6 Simple Steps to Getting Out of the ‘…BUT I’m not an Expert’ trap
There are experts and then there are the rest of us. Us who don’t believe we are good enough or know enough to share or teach what we think we know.
This is especially true of the intellectual – the over thinker who analyses and attempts to work out every possible outcome.
If you’ve ever felt such a great strong calling to share something you have learnt or found out, or even a new skill, only to second guess yourself, almost immediately?
If you have a little voice that consistently tells you that ‘you don’t know enough yet’ or ‘you’ll never be prepared’, then this post is especially for you.
My Journey from Zero to Expert
It all started with CH2106 Ionic and solid state structures. At a time when I was an academic, down to teach a course, I had never studied, much less heard about. To say that I felt like an imposter was an understatement.
My first degree had been in applied chemistry, and while I had a PhD in Structural Chemistry, I had skipped a lot of the basic grounding in core chemistry. I had gotten by, partly because I was keen, potentially because I did have a natural knack for chemistry i.e. great at guesswork!
This though was not enough to give me the confidence to face 85 first year students needing to be taught the subject. Effectively I did not have a choice, which in hindsight, was a really good thing!
So I spent a couple of weeks reading up everything I could on the subject, then working out, the outlines and structure of how I would teach the course to maximise student learning and understanding and minimise the the insecurity that continued to plague me.
When the time came to actually teach it, I was really nervous, but the thought that thoroughly consoled me, was the fact that I had done my homework, no one else knew the material better than I did.
The first lecture went down a treat! It was fun and engaging, with 3-dimensional styrofoam models, moving images on the screen – my primary objective was to make an extremely dry, theoretical based topic come alive – to actually provide visual and kinaesthetic options to enhance the entire learning experience – and it worked! Needless to say, the rest of the course, pretty much flowed smoothly onwards from there.
And over the subsequent 5 other times that I taught the course, it only got better – more fun, more engagement, more understanding.
So, if you’re at the beginning of a new adventure, a new journey that requires you to stand up and share your knowledge, skills or expertise – and you need to put yourself out there, as a potential expert – there really is only one rule to remember:
There is no better way to becoming an Expert in anything than to teach It.
If you want to know something really well, then teaching it, embeds it so securely in to your own knowledge.
If that is not enough then, the following are six simple steps to start:
6 Steps to Being an Expert
Step 1: Learn it
Whatever it is that you want to know more about starts off first with the finding out, the ‘falling in love’ stage of the topic. In this case, it’s simply a case of finding out everything you can about the topic, whether online, or in the library, talking to other experts, asking people with relevant experience.
To begin the journey to teaching, one has to start with learning.
Don’t be in a hurry to rush this step, no matter how tempting it is. If it is a new topic, take your time with it.
Conversely, if it is something that you already know exceptionally well, don’t feel like you need to keep going back to the drawing board. Think instead of the years that you’ve already spent learning this, whether through direct experience, through observations, or simply through living.
Chances are if you are already thinking about focussing on a particular topic as an expert, you already know significantly more about it than the average person out there.
Step 2: Know it
Whichever method you use when you decide to gain the knowledge, skill or expertise, the ultimate test comes when you internalise the knowledge.
Physical learning, only goes so far for so long, before there comes a time when all the information you have gathered comes together. Whether you write it all down, organise it in to notecards or simply rely on your mind to hold all these facts together, focussing on a particular topic with the intent of knowing it well, typically leads to some internalisation of the information.
It may sit in the back of your mind, percolating, brewing, until it reaches a saturation point, in which the thoughts may present themselves, wholly formed, or even partially, which will contribute greatly to your own version, your own voice, your own opinion of a topic.
When this happens, you know that you have internalised it.
Step 3: Deliver it
At this point, all that stands to be done is to find a platform upon which to share and deliver your knowledge.
They are but technicalities – whether you decide on a virtual platform – webinar, google hangout, Facebook chat, Twitter party; or a physical face to face version – talks, seminars, conference attendance.
The key to it all though is to start getting sharing your knowledge and expertise – even if it’s slow at first, even if it’s on a one to one basis – every time you share what you know, you add a little more experience to the teaching process, you add a little more confidence to your own abilities.
Step 4: Q and A
One of the most valuable parts of any teaching experience is the Question and Answer session – think of it as the informal feedback process. It allows the learners to check that they have really understood the information and messages that you have worked to deliver, and it offers you as the instructor an insight in to the thought processes of the audience.
Often, when questions are asked, it allows you to reiterate a point, or make clear something that the majority of people missed. Taking note and paying attention to the typical questions asked will allow you to have a rough idea of the important aspects of other peoples understanding.
Occasionally it even provides amusing stories and great perspectives.
It is understandable though that, when you’re presenting to an especially large audience, it’s always nerve-wracking to think that they could potentially ask you any question and, technically, being the expert, you would, or rather you should have all the answers.
The reality though, is that while it is very rare that someone will think up a question that you don’t know the answer to, it can sometimes happen.
I personally have found that the most effective way out is to simply be honest and say that it was not something you that had thought of, or that you don’t know the answer to that off-hand, but always, ALWAYS, reassure them, that you will find out and get back to them – and remember to do exactly that!
Step 5: Reflect
The first couple of years of my teaching career, I never really took the time to reflect on the effect and effectiveness of my teaching. In essence, the course carried on, much as usual, the students learnt.
But later, when I took some time (10 -15 minutes is a solid block of time), after every lecture to run through the whole lecture, I could review and see things which could have gone better. Phrases which could have been presented better.
Understanding and deeper embedding of facts which could have been more effective for the students and they learnt the new topics and subject.
In all, each reflection of the teaching experience, provided me with extremely valuable insight that allowed be to become even better and more confident with the content and the delivery of the information I needed to get across.
While it might always seem to be a throw-away, waste of time, any time taken to reflect on how a seminar, talk or lecture could have gone is always, always valuable.
Step 6: Reiterate
And after the reflection, it’s time to reiterate – to process any changes (if necessary) to the content, to the delivery, to the approach – it’s an opportunity to put in to practise anything that the reflective process has highlighted and brought out.
Reiteration, is an iterative process, occasionally you might find yourself, redoing something that you thought had been changed for the better, sometimes it might be that you found nothing particularly wrong or in need to change.
Everything and anything that is a result of your own perception and perspective on your subject, is true and valid. And if there’s nothing that needs changing – it’s fine, it’s perfect! Go with it.
The most obvious of all in building a position of expertise or knowledge, is really to keep doing it.
So with a first successful run, do it again – you may want to vary some things – content, mode of delivery, target audience – or you may want to keep it the same to simply reach out and connect and influence more people.
Either way, it is fine and all you have to do is to know that you’ve done it once, it’s gone well – in that you’ve succeeded in pulling it off.
Doing it a second time…a third time – it always gets easier.
And you know what – before you know it – There you are – You’re the EXPERT.
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