How to Start Teaching Classes, Workshops & Seminars

Part 1: Your Class Concept & Planning


A note from Sarah: This post from Josh is part of a series about planning workshops and classes for professional services providers. Many of our clients are looking at ways to deliver “one to many” type content so they can share their knowledge with a larger audience. Josh’s background, prior to joining me in SMCO is in higher education administration, particularly professional education and training program development, management and evaluation. In this first part of our series, he digs into the planning phase of designing a workshop.


Before you dive into creating a course or workshop, in-person or online, it’s critical to set yourself up for success, whether you’re approaching an institution to host your class or you’re putting it on yourself. I’ve seen many new instructors struggle or fail to launch because they missed these crucial steps.

classesgraphic.png

Take some serious time to write down all of these pieces outlined below, and then assess, evaluate and fine-tune your idea before diving into content creation.

Step 1: Ideation - Developing Your Unique Class Concept

Delivering a high quality, rewarding educational experience (for both the student and the teacher) is more than rolling out the ball and beginning to play. The first question you need to ask yourself, when planning an in-person workshop or class seems obvious but is important.

What do you want to teach?

A lot of people will say “I want to teach people photography” or “I’m going to train people to build an email list” or “I will teach InDesign.” However, that’s the wrong starting point.

A more successful, strategic approach is thinking about the outcome. When your students are done, what will they accomplish?

I like to explain this as an inverted pyramid, starting with the broadest interpretation at your base. For example, “I am really good at Photoshop and want to share that with the world.”

Ask yourself, “Do I have not only the skills to teach to do what I want to teach, but also the ability to communicate it?”

Often there can be a wide gap between the two. I know how use InDesign, but the way I do things is not necessarily logical or best practices, to be quite honest. I would feel like my hacky skills would be a detriment to someone wanting to learn InDesign and apply it to their professional lives.

Early in my career managing continuing education programs, more than once someone came in to teach their skill (which they were acclaimed for) but the methodology was so far outside of the industry standard, that while the completed student projects were interesting, there was little actual long-term use to the students in using the method they learned.

So, students were thrilled with the program in the immediate, because they got access to a “name” teacher, but they didn’t return to learn more because they could not apply their learning over and over again. It wasn’t systemized and repeatable, as good learning programs should be.

In that case, I should have encouraged the instructor to focus on a more narrow topic, such as concept creation or breaking into the industry—that way, the students could grow their skills and re-engage with us down the line. Because (and this is something people often miss when planning workshops and classes) repeat students who use what they’ve learned come back clamoring for more. You cannot buy advertising that’s that value.

It’s rewarding for teachers because they feel that they’ve helped their students grown, and it’s wonderful for students because they’re building not only their knowledge, but a relationship with the person they’ve learned from.

What’s your idea and your systemized, repeatable method that you can teach other people that they can apply to the real world? (Write this down!)

Step 2: Laser-Focus - Make Your Class Sell-able

While broad classes do have appeal in some instances (say you’re the foremost expert on how to use MailChimp, you could easily sell a how to use MailChimp course), they are often the hardest to build, grow, and sustain because they are often the classes with the most competition and, more importantly, you are promising the most abstract outcome for potential students.

If you teach a class on, say, woodworking, “Intro to Woodworking” is a much harder sell than, for example, “Wooden Storage Box Making,” even though the class content could be very similar. In the digital world, concentrate on a specific skill, such as Coding for Squarespace as opposed to the general idea of “Advanced Squarespace.”

There’s a reason we’ve never launched a class about “Building a Squarespace Website,” even though Sarah taught the first one back in 2009, which I co-developed along with her. We’ve done the math and there are so many general courses of this nature that it’s not going to pull in the “right” students. When we relaunch our one-to-many education program, it’ll be much more focused to bring in the right students who can get the most out of our offerings.

When you are starting to plan your class ask yourself the following questions:

Is this something people can be taught?

Will my students be able to use what I am teaching and expand on it into their own work?

Does this interest me enough to be engaged for the long haul?

Do I have an audience for this?

(Write this all down!)

Step 3: Course Schedule - The Time Investment

One of the your first questions after determining your focus, is how long does it take to learn this subject. Is this a one-off seminar or does it take repeated meetings?

Instructors often neglect the planning and “contact time” that goes into teaching the class. Lots of subjects can be taught in a one-off presentation, but others may require one hour a week, over a couple of months, a long weekend, or some other scenario. This is the case for in-person and online learning.

Then, you need to plan on how much you are going to need to prepare for that. At a minimum, you will probably have a 1:1 ratio of planning to teaching time, though more realistically it will be 2:1 or 3:1 when you first start. Even if you’re teaching an online class on a system like Podia, you’ll still need to give those students TLC in some form every week. This takes your time. Plus, if the information changes, you’ll need to update the materials.

If you are doing all the logistics and classroom set-up (in person or virtual), plan accordingly. While we will discuss pricing later, you need to honestly assess how much of your time you think you are going to need and how much you need to make for the class to be financially viable. As Sarah can attest, a lot of courses are financial losses, and that’s usually not awesome.

What’s your class schedule and how much time will it take you to deliver this? (Write this down.)

Step 4: Assessment - Determine Your Course Outcomes and Objectives

Outcomes are educational jargon for what a student learns.

This something that you must figure out early on before planning a syllabus and lesson plans. Having this sorted from the beginning will inform everything from here on out, how to target the audience, how to plan the class, how to write the class description and market the class. Additionally, assessment is another thing to think about.

Even if you are not giving out grades (and I imagine none of you will), you need to have a way for you and your students to measure their progress. I am a firm believer in project-based learning for this. If you set out to complete a project or part of project you have a very easily demonstrable end point. We can talk about evaluations and self evaluations later, but a very basic idea of what your students will finish makes student success more possible.

What are the specific “learning outcomes” your students will have if they complete your course?

How are you going to know if your students achieved what you set out to do?'

(Write these answers down.)

Once you’ve written all of your answers to the questions we’ve outlined in each step, you should have a good picture of the viability of your course and be ready to tackle it on your own or be prepared to approach an institution or association about your concept.

In the next post, we will talk about logistics, including supplies, space, delivery method and all kinds of fun stuff to make your class or workshop a success.