Every great leader commits to being a lifelong learner. But at some point, it's also time to pay it forward and share what you've learned--in fact, I'd argue that, if you're not using and applying your knowledge, you've missed the boat.

But teaching, mentoring or even giving a basic presentation doesn't always come easy. It's a skill you usually get better at over time. If you want to improve a little more rapidly, make sure you do these four things.

1. Slow down.

Yes, I know there's another meeting you have to be at in 10 minutes, or that you're nervous. But no matter what you're trying to deliver, people need time to do two things:

  • Cognitively process and contextualize your data
  • Respond emotionally to you

They cannot do either of these things well if you're simply treating the experience as an Indianapolis 500 information dump rather than a conversation.

Give people the chance to look you in the eye and get some mirror neurons firing, to ask questions or share their perceptions. They also benefit from physically writing out notes, but if you've already moved on to your next point as they try to do this, they're not going to be able to focus on both that point and what they're writing. Slowing down also can relieve some of the memory-killing anxiety that happens when listeners think they're going to miss something just because you're covering material at a mile a minute.

2. Don't assume or be bias-blind.

When you sit down/walk in to mentor, teach or give a presentation, you know that your job is to explain something to somebody else. But what often happens is that, even so, you forget what it's like to look through the eyes of a novice--that is, you become unintentionally knowledge-biased. You might not realize where you need to define something, for example, or where it's necessary to point out a relationship between two points.

The key here is, as you plan the presentation or training session, build in opportunities to check your listener's understanding. (Hint, that's not just saying, "Any questions?", which tons of people feel uncomfortable saying yes to for fear of looking incompetent.) Even something as watching how they respond when you offer a joke or analogy can be enough to show they're with you. But don't wait until the very end of the process--check at every step. Do trial runs with people outside your knowledge area before the real session to discover where changes are necessary, too.

3. Offer rationales, not just process.

Many presenters, lecturers or mentors show people what to do. And that's as far as they get. They fly through sequences of do-this-then-that, without bothering to give even a crumb of explanation about purpose. But any step in a procedure has a reasoning behind it, and if your listener grasps what that reasoning is, then it's easier for them to remember and repeat the sequence as a whole later on. Always be clear about why you're doing a specific step and what the goal for it is.

4. Limit tech and simplify.

This isn't to say you never should use a software program or hop online as you guide someone. But think back to days gone by. Some of the greatest minds the world ever has seen--people like Leonardo Da Vinci, for instance--didn't have Google or Powerpoint. They used everyday objects not only to innovate, but to explain incredibly complex ideas. St. Patrick, for example, is said to have explained the Christian concept of the trinity with clovers. Think about what you'd do or say if you absolutely had to cut the cord and you'll probably find better, more conversational and interactive ways to communicate your message.

Published on: Jun 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.