5 Steps to teaching statistics well

How do you create and teach effective and moving content that your audience will pay attention to and add great value to them?

Teaching is really important to us statisticians because we need to explain stats and data all the time to our colleagues, within stats or outside stats.

Today, Sam and I talk about the 5 steps to teaching stats and other types of content which are the following:

5 Steps to teaching statistics well:

  1. The hook
  2. Tell a story
  3. Teaching points
  4. Summarise
  5. Call to action


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Alexander:  You’re listening to the effective statistician podcast, the weekly podcast with Alexander Schacht,  Benjamin Piske  and Sam Gardner, designed to help you reach your potential to lead great science and serve patients without becoming overwhelmed by work.

Today we are talking about 5 Steps to Teaching. Teaching is really important for us as statisticians, because we need to explain Stats data things around us all the time to our colleagues within statistics or what set of statistics. And so there we need to explain and teach, and today we want to talk about five steps that will help you to teach these types of content, but also any other type of content.

I’m producing this podcast in association with PSI, a community dedicated to leading and promoting the use of statistics within the healthcare industry for the benefit of patients. Join PSI today to further develop your statistical capabilities with access to the video on demand content library, free registration to all PSI webinars, and much, much more. Head over to the PSI website, to learn more about PSI activities and become a PSI member today. Welcome to another episode again, with Sam. How are you doing today?

Sam: I am doing wonderful! I am excited to talk about what we’re going to talk about today because it speaks to the things near and dear to the things that I love to do in my work and in life. 

Alexander: Yeah, teaching is actually very important for statisticians. What are your teaching experiences? 

Sam: Well formally as a teacher, you know, I taught statistics at the Air Force Institute of Technology, which is the United States Air Force graduate school. That’s located in Ohio, the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. So, that’s a fully accredited, graduate school, for Scientists, Engineers and Management and Logistics. And so I taught there for three years. And so I was in Academia for those three years. And so I’ve done that before and then informally, or I guess less formally. I’ve done a lot of teaching and training to people that I work with on statistical methods. It’s statistical thinking and even other things like communication and problem-solving. 

 Alexander: I have been teaching for all of my career as well. I teach Mathematics at University. I taught statistics to Medical students and during my career within Pharma I also did lots of training on all kinds of different statistics and today We are talking about 5 Steps to teaching, I read this article and I thought that really resonates with me, because whenever I failed on any of these Five Points, it wasn’t really an effective teaching practice. So the first point that you can start with is the “Hook”. If you hear the Hook, what do you associate it with?

Sam:  Fishing? Yes. Fishing, there’s nothing more exciting than when you’re out there casting your line out into the water and you’ve got some bait on a hook and the fish grabs it. And it’s on the line and having a hook, Maybe you don’t want to hook people in the mouth. Right? But you want to have something that draws people in and I think that’s what the hook is. 

Alexander: You need to have something that makes people excited, something that makes people curious, something that people really want to learn about. So it kind of already starts with the headline of your training. So if your headline is statistics 101, not sure whether that’s a great hook. 

Sam: No. What’s the opposite of a hook? That would be the opposite of a hook. It would probably drive people away. Something more along the line of would you like to know how to solve problems? Very fast and very well or something like that. That would be something that could draw people in because everyone’s got problems and they want to solve them. 

Alexander: Or, something like as a Physician, would you finally understand, what makes a good paper or what’s not? Because, there is this. As a physician. Directly talks. Is that for me? Oh, that is not for me. So if you can directly address your target audience, that’s a great way. I’ve taught lots of Statistics to Physicians and Medical Science Liaisons or people like that and it really needs to be specific for a certain audience. If it’s too generic, it’s the same as with the fishing hook. You need a specific hook for a specific species, not everything. 

Sam: And sometimes the hook can be like the way you stated it like a question. Do you want to do something? Would you like to be better? It has that type of flavor to it. Sometimes the hook is to learn how to blank…Learn how to give a better presentation, or something like that. But again it has to be something that it’s directed at. It tells people what to expect when they come, so they know what they’re coming to and that also it can draw them in. 

Alexander: I think it’s really important to speak about the transformation. So what is the benefit that they will get from it? What will be the change for them afterwards? What kind of pain goes away? What increase do I get? Actually talking about pain is actually quite impactful. It’s even more impactful to talk about gain because relieving a pain is psychologically more important or another thing is avoiding a loss. Is also really important, don’t miss out on the next opportunity to become promoted.

Sam: Yeah, things like that. And I listen to the same talk, the same presentation you did and the presenter Stu McLaren. He even suggested that a good hook is a great opening sentence for your talk. As a matter of fact, you should think about what would be the opening line you want to say in the presentation that draws people in at the presentation and that’s your hook that you would use to advertise it. So, you don’t start the, you don’t start your presentation with. “Hello. My name is Sam Gardner and I am here today to talk about Statistics”, That’s not a hook. Here’s a problem that has to be solved. Just real quick like you’ve got to get a product out the door and there’s a product result that’s out of specification. What do you do in that situation? Well, I’m going to tell you, something like that and that’s the hook.

Alexander: And by the way, it’s also for the presentation. It’s very similar. You can introduce yourself later. If you look into good presenters, they don’t introduce themselves at all because someone else did that already or they do it later in the presentation. Then the next point, step number two, is to tell a story. Why do you think telling a story is so important at that point?

Sam:  I think the best thing about stories is that in it, they engage the heart and the emotions. So if you can tell a story that opens up people’s emotions in relation to what you’re talking about. It’s going to do two things. One, It’s going to keep them engaged in listening because they’re anticipating, hearing something and it gives them a feeling, not just knowledge, but a feeling. But the second thing, Is if you can engage the emotion that I think there’s been a lot of studies that show out there that you remember, what you hear better when you engage the emotions as well. So it’s a good way as I’ve heard some people say another type of story or but I’ve heard people call it as, they use Parables, and a parable is just an emotional word, story or an emotional word, picture, you draw a picture with words that have emotions associated with it. 

Alexander: You can even basically make up a story, you can start with a sentence. Like imagine you are the answer. And that is happening to you. Now something else is doing and you get this climax in there and you get a turn and another turn and so you can really build the thrill. In it.

Sam: I find I do that a lot with my children. I always have, when they come to me with a problem or dealing with an issue and like I think recently one of my daughter’s was struggling with just being overloaded with her University course work. She had so many projects to do and she was really feeling down about it and not feeling good about herself. And what I did is, I didn’t come back to her with. “Well, you need to organize your time and prioritize and have a schedule, and make sure you get enough sleep”. I said, well, let me tell you about,  I just told her about my experience when I was in college and how I learned to manage my time in college and I told it in a way like, my first two weeks in college didn’t go so, well, I failed my first two exams in college. That was not good. It was not a good two weeks for me, and I learned a lot from that. And, they heard that and they’re like, “oh dad! you failed a test in college? But they couldn’t believe that. And then the second thing was,  “Well, if my dad got through it. So maybe I can get through it too!”.

Alexander: So step number 3. Now we get into the meat of it. Now all your teaching points come because now you have laid the foundation. People are really listening, and are engaged, they are emotionally engaged and now you can tell what you want to tell, you can explain different concepts and things like that. 

Sam: And how many teaching points do you think you need or how many points should you cover? 

Alexander: I think that depends on the length of the training, if you can boil it down to three points. It’s usually good guidance. 

 Sam: Why is that? Is it just because it’s easier with three points or…

 Alexander: There’s just something magical about this number three? It’s just very easy to remember. Most acronyms are three letter acronyms and not four and not two. It’s just fun dealing with acronyms 

Sam: Actually a three letter acronym has an acronym TLA. I think that’s true. I think it depends again on that, when the audience and what you’re discussing, if it’s a general presentation, maybe it’s not teaching a class. But you’re just giving an information session or you’re trying to motivate people to give a proposal for doing something different. The probably fewer points as better. If it’s more in-depth than maybe you can have more teaching points as part of the teaching.

 Alexander: But can you have some bullets, So to say, There you can again, potentially have categorization of three. So you Speak about points A, and give an example. 1, 2, 3 and then you talk about point B and you give three lessons about that. And so on. That way, You also can easily remember it. And also you can embed three points very easily in your initial story. And then you can refer back to the story and say, “Here’s the point A that refers to this part in the story that I mentioned, at the beginning”, that way, it becomes really a nice cohesive training. 

Sam: So I’m thinking, if you got these first three points, you got the hook of the story, And the teaching points, and in one respect, what this is all doing is you’re telling people what you’re going to tell them…and then you tell them!

Alexander: Then step number 4 is you tell them what you told them. You summarize.  

Sam: So yeah, step 4 is?  You’re just reviewing everything and maybe also putting it together because sometimes, when you get into the depth of the teaching, you get into details, right? You get into specific details, but then you want to pull it all back together to give a bigger picture. What were we thinking about in the beginning? What would draw us to want to talk about these, for me to want to teach you? All of these things, we learn. Let you solve this problem. We talked about it in the beginning. That’s a good way to bring it all together. 

Alexander: And to summarize it at the end, something that I actually got as a feedback from one of my listeners early on, she told me your podcast episodes are really great. They would be even better. If you would have a summary at the end because what comes at the end is what people remember. These are psychological effects at things that are at the beginning, and at the end gets the most retention.

Sam: And a bad ending? People will remember. 

Alexander: Oh Yeah!  

Sam: They will remember a lot of things. A bad end to a sporting event. A bad end to a musical piece. 

Alexander: Or a movie…

Sam:  or bad end in an interpretation …

Alexander: or Interview. 

Sam: Yeah, An interview.. 

Alexander: The  first impression is important. The last impression is even more important, because the first impression you can correct, But the last impression you can’t. And then step number five. Call to action. Always have a call to action. 

Sam: Yeah, and this is the one thing I think I do the least and I always have a hard time with. I think sometimes it’s hard for me to do that,  I just told them everything they need to know. Now. They just know what to do, right? That I don’t need to tell them what to do. I gave them all the information. They just need to go do it. 

Alexander: But there’s always something like reading this paper further. Go home and review your notes. Or maybe if you have learned something. Try it out tomorrow. Practice it. Reflect with your supervisor about it. There can be lots of different Call to actions. 

Sam: And like in a traditional teaching standpoint the call to action is usually, do some homework. But there’s nothing wrong with giving homework. If you’re just giving a talk on how to improve your communication skills or when you’re making a proposal, then your Call to Action is, would you please follow up with…maybe a specifically assigned  or having specific assignments and follow-up actions. In those types of cases where you’re more of a problem solving or a project meeting, but if it’s teaching it’s usually more like doing homework, practice. Try what you’ve learned or take what you’ve learned and teach it to someone else. That’s another good Call to Action, is to share this with someone else. 

Alexander:  And also if you look into my podcast episodes, there’s always Calls to Action 

at the end,  look for the show notes. Share it with a friend. Things like that. That’s important because in the end, which is, it’s kind of crazy. But people love to be told. What is the next step? Yeah, because they’re kind of left there and then so what? So this Call to Action is quite helpful and very powerful. If you look into any kind of marketing calls whatsoever. There’s always a Call to Action. 

Sam: And lots of times, when you see Electronic media. There’s always something like ‘click here’ to get more info or ‘click here to sign up’ for this follow on information. They put  whatever, it keeps the connection there too. I think if the call to action also you can have it connected to you. So if you’re the presenter, you’re the teacher and that call to action is, I want you to do something and I want you to tell me what you did or I want you to, if it’s homework, you do the homework, and turn in the assignment. I’m going to grade it but regardless, it’s getting them to be somewhat accountable to following up and in situations where you’re not the formal teacher, that’s up to the individual to do that. But if you’re in a more of a formal teaching role, you say, “Hey, you need to do this work and get back to me on it so we can see what you have learned” and in that way you’ll learn if you taught effectively and they can also see how well they learned the material.

Alexander:  By the way, that’s an important point. Teaching is really great because that way you really deeply understand things, there’s a lot of benefit in teaching. So, as this is also about teaching, you can guess what is now happening? I’m summarizing, we talked about the hook as a first step to get people engaged. Telling a story is the second step to get more emotion to paint a picture to understand the problem, then the teaching points, that’s where the meat is, then summarize it like what I’m doing now and then the Call to Action as a last step. So head over to theeffectivestatistician.com to find the show notes and share it with your colleagues. 

This show was created in association with PSI. Thanks to Reine who helps with the show in the background and thank you for listening. Head over to theeffectivestatistician.com to find the Five steps about teaching and much more content to become more influential in your job environment. Reach potential, Lead Great Signs and serve patients, Just Be an Effective statistician. 

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