Why Teaching Makes You More Valuable

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

When I was a boy I often felt incompetent. My Dad could diagnose, fix and build anything. And he did. Mostly I got to watch or sand a block of wood. Poor me.

It wasn’t until I started teaching, that I understood what competence felt like.

I started by teaching people how to not fall out of a raft. Important lesson when running rapids on the ice-fed Fraser River in British Columbia.

Later I taught our guides how to smile and reply without sarcasm when asked “How much does that mountain weight?” or “Were you always a guide?”

Eventually I graduated to teaching business leaders, in universities, and delivering keynotes on stage – along way from sanding a block of wood in Dad’s workshop.

I soon discovered that every time I prepared a lesson I learned my subject more deeply. I become a bit more of an expert.

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”  Aristotle


In one experiment a group of students were told they were going to be tested on a subject they were learning meanwhile another group were told they would have to teach a subject after they learned it. In reality, the second group was never asked to teach the subject, but they did perform higher on the test.

“Learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively, and they had better memory for especially important information.” John Nestojko (Washington University in St. Louis)

In short, they used better methods of learning.

Imagine you are boning up for a speech you are giving tomorrow. Your method of assessing and collecting knowledge will likely be far more effective simply because you know you will have to teach what you know.

“If you want to really know something, teach it.” S. Covey

Great, if you’re with me so far, you might be wondering when you can become a teacher. Actually, there are more examples than you might think.


Here are some I know of:

  • onboarding, training or mentoring new employees
  • working with a contractor or virtual assistant
  • teaching advanced skills to existing employees
  • leading a seminar as a contractor
  • in your keynote or breakout session
  • motivating an employee by allowing them to teach others
  • part of a staff meeting
  • teaching your children
  • in a sales meeting
  • on a webinar with clients or prospects
  • helping a friend or colleague

Shifting into “teaching” mode doesn’t have to mean slipping into a phone booth and taking on a whole new persona – just be more deliberate about outcomes and delivery.

Shifting into “teaching” mode doesn’t have to mean slipping into a phone booth


For years I have practiced a simple template for teaching. I use this for every bullet point in my keynote – even when selling on the phone. This template will give your content more impact and make it easier for you to prepare.

There are three parts to the delivery:

  • story/fact – this gets the audience/reader’s attention. Audiences love a good story and always want to know how it ends. You can also start with a fact (e.g. McKinsey Global just reported that 28% of our time is spent writing and reading emails) or a question (e.g. “How often do you get overwhelmed with your workload?”)
  • lesson – this is the insight or lesson you pulled from the story. The more it relates to the current “problems” the audience/reader has the more impact you have.

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”  Stephen King

  • application – don’t leave it up to the audience/reader to conclude how they can use this lesson. Give them concrete examples of how to apply the lesson at work or in their life. For example, if you are teaching a leadership skill give them two or three examples how your lesson can be used and how it makes the situation better.

0109 pinterestHere’s a shortened example to give you an idea of how I might deliver one point in a blog post or on stage:

[Story/Fact] When my oldest daughter was about six years old we used to ride bicycles together a lot. One day we were heading home from her school when she refused to go any further. Nothing I did or said seemed to make a difference – she had decided she was exhausted and all my pleading and bribing was failing.

At one point, in pure desperation, I turned to her and whispered that I would race her to the next stop sign. She looked at the stop sign (it was about a half block away), she looked at me, and with a smile she took off! Suddenly, she was full of energy and even enjoying herself!

[Lesson] I had found her motivation. Everyone has motivation – your job as the leader is to understand them enough to find that motivation and feed it.

[Application] It could be they like to organize, or control outcomes, or plan, or be on the phone. The more you can give them those opportunities the more motivated they will be and the better the results for both of you.

Do you want to be respected as an expert? Even command higher fees or income?

Become a teacher through practice and repetition. It’s working pretty well for me.