The Two "P"s of Standing Out as an Online Teacher
Preparation informs what and how to teach. Presence breeds connection with students.
I hope you’re having a wonder-full week.
Welcome to the 16 of you joining us for the first time. And welcome back to the other 248 of you. As always, you can read past editions here and reply with questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Now, let’s dive into today’s edition on the two “P”s of standing out as an online teacher.
The Best Kind of Hosts
The best hosts resemble my best friend’s parents.
They make you feel relaxed from the moment you enter their home. They don’t rush around you or seem distracted as you speak to them—as though they’re mentally calculating when to take a casserole dish out of the oven.
They’re the hosts that prep for events with Olympic athlete-type discipline, making sure every bit of food and decor pushes them one step closer to their party vision.
Case in point, in the lead-up to my friend’s baby shower, her mom “fired” her sister from food prep because she wasn’t making tea sandwiches properly. Fortunately, it was an amicable split and her sister embraced her talent as a decorator instead.
Check out her fabulous balloon arch below. When I saw it, I realized my sister should’ve fired me for doing a dismal job on hers in comparison. But we all have our flaws, right?
Baby shower jokes aside, you’re far more likely to be a relaxed host if you’ve taken your event prep seriously. And you become a source of good vibes when you’re able to enthusiastically welcome, serve, and converse with guests.
Hosting on Zoom is not that different. Your energy builds on your preparation to set the vibe for an event. And ultimately, you want students to enjoy themselves because when people feel good, learning is easier.
So my question to you is, are you bringing the right energy to your online sessions?
Keep reading to get a better idea of what I mean by this.
Using Role Play to Prep For Online Sessions
Friday was a dress rehearsal.
I’m returning as a mentor for the October cohort of Write of Passage, and we had our final training last week. Our mission was to test a micro-workshop by role-playing for ten minutes while other mentors acted as students.
My “students” were a former heavyweight boxer, a Neuroscience Ph.D., and a globe-trotting Write of Passage staffer who specializes in harnessing the power of the nervous system.
We all crushed the exercise and gave each other tips on how to make our workshops even tighter. That’s what’s so rewarding about working with a diverse group of high achievers—we find ways to help each other level up.
We’re like a big family. We have different personalities and interests—and in this case cultures—but we gel based on Write of Passage’s core values to help students:
Publish quality ideas
Find their people
2x their potential
Ultimately, our goal is to help students blaze unconventional trails through writing—as many alumni have. Here are three of the biggest success stories to date:
Getting Feedback to Identify Strengths
The biggest compliment I got on my micro-workshop was one I didn’t expect.
I was so focused on teaching a useful concept, running an interesting exercise, and providing clear instructions that I anticipated any comments (complimentary or constructive) would land in that sphere.
But I was touched when another mentor—a former boxer turned author and motivational speaker—gave me this shoutout during a reflective discussion with the wider group:
“I thought Alexandra's energy was very great. I think it's going to connect very well with students. It's rare, in my experience, to see preparation and energy so well presented.”
My “students” also said they were captivated by my use of a physical prop—a pop-up book of London—to introduce a concept called “POP writing”.
Note to self: people remember your energy more than they’ll remember your words. Because we remember what we feel (I wrote more about this in a previous newsletter called Emotional Teaching).
Preparation Versus Presence: What’s Your Priority?
Last year, I paid $20 for one of the worst workshops I’ve attended to date.
Despite a killer framework, credibility to back it up, and razor-sharp slides—I couldn’t focus. The facilitator sat hunched over, arms crossed, and spoke with such monotony that I ended up leaving early and haven’t looked back at their content.
It felt like they didn’t want to be there, and I sure as hell didn’t either.
The silver lining is I realized how important it is to show warmth and enthusiasm as a facilitator. Again, it comes back to the idea of being a good host.
With that in mind, here’s a glimpse of one of my favourite facilitators—Allegra Stein—spreading her incredible energy throughout the Zoom room:
Notice how bright and happy everyone looks? That’s because good energy travels fast.
Now here’s a question for you: Assuming two people have equally credible frameworks for a skill you’re keen to develop, whose session would you attend:
Option A: Someone who has clear, captivating slides but is so low energy you can’t pay attention to them.
Option B: Someone who has sloppy, boring slides but has great energy that keeps you listening intently.
(Feel free to hit reply with your response. I’m curious to know your preference.)
Ideally, we all want to be led by someone who’s a great slide-maker and speaker. But it’s good to know which is most important to you so you can prioritize if need be.
A Pep Talk For Introverts (or Anyone Apprehensive About Teaching Online)
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about teaching online is you have to be extroverted to do it well. But forcing yourself to take on a different persona (ex. being extra loud, hyper, or in-your-face) is the fast-food equivalent of facilitation.
You exude your best energy from being yourself—whether that’s being zen, being direct, acting like a comedian, rambling now and then, being sarcastic, etc.
Remember what I mentioned earlier about our mentor team being a diverse family bound by shared values? As long as you’re being true to your values, don’t sterilize your teaching talents in an effort to be like anyone else.
Today’s Teaching Takeaways
If there’s one thing you take from today’s edition, I hope it’s this:
When you make students feel good, learning is easier. Preparation and presence are means through which you make students feel good.
Here are some additional things to keep in mind:
Reminders on Preparation
Consider doing a role play with friends, family, or peers to test your sessions. This is a great way to refine your content and work out logistical kinks in a supportive environment. You’ll feel a lot more confident when the real thing rolls around.
Reminders on Presence
Here are six simple ways to exude positive energy:
Make sure people can see and hear you clearly
Use an aesthetically appropriate background with good lighting
Smile naturally (ex. as you welcome people to the session or back to the main room post-breakouts)
Say people’s names to them (ex. as you welcome them or thank them for sharing)
Maintain a “Resting Pleasant Face” (i.e., avoid “Resting Bitch Face”) when students are speaking
Stand or sit up straight and use your hands for emphasis as you talk
(Note: I don’t have a standing setup yet but I plan to change that as it makes a huge difference in energy)
Lastly, be patient as you find your stride. When I first started teaching online in 2020, I was as nervous as I was excited. I was way more awkward and rigid than I am now. But I kept pushing through the nerves, asking for and incorporating feedback, and now—even though I’m still a work in progress—I’m way more confident.
My final question to you is, what mantra can you repeat to yourself when you’re feeling anxious about a session?
Post it somewhere visible to help you internalize it. You’ve got this.
That’s all for today. If you enjoyed this week’s edition, please like, comment, or share it with friends. It would help me tremendously in expanding my reach.
Wishing you a wonder-full week,
P.S. Autumn is moving in on Montreal as the leaves begin to change colours. Stay tuned for progress pics. In the meantime, I hope wherever you are is equally cheerful.