know a guy exactly like that. He never gets hired, that guy going on about how much better he is doesn’t resonate with the paying audience. And you shouldn’t walk away feeling your are inferior, we are all on a learning journey – we don’t all have the magical Photoshop sat-nav, sometimes we like to learn the long way around to understand when and how the short way works.
Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
As previously mentioned, these apps are super powerful and getting numerous updates, more features, different workflows, new techniques. Trying to keep up can be overwhelming so once you decide what you want to teach, practice, practice and practice some more. Keep trying these new techniques, get really familiar with the workspace, the menus, the panels and all the bells and whistles. Train your brain because Photoshop will get weird on you, it will crash, so being ready to adapt and try another way or move on and come back to something will help your experience and your confidence. Each time I have a session or class I go through it on my own numerous times, to check the timing but also to instinctively know my way around the tools. Like a second nature.
Accepting Critique is a Superpower
Critique comes in many forms, it isn’t always about what you taught but also how you taught. You can have all the skills in the bank but if you deliver it with all the personality of a rock you won’t get the message across. We all remember “Beuller……Beuller….Bueller”. Being engaging is as important as what you teach, you might find you’ll get feedback about your delivery rather than the techniques, they might not like your accent, that you sniff a lot, maybe say “like” every other sentence – these are things you need to take on board and train yourself not to do carry these traits.
I once had feedback that said “the class felt like he put it together the night before”, I had practiced that session over and over, but some people just won’t resonate with you and will say something mean, that one stuck with me because it was mean, but I practice even more to ensure I don’t deliver anything like I am dialling it in or bluffing my way through. All these things are the make or break to you getting hired in the future, good feedback goes a long way, people seeing that you’ve put in the effort will sometimes gloss over the small things they may not like, some things just can’t be helped. Like crashes or internet failing.
Never Stop Learning
I don’t just consume hours of content to just learn techniques, I am also learning how different instructors deliver their training. I make notes about little tips and tricks they use to explain certain things, their phraseology, the timing, the way they present and prepare the artwork to best show the techniques. I don’t copy, I just try to learn the things that resonate with me and try to include that in my own personality. Glyn has been a great teacher to me, both as a friend as well as an educator – just check out his YouTube to see why – as has Scott through his training, his books and just being around him, they teach me to take a breath, to smile, to add 50% more enthusiasm and let people see that I am enjoying myself – it’s infectious!
One of my dear friends and a designer I really admire, Aaron Draplin, oozes enthusiasm, I love watching him have an audience in the palm of his hand, hanging on every word, every golden nugget of info and every corny joke. Even when he’s not teaching technique, he’s teaching you life skills. It’s intoxicating!
I also try to keep up to speed on all those different ‘routes’ to the same outcome, sometimes it is important to teach why something does what it does and how it does it than just getting to the end result. I also check out plugins and 3rd party tools to see how workflows can be improved and how you would try to do it without the plugin.
You Be You
Taking all the above into consideration, be you. Be authentic. There will be instructors and individuals in the industry who will try to dim your light to make theirs brighter. I have experienced it first hand as well as through friends who have heard things said. I can only be me, my age, my accent, how I look, my personality. I am not changing that.
I remember at Max being so pleased about something I was doing and having someone say to my face it wasn’t a big deal and implied they were better. I have had “advice” given to me only to hear that person criticise me months later even though I took the advice on board and changed the way I was doing something to be better. There will always be people who want to bring you down, people envious of the opportunities you have worked hard for, people trying to make you feel like you don’t deserve those chances (cue Imposter Syndrome for many), there will be people who won’t help you get further despite them being able to, they are protecting their own interests, they have their own agenda. You don’t need those people around you, be around positive people, the friends and colleagues that lift you, encourage you, share your successes in voice and online. You will become a better instructor, a better learner and an asset to the educational community. And you will get hired because of who you are, trust me!
Thanks for sticking with me on this, I am super passionate about what I do and super protective of my community, I cherish and appreciate every single opportunity I am afforded and try to be better each time. For me, for you and to do them proud with my efforts and the respect for their event or business. It always annoys me when instructors don’t go to the extra events at conferences, like they are too good for it, I know Glyn and myself go to every meetup, midnight madness and after party at PSW to hang out with attendees, because we were once attendees. It matters. A big part of my achievements are built by how I like to behave around others, the respect I show and the appreciation and encouragement I like to offer.
I like to think I have inherited good DNA from my best friends, two of my best I met because of NAPP/KelbyOne, Alan Hess and Glyn Dewis. Both have been and are in my life almost daily, we’ve created and hosted a podcast between us where we get to chat to all the great people we admire and learn from, getting to chat to inspiring creatives from all walks of life improves us all. I love it!!
So if you have always thought about teaching – enjoy yourself and do a great job – no dialling it in!! :)
You can find out more about me at ItsDaveClayton.com, all my links are on my site, please always feel free to contact me if you want to ask something.
Aside from my new class, I am also teaching a session on how to turn your images into promotional items in Photoshop at The Photoshop Creativity Summit April 17-20 – FREE TICKET HERE