The importance of the teachable moment – Podcast

Career Opportunities podcast logoDuring our recent 3 week trip visiting family in Sicily, I had the opportunity to spend several days with our 25-year-old cousin Orazio who is just finishing up a 5 year program in Engineering. We talked about many things related to his career over this time, but something struck me again and again during our time together — the importance of the teachable moment.

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A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity to communicate a very important lesson. These opportunities can come and go in a flash unless you are ready to take advantage of them immediately. Whether you are on the sending or receiving end of a teachable moment, you need to recognize these opportunities when they occur and pursue them, regardless of what other plans you might have. A teachable moment is fate telling you that you need to have this discussion, that you need to share this wisdom, that you need to stop and listen, right now.

Why are teachable moments so important? They are important because you are in a situation or at a moment when the lesson will be most useful or most applicable and certainly the most memorable. Something in the world is conspiring to give you this opportunity when it will do the most good. Perhaps you were having a discussion about something when a perfect example walks in front of you. Maybe your friend is facing a problem you have faced before and this is the moment for you to share your knowledge. Maybe there is simply an important lesson that needs to be related and your current conversation has opened an opportunity to address it.

Teachable moments are important because they show a need and receptiveness to receive a message or a lesson. Sometimes, without consciously thinking about it, we know we need an answer and that this is the time to get that answer. I find this to be the case during any Q&A session I facilitate. The most important questions to be answered are those foremost in the mind of the audience. You may want to talk about A, B or C, but the questions lead you to X, Y and Z because that is what your audience truly wants and needs to know. Denying the needs of the audience serves no one. It is much better to follow the teachable moment wherever it leads. In this way, your audience will gain the highest benefit and so will you. Answering people’s most important questions is never a bad idea.

Taking advantage of teachable moments requires something very important, though. It requires the ability to pause and readjust.  When you are presented with a teachable moment you need to follow it where it might lead. Sure, you can make a note to return to your current conversation, but do not ignore the pull to explore what is foremost in your mind. This goes for both sides of the conversation. Sometimes, as receivers of information, we need ask our teachers to explore something more deeply. These teachers need to be reminded that the information they consider most important might not be the most important to their listeners.

As a teacher, we also need to tell ourselves to pause when needed. We might want to plow forward with the next topic on the syllabus, but if the students will gain more from an ad hoc teachable moment, all the better. Explore that topic and everyone benefits, even if the schedule gets messed up a bit. This is one reason I like the Q&A format so much when addressing a class or an audience. They aren’t there to hear me pontificate on this or that topic, they are there to gain value from my experience by discovering how it relates to their own lives. It can be a bit humbling to let your audience control your presentations, but it can also be extremely effective when your main goal is to help your audience discover something new that can change their lives.

Look for teachable moments in your day and explore them fully when they occur. Whether you are talking with a 13-year-old boy like my son, or presenting to a room full of CEOs at a major conference, look for those serendipitous moments when the outline goes out the window and you start to have a deeper conversation that leaves you all feeling energized and enlightened. Teachable moments occur more often than you might think. If we can all get better at noticing and exploiting them, it can help us greatly in building the career we deserve.

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One Response to The importance of the teachable moment – Podcast

  1. onah ikechukwu says:

    U are a genius my dear douglas

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