3 Things You Can Learn About Teaching From Bob Ross

There is no getting around it…

Teaching is a performance.

It doesn’t matter how great your content is if your delivery is boring you will lose them.

I get it. It is hard.

When people ask me what it is like teaching college, I share, “It is like being a stand up comic and dying in front of the same unresponsive audience for 16 weeks straight.”

Teaching online is even harder.

Even with a live online course, it is hard to read your audience and get a feel for if you are really connecting with them. I don’t care how many hearts or smiley faces you see, it isn’t the same as seeing someone nod their head or hearing them say, “Oh, ya that makes sense!”

And don’t get me started on pre-recorded classes where it is just you and the camera. I don’t care how much my cat loves me, I know she is only there for the chicken. Let’s face it, our pets make terrible student fill-ins.

So does that mean that if you are an introvert or a quiet person there is no hope for you?

Hell no!

Here’s the thing…keeping your students engaged whether with live classes or with pre-recorded video is a skill set you can learn.

Ok, I know you are going to say, “But, Jen, really I am very soft-spoken. I am not the life of the party. I bore myself.”

Tell it to Bob Ross…

Bob Ross is the Mr. Rogers of video teaching.

He was never going to be Robin Williams and he was ok with that. And we loved him just the way he was.

The truth is, he connected authentically and with heart with his students. His voice was soothing and comforting. He made you believe anything was possible. And he had his tag lines that we all loved (just like Mr. Rogers):

Every day is a good day when you paint.

We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents.

Happy trees.

I’m glad you could join me today.

Even though he died in 1995, he still has a cult following even among people born after he died.

My son and his wife (they were high school sweethearts and both studied illustration in college and who born around 1995) fell in love with Bob Ross. A few years ago, they both made me Bob Ross inspired winter landscapes for Christmas in the same blue palette. As a side note, even though they are Bob Ross inspired, I could tell which one they each made, their individual artistic voices came through.

Alex Vigil-Emerson

Aubrey Behrens

So how did mild-mannered Bob do it, connect with his TV audience?

What should you learn from Bob?

#1 Be passionate about what you teach

If you aren’t excited about your topic, why should your students be? Make sure that your passion comes through in your voice. Be enthusiastic about what you are teaching. Make sure there is fluctuation in your voice—exciting moments, clam sections, etc. Smile. Move around. Gesture. Laugh. Be joyful about what you are doing.

Remember your students are there because they are interested in what you have to offer. They are already an eager captive audience. Share your enthusiasm with them.

#2 make eye contact with the camera

Be aware of the camera and make sure to make eye contact, i.e. look straight into the lens periodically when talking. Do like Bob, pause, turn to the camera, and share a bit of your wisdom or an encouraging word. Even better, share a story about how you overcame an obstacle or when you first learned the technique you are teaching.

Don’t just be disembodied hands in your video. You need to turn the camera on you every now and then so your students get to know and like you. People can’t connect to just your hands.

#3 laugh at yourself aka mistakes are moments of connection

People don’t expect perfection. Yes, have a certain level of polish in what you do (and the videos you make—edit videos when necessary) but keep in mind that people will find you more relatable and authentic if they see you are human. Things go wrong. Share your own journey.

What do I like most about “happy accidents”?

It gives us permission to make mistakes AND more importantly, it helps us reframe errors as opportunities. For me, someone who can have a harsh inner dialogue, this one moment of reframing and kindness changes everything for me. It tells me that I can be vulnerable with this teacher which makes such a difference when being creative. Taking risks and pushing limits are what make the difference in true growth as an artist.

Keep these 3 things in mind as you prepare your next lesson.

Are you struggling with creating your class? Not sure if your course sales page is enticing? Schedule a free 30-minute consultation call with me today.

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One comment

  1. Kathleen Harte Gilsenan says:

    What great advice. With a school year about to begin virtually, these are good reminders for me as I make videos for my students.

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