I can clearly remember the very first time I taught a yoga class. It was 2010, I was about a month into my yoga teacher training and a friend and I went to the YMCA for a yoga class. We got to the practice space and there were about three other people in the room waiting for the class to begin. We waited… and waited… and waited. But, the instructor didn’t show up. Feeling particularly confident that evening, I offered to guide a practice...
and it actually went pretty well.
I didnt know how to sequence yet. I really didn’t know too much about teaching but I had a solid practice. And, I totally pulled it off. We all got our yoga on and I had taken the most imprtant step in teaching others, which was actually just doing it.
What carried me through that first class wasn’t my skillfull knowledge of mechanics or yoga history or anything like that - it was my devotion to my own practice. I simply allowed what I knew about yoga to come through me as I led the class. Was it perfect? Hell, no. But, it was on the books which meant I was well on my way to becoming a yoga teacher.
This is the essence of teaching groups. You CAN totally do it (I believe that anyone can teach if they have a desire to), and it really helps to have an intimate familiarity with what you are teaching.
If I think back to some of my more epic teaching fails… it’s when I’ve tried to teach things that are not part of my day to day practice or livelihood. For example: that time I tried to teach using a theme from the Yoga Sutras but wasn’t really fully understanding the concepts because I hadn’t really integrated them into my life in any real way; or that time I tried to teach an essential oils class before I had fully used the oils in the way I was sharing them.
And, nearly 8 years after that first yoga class, teaching hours upon hours of yoga classes (estimating I’m likely over 6000 hours into this teaching gig), leading two 200 hour teacher training programs, and facilitating several workshops; I can confidently say the key to teaching successfully is embodying what you teach. It’s in your practice, how you live, and how you experience the subject you teach day in and day out.
It seems so easy when you put it that way. But, lets stop to think about this a little. What is a topic you know a fair bit about. How about brushing your teeth? Or scrambling some eggs? Or maybe putting on your socks? If I were to ask you to teach me how to do any one of these tasks - you could teach me easily, and probably pretty comfortably. You might be nervous to talk in front of a group - but your teaching would be spot on, I’m certain!
Teaching can be one of the more nerve wracking aspects of becoming visible with your business or creative project. AND, sharing what you do in a group setting as part of a workshop or lecture might be the best way to deliver your message and impact lives. Yet, it feels overwhelmingly scary to imagine yourself teaching a group. Even if you feel incredibly comfortable working 1:1 with your clients, taking that leap into teaching a large group can be full of trepidation and fear. There are so many questions you might be asking as you consider the idea, like:
- How do I plan what I am going to share?
- How much should I prepare?
- What happens if the class doesn’t engage with me or the material?
- What if I lose my confidence and fail epically?
- What if one person tries to take over and I can’t control the class?
- What if they don’t like me?
There are a lot of ways you can prepare yourself to teach larger groups, and I’ve put together a list of my top 15 teaching tips that will help you feel confident, and ready to hold space for large groups.
As an added bonus, I’m going to go LIVE on Zoom Webinar this Friday, January 26th at 1pm for an hour long review of my top tips and a quick q&a to dive into some of your questions around teaching confidently (AND, pleasurably).
I also want to say that teaching groups is truly my passion, there is nothing like the energy of a group in the process of experiencing transformation. It is a magical experience to facilate these shared experiences and I am continually filled with awe and gratitude when I am given the opportunity to share my life’s work with my students and workshop participants. It is not a role I take lightly, and I hope that this list of hints will get you started and maybe even give you enough confidence to book your first info session, class, workshop, or even a retreat so that you can also experience the joy of teaching.
Create a pre- teaching ritual. Some of you may have downloaded my ritual creation workbook already - but if you haven’t, make sure you check it out, and take some time to create a ritual that you will use to prepare to teach your class. I would suggest including intention setting in your pre-teaching ritual so that you can arrive to teach feeling a sense of purpose for how you will guide your class. I like to offer up an intention of creating sacred held space for my students to experience what will best serve their growth as a student in my class. I try to empower my students through my intention rather than enacting my will on them.
Part of the pre teaching ritual should also include setting the space for the class. This might mean lighting a candle or two, playing soft welcoming music (or more upbeat music depending on the group you are teaching), burn some sage or palo santo, diffuse some essential oils, and pay attention to the lighting.
Welcoming and creating safe space for your students. As your students arrive, ensure you are welcoming them warmly with eye contact, a welcoming smile and if it feels right to you - a hug. Make that personal connection with everyone immediately. Feel into who they are and get a sense of their energy. It might be easy to start judging here, and I’m going to encourage you to simply just feel. Trust your body to know if that student will need a gentle approach, more compassion, or a more assertive approach.
Before you get into your material, lay out any guidelines for student conduct and confidentiality if it is needed. Offer an opportunity for introductions and any housekeeping that needs to happen before diving into the content of your class.
Consider what type of classes most inspire you. Take time to brainstorm your best experiences learning in a group setting. What aspects of these classes allowed for you to feel comfortable, and safe enough to learn or experience transformation, growth or maybe even experience relaxation, ease or pleasure. Essentially, what made you feel connected to what you were learning and why? Knowing what enjoy in a classroom setting can be a clue to your own unique teaching qualities. We are often drawn to the qualities in others that remind us of ourselves (good and bad!).
Prepare. But, don’t over prepare, because you will have to be adaptable. One of the things I have found to be consistently true about leading workshops or events is that what I had in mind, and what happened were often not the same thing. When I set out to plan a workshop - I make a rough outline of what I want to cover and then guess how long it will take to cover each topic, then add 10-15 minutes on to that time. I also plan “extras” just in case I end up moving through my planned material very quickly and need something to fit in (movement exercises in a workshop are a great way to sneak in a few extra minutes if you are moving through your plan more quickly than imagined).
I like to use a computer for my notes - and will often create my presentations in Canva or on Keynote (or Powerpoint) so they are clear and easy for me to follow along as I teach. I try not to include too many notes in my presentation material because if I do, I tend to read my notes rather than trusting my own wisdom to flow through me. Ensure you have the key points included in your notes and then expand as necessary.
Practice what you teach. If you are teaching yoga, practice yoga often. If you are leading workshops, make sure you have a connection to the material you are presenting through either regular practice or a deeply felt passion (and plenty of research, studying, and time spent in reflection around your material). Having a solid relationship to what you are teaching helps you to have what we can call your “transmission”. This is an embodied understanding of what you are teaching and I believe it is what makes really GREAT teachers stand out from the mediocre ones. You can FEEL what they are sharing beyond the words they are saying, trust me, it’s magical and incredibly magnetic.
Create a pratice/experience bubble. Some things I like to do to create the bubble: I imagine there is actually a bubble around my students helping to contain the sacred space of the experience I am leading. I feel into what I am sharing with my whole body so that I can allow my inner critic to become quiet so that my deeper wisdom (transmission) can flow through. It’s a practice to not overthink what I’m teaching and instead trust in my own wisdom to express.
Teach with your body. This is why the ritual at the start of your practice can be incredibly helpful as it can call you into your body so that you are able to feel out into the room while you teach instead of “think” out. You can practice feeling out when you are not teaching by doing the Shape Shifting Exercise.
The Shape Shift Exercise is something you can begin practicing when you are out and about. Notice someone and then imagine you have switched bodies with them. Then imagine what it would it be like to be that person doing what they are doing in that moment (particularly good if you try this with someone you might normally judge). This is a wonderful way to develop empathy and will help you “feel” into the experience of your class which will guide you intuitively as you teach. Trust is key on this one, if you get to “heady” around this you will overthink and bypass your intuition.
Understand the energetics of public speaking/teaching. KC Baker, a Tantric Speaking Coach, explains that the butterflies, fear, nervousness, terror, panic, excitement, and increase in sensation of energy in your body when public speaking or teaching are natural and normal. She suggests that you can be artful with this, understanding that you are feeling this because your body is preparing to match the energy of the classroom receiving your teaching. We feel we have to run away from the feeling, but I love the reframe KC gives this feeling saying that it’s the real feeling of your POWER.
Another gem from KC Baker is to imagine you have a tail connecting you to the earth, this can feel incredibly grounding and will help you move fluidly and pleasurably while you teach. She also suggests that you breathe while you speak - up from your belly out into the room. You can practice feeling this in your pre-class ritual to get into the space of sharing your authenticity rather than the conversation you might have going on in your mind. She also suggests imagining your class as a group of people you are hosting and you are in service to them fully, asking “Why am I here, and what do I want for their experience?” and then love them up like you would a dinner party of your very best friends.
Trust your authentic voice. Your voice is your communication tool. Trust that YOU being you is perfect, even if it feels imperfect at times. It’s so important to sound like yourself. Speak how you would in every day life, watch for pitch changes and inflections at the end of your sentences that sound like you are asking a question. Make sure you use words that feel authentic to you. Let yourself be conversational, yet authoritative while you are directing in the class.
Honour your personality. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Let your natural tendency shine through in your teaching. Don’t force enthusiasm if you are naturally more comfortable with a relaxed and calm speaking style. Your teaching will land if it comes from the heart, and feels true to your personality. Never try to be something that you are not because you feel like that is what your students want. They signed up to learn from YOU, so please, be yourself. Introversion and all.
Side Note: Introverts, please read the next couple of tips carefully. It’s important for everyone, but especially for you.
You are in control. You are the teacher. AND you will have the occasional difficult student. It’s ineveitable. I could tell you stories….
It’s okay to keep the momentum going. If you find the conversation is being hijacked, wait for a natural break (sometimes, patience and a gentle interruption is needed here, and it’s okay.. you are in charge) and then interject by briefly mirroring what was said and then quickly moving on to the next thing. There are all sorts of potential hijacking scenarios I could explore with you here, but the essence in managing them is the same. Insert yourself into the conversation, refect so they feel heard, solve the problem if there is a quick solution or if a question was asked, and keep going with your plan. This might be one of the more challenging parts of teaching groups, but trust me, the rest of the group will appreciate your assertiveness here. Practice Role Playing maintaining your teaching boundaries with a friend if it makes you feel nervous.
Hold amazing space. This means you listen intently to the questions and conversations, and you reflect back what you hear. Mirror or repeat back what you heard so that your students know you understand what they are saying and then validate their experience in some way. You can say, “This is something I’ve heard often, or you aren’t alone in this, or I can appreciate how this must feel”. You can ask deeper questions to help your students dive into their experience more, “How does that make you feel?”, or “What would change for you if….”. Your purpose isn’t to offer solutions, but rather reflections and information to faciliate the truth arising naturally in your students. Listen, listen, listen. Feel into the room. Don’t talk too much. Your gift will be in talking when you’ve heard first.
Have a post class ritual as well. Close out. Reflect. Express gratitude for what went well. Shake off or dance off any excess energy and offer yourself some nourishing self care in the form of stroking, self pleasure, having a bath or quiet contemplation. Taking this time for you will really support your nervous system in it’s journey to allowing you to feel more and more confident in your role as a teacher. Remember that it’s not a regular thing to get great feedback from participants immediately after a transformational class experience. Allow them their experience and then offer yourself congratulations and celebrations for a job well done.
Follow up. If you taught a transformative workshop, I think it’s a really great idea to follow up with your participants after a few days to check in. Some people may struggle with integrating their transformation after your event and you can offer them guidance or support to move forward with what they have learned from you. Keep a door open, establish boundaries that feel good to you and make sure that you are connecting to your students to offer them gentle support after your event. A quick email, or a handwritten thank you note can go a long way in ensuring your students feel supported in the days after your event.
I look forward to expanding on these tips more over the next week with you. Join me on Zoom this Friday for an overview of all 12 tips plus an opportunity to ask your questions. You can also catch me live on Facebook throughout the week on my public page and inside my Pleasurable Visibility Facebook group. I’ll be unpacking my favourite tips one at a time with a little more detail and practical examples or practices you can do to help support your growth as a teacher.
Before you watch live on Zoom or plan your next event, make sure to download the Freebie that will help you utilize my top 15 tips when you are preparing to teach for the first (or hundreth time).
I can’t wait to hear how this goes for everyone! Please stay connected with me as you take your first steps into teaching. Post on social and tag me when you book your first gig, and definitely share your experiences in the comments, via email, inside my group or on my Facebook page. Best of luck to you all, and happy teaching!