Teaching makes you a better marketer (Column)

Tim Dolan on the crucible of the classroom and the effects in the boardroom

Tim Dolan November 25, 2016

tim-dolan-headshot_standing-2I’ve worked in marketing for close to 20 years, but I only started teaching digital marketing about six years ago. Teaching is an honourable endeavour. It provides an opportunity to help others by sparking their own curiosity and giving them the tools and guidance they need to get ahead. Over these last six years, I have definitely become a better marketing teacher, but teaching has in turn made me a better marketer.

Teaching increases your own comprehension
A few years ago, researchers conducted an experiment on two groups of students who were given texts to study. One group was told that they would be tested, and the other group was told that they would be teaching other students. The group of students expecting to teach ended up recalling much more of the material, which makes sense since teaching requires you to internalize information and organize it in such a way that you can clearly explain it to a student.

Preparing to teach a marketing class requires you to identify the most pertinent aspects of a topic, research relevant news and generally sharpen your own thinking. The anticipation of standing in front of a room of keener students with their clever questions is a great motivator to pressure-test my own grasp of the subject matter.

This, in turn, has made me a better communicator in my day-to-day business. A client recently asked me “how can we build a marketing program when we can’t even speak the same language?” It’s a valid concern as the marketing industry suffers from an onslaught of confusing buzzwords and departments with uneven levels of knowledge — particularly on the digital side of things.

The skills that you develop as a teacher explaining complicated concepts in clear terms can help you bridge these gaps with your clients and teams. The experience I’ve gained from facilitating class activities has armed me with a better ability to manage the most challenging mixes of passionate and opinionated personalities in a room (which does seem to happen from time to time in this business).

Teaching allows you to learn from students
One of the greatest benefits of teaching is having the opportunity to engage with a group of people with their own unique experiences, interests and opinions. The added benefit of teaching marketing is that it involves a topic that is, in some ways, subjective. Everyone is in some way familiar with it, even if only as a consumer.

Unlike what I remember of my university calculus classes, students in marketing courses are not shy in sharing their views. Trust me.

Student questions are a great source for your own learning. I have found that when I teach a group of marketing professionals, their questions provide me with great insight into the challenges and priorities that face marketers today. Some of the most unique questions come from those students who are new to marketing and not constrained by industry groupthink. This provides fresh takes on well-worn marketing topics, which re-sparks my own curiosity.

There has never been a better time to start teaching. Industry research shows that many marketers are lacking a modern skill set, and CMOs are starting to re-invest in professional development. Marketing associations, colleges, and technology schools are on the look out for new talent. You can even start small by hosting your own internal sessions.

Remember the old adage: “if you really want to learn something, teach it.”

Tim Dolan is the founder of Kickframe: A Digital Strategy Consulting & Training Firm