15 tips for DIY + business workshop instructors

15 tips for DIY + business workshop instructors from Dear Handmade LifeWhen I signed on to do my first CreativeLive class Craft Show Secrets: Get in, Make sales and Grow Your Business I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d been teaching craft workshops for over a decade, had owned my own craft workshop studio and co-produced Craftcation Conference where I’d been a panelist and a moderator on creative business panels. Sure, I always got the familiar feeling of panic right before the workshop started (Did I forget something? What if my students get bored?) but once I said the first sentence of my class most of my anxieties fell away.

A few months before my CreativeLive class I realized something that for some reason I hadn’t thought about before signing my contract. My CreativeLive class was going to be TWO days not three hours like all the other classes I’d taught. That was WAY more content and WAY more time being ‘on’ than I’d ever experienced before. My stomach began churning as I started second-guessing myself. A wicked case of impostor syndrome overtook me. I asked myself: What gave me the authority to talk about craft shows? What makes me think I have something of value to share on the subject? Who am I to call myself an expert? Between the anxiety, impostor syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with how much work the whole thing actually was I wondered if there was any way I could get out of my contract.

I took a deep breath, shared my fears with my awesome CreativeLive producer Erin Persley and she talked me down by reminding me of all of my years of experience and assuring me that my content was strong. I spent the next few months working and reworking my class and creating slides that would not only engage the audience but would help me stay on track. Preparing for my CreativeLive was way more time-intensive than I thought it would be but it was also way more rewarding than I thought it would be. As I created my slides and organized my information I found myself getting more and more excited to share everything I knew with my audience.

By the time I got to my pre-production meeting the day before my class I not only felt totally prepared but I was also really excited. I’d been focusing so much on getting ready that I hadn’t let myself get excited. Walking in and meeting the crew including cameramen, my sound guy, a few more producers and hosts really put the whole thing into perspective and made me realize that while I’d been working like crazy there was a whole team of people who’d been preparing as well and all of them had my back.

Did everything go perfectly during my class? NO. Some of my segments went over the allotted time and some went under. There were moments when I got lost in the information and totally forgot what I was going to say next. There was an issue with our live studio audience that totally threw me for a loop. BUT in the end everything was okay. You know that saying “Perfect is the enemy of good”? It’s so true. Somewhere in that first hour I stopped trying to be perfect and just focused on communicating the information authentically. I forgot about the fact that there were thousands of people watching me and just let go. By the end of the second day when it was all over I was exhausted and relieved but I also felt weirdly energized, proud and emotional. The crew and studio audience gathered together in the CreativeLive kitchen with big windows letting in all the lovely late afternoon light. We raised our glasses of champagne and I felt my throat tighten and my eyes get wet. Yes, some of those tears were from relief but some were from pride that I’d taken a risk and come out on the other side successful. I thought back on those moments when I wanted to quit and laughed because suddenly I was already hoping I’d have the chance to do it all again.

During the process I learned A LOT and I’m so excited to share some of my tips for CreativeLive instructors with you. Some of these tips are specific to CreativeLive or another online class platform where you work with a team and producers but most of them apply to any type of live workshop instruction.

Big thanks to the whole team at CreativeLive for making my experience exceed my expectations.

1. Start preparing before you think you should.
One of the things I highlighted in my class was how important it is to be prepared and organized when you’re selling at craft shows. That point applies to teaching workshops as well. Being well-prepared is the enemy is of anxiety. Even though I already had my content I still started preparing almost four months ahead of time. I was SO glad I did.

2. Develop a relationship with your producer.
My producer Erin was there for me every step of the way. We became a team and I felt like she was just as invested as I was in the success of my class. You need to be able to be honest with your producer. At one point we had a difference of opinion about part of the intro. I could have just agreed with her and gone with her idea but I stuck to my guns and defended why I wanted to do it my way. Your producer connects you with everyone behind the scenes as well as the audience and you need to be able to share your feelings with them. It helped that Erin and I developed a comfort and rapport early on. During some of the breaks I hung out with the audience but during other ones I needed a little time alone. Erin read my expression and shuttled me into the green room and closed the door.

3. Ask questions.
If you ask and the answer is no, then you’ve lost nothing. Early on I asked Erin, “This may be a weird question but what if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of a segment?” She said although it wasn’t ideal it wasn’t a huge deal and we could go to a break. Just knowing that made me feel better. I also asked questions about how other instructors prepare, what they put on their slides, what their experiences were like, if she thought I was well-prepared etc…

4. Enjoy the process.
I wish I would have done a bit more of this. It seems that we’re always looking to the end result and forgetting that the process of getting there is just as important. It’s easier to enjoy the process if you allow yourself plenty of time to get the work done so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

5. Make sure your attire is comfortable and reflects your brand.
On day two of my class I wore jeans and tennis shoes. I was planning on wearing a dress and fancier shoes but after eight hours of standing the day before, my feet were tired and I was so glad I brought along a nice pair of clean tennis shoes with fluorescent pink laces. Since my personal brand is authentic and casual, this worked. You have so many things to think about while you’re teaching and you don’t want to waste your energy wishing you were more comfortable. I also tried my outfits on ahead of time and had a few backups just in case.

6. Make your slides/visual aids interesting and pertinent.
Your audience is listening to you talk for hours! Compelling slides help them stay attentive and focused. I spent a lot of time going through thousands of photos I’ve taken over 10 years at craft shows as well as creating custom illustrations to make the material visually interesting. I also had my slides done ahead of time so that my producer could give me feedback and proofread them.

7. Make your content interactive.
My producer Erin and I brainstormed ideas to get the audience up out of their seats and physically involved in the content like roleplaying and workshopping with individual audience members. This helped break up all the time sitting, gave people personal attention and created an opportunity for audience members to lend a new perspective to the material.

8. Take care of yourself before, during and after.
Stressful times often make me feel like I don’t have the time for self care but when I’m busy, self care becomes essential. If I’m not taking care of myself, my body and mind let me know. The week before my CreativeLive I was a mess. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t taking time to eat healthy meals. Basically all I did was sit in front of my computer for 16 hours a day. I kept saying to myself, “You can relax and take care of yourself after.” BAD IDEA! I got migraines and horrible stomach aches and my husband forced me to eat some salad, get off the computer and go bowling. That night I slept for eight hours and the next day I felt way more productive during work. During my class I made sure to utilize my breaks by spending time alone in the green room when I felt like I needed it. Of course I wanted to hang out and have snacks and chat with my students and crew but I knew if I didn’t get ten minutes of quiet time I wouldn’t be able to do my best when the cameras were on. After my class was over I took a few days completely off and went camping for the night. Just being away from technology and people for 24 hours made me feel refreshed and ready to jump back into my next project.

9. Watch the CreativeLive instructor masterclass video.
I didn’t watch this class until two days before my class but I’m glad I did. I didn’t watch every segment but the ones I did watch helped me send my inner critic for a long trip and reassured me that just being myself and not trying to seem more serious than I am was the right way to go. I also got some great tips on how to move around the stage naturally and make sure the audience has a good view of what you’re doing.

10. It’s not about you it’s about your information.
This was a BIG one for me. Like most human beings, I have some insecurities with how I look. I’m not a huge fan of seeing photos of myself let alone watching myself on video. At some point in our lives most of us have wished we could change something about the way we look. I spent pretty much every moment of junior high wishing that I had a smaller nose and fuller lips. But at some point I realized that this was how I looked and it wasn’t going to change so I better start getting used to it and embrace my features that I liked. Knowing that I was going to be on camera sent moments of my junior high insecurities rushing back. On top of that I have psoriasis on my legs and arms. In my daily life it doesn’t bother me much. It doesn’t hurt, it’s not contagious and I spend a lot of time alone or with people I know really well. I don’t let it stop me from wearing short-sleeve shirts or skirts and have gotten used to explaining it to strangers who ask me “what happened to your knees?” Just before I took the stage for my class I looked down at my knees. Psoriasis is exacerbated by stress and my knees looked like they were covered with bright red burn scars. “Do you think I should wear pants?” I asked Erin. “No. You should wear what you’re comfortable in and I know you love wearing skirts. Your class is strong. People will be paying attention to what you’re teaching not to your knees.” That was all I needed to hear. This isn’t a beauty contest. My audience isn’t there to criticize my big nose or skin condition. They’re there to learn. I started thinking of myself as a conduit for my experience and knowledge and wore my skirt with pride.

11. Practice your introduction out loud in front of people.
I had already planned on practicing my intro in front of my husband and a friend but one of the things I learned from the masterclass was to practice it wearing the clothes you’re going to wear when you teach. I had planned on wearing one pair of shoes but as I practiced I realized that although they were cute, after 45 minutes my feet were already hurting. I didn’t practice my whole class out loud. Who has 16 spare hours to go through the whole thing? Also I knew my husband would have been asleep after the first hour. Going through my intro and closing out loud really helped me feel more comfortable and see what needed retooling. I advise against practicing the whole thing even if you have the time (it can make you seem too rehearsed and unnatural) but I went over my slides several times. I was super familiar with the content but I didn’t feel like a robot repeating something I’d memorized.

12. Tell stories.
Storytelling is a part of who I am. I love sharing my experiences and hearing other people tell stories (my love for The Moth podcast runs deep). Stories give your audience a chance to connect more deeply with your material and form their own personal visual interpretation of your message. They also break up the content and offer a reprieve from bulleted lists of facts. Make sure your stories are relevant and rehearse them in front of someone and get feedback on what details aren’t necessary. Of course you want to ‘show not tell’ but spending five minutes talking about what the weather was like that day or going into detail about what you were wearing when the story happened may end up boring your listeners.

13. Be your authentic self.
I touched on this earlier but I can’t stress this point enough! Your audience isn’t just there to get information. If all they wanted was information they would buy a book. They’re there for the experience of getting YOUR knowledge delivered in a way that only YOU can deliver it. I was worried about saying ‘like’ and ‘totally’ too much. I grew up in Southern California where those words were ingrained into the way I talked from a young age. I’ve always hated sounding like a ‘valley girl’ and figured that when I got older those words would naturally fall out my speech pattern. I’m nearly 40 years old and they haven’t. I try to be aware of over-using slang and curse words but sometimes you just can’t help it. I tried to be aware of the way I was speaking but the fact is that I use words like ‘like’ and ‘totally’ and if I tried to censor myself I’d be spending all my time avoiding those words instead of delivering my content. This doesn’t just apply to how you talk but how you dress, the stories you tell, the level of personalization of your content and how you interact with your team and audience.

14. Utilize your on-air host.
My friend/fellow CreativeLive instructor Kari Chapin gave me a great tip before my class. She suggested giving my on-air host a few questions to pose to the audience in case I had an awkward moment and lost my place. I didn’t end up having one of those moments since my slides took me from one topic to the next but knowing that my on-air host was there to save me just in case made a huge difference. I went into it thinking that everything rested on me but realized that I had a whole team of people supporting me and rooting for my success that were there to take the reigns if needed.

15. Make a list and check it often.
From the day I signed my contract I started a few lists in Evernote to keep myself organized… Things I needed to bring, questions and concerns, tips from other instructors. Before each meeting with my producer I ran through the lists and made sure I knew what I needed to know and had what I needed.

Best of luck to you on your next teaching gig! I’d love to hear your pointers as well.

-Nicole S.

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