So you have decided become better at something. To become an expert in some sense. Good for you!
Do you ever wonder when you have gained enough knowledge to be considered an expert?
If you ask people about this you will probably get an answer like: “When you can teach somebody else to do something, then you truly know it!”
There is definitely a lot of merit to this point of view, but I think that it is both imprecise and incomplete. I fully agree with the Expert Enough Manifesto, which directly states that ‘expertise is relative’. Think about that in relation to the statement above.
The above statement by itself may have you thinking that teaching is something you should refrain from until somebody has proclaimed you an expert, but nothing is further from the truth.
As soon as you know just a little bit more than your peers you are ready to teach. Of course I am not talking about teaching graduate students in astrophysics. But you definitely don’t have to get a PhD in astrophysics to be able to teach at least something about astrophysics to the general population.
I am of course talking about teaching people who have not yet reached your level of understanding of a subject, in this sense you can be the relative expert.
Seeing it from another point of view, teaching is also a great learning tool for yourself. Learning in isolation can be tough and you can easily fool yourself into thinking you understand something when you haven’t fully grasped the concept.
When you have to explain something to somebody else you shine the light on your knowledge and it becomes clear to yourself whether or not you have grasped everything. Sometimes you have all the pieces of the puzzle and being forced to explain a concept to somebody else will make the picture clear for you. Teaching will give you a lot of a-ha moments.
Get Your Halo On
Another great thing that teaching does is that it will let you take advantage of the halo effect.
When you are seen as knowledgeable in one area people are more likely to listen to you when you have something to say in another area. This is great if you plan to branch out.
Now I hope I have sold you on the concept of teaching, but how do you get started? In my opinion blogging is a great way to get started if you don’t already have an audience who you can teach. Publishing an ebook is another way.
However, although these two ways are great ways to get started, they lack one aspect of teaching that can really push you forward and that is the face to face experience. If you have a blog, your interaction with your audience will most likely be through email or blog comments and that means that you have quite a bit of time to reflect on how to answer a comment, which isn’t bad, but having to think on your feet and come up with an answer on the fly will force your mind to better arrange your knowledge and this will deepen your own understanding.
So, where do you find people to teach? If you are very unfamiliar with teaching I suggest you start small with some friends to get a feel for it, or why not volunteer at work to do some internal training (this is also great for networking and building your brand in the corporate world). You can also look into starting a local course and teach interested people in your neighborhood.
If you have a blog following, why not do a live webinar with a few participants. If you think about it for a few minutes I bet you will come up with a bunch of ways to get started.
But what do you do if you are really uncomfortable teaching? My advice is to attack it from two fronts. Start small (possibly with friends) and at the same time work on expanding your comfort zone until teaching is not a big hurdle anymore. Getting in front of people can be frightening, but with time and practice it will become very smooth for you.
Now it’s your turn. Think about how you can use teaching to establish yourself as an expert in your chosen field.
Has the act of teaching helped you reach expert status in the past? Let us know about it in the comments below.