Expert speakers or trainers are not interchangeable

Photo: Ray Bernoff

If you hire experts to train on areas outside their expertise, you’ll pay too much and get a really poor result. It’s like paying a painter to rewire your house.

Experts specialize. It’s what makes us experts.

I’ll use myself as a case study here, but the same applies to anyone you hire.

Imagine that someone in your company has suggested having me do a writing workshop for you. What does that cover?

I train your staff to write better. That includes all sorts of documents — strategy documents, blog posts, emails, even social media posts. It includes writing shorter, writing more clearly, avoiding toxic prose elements like jargon and passive voice, and working effectively in a shared writing environment.

All of that is in my book, my blog posts, and my workshop description. It’s pretty obvious.

I customize that within reason. I can do it in 90 minutes or 4 hours. I can focus on strategy documents or customer support documents. I can spend more time on editing and collaboration, or more time on storytelling. And I always work with your own material so the content is relevant for you.

But there are limits. If it’s not writing, I’m not your guy.

I don’t teach presentations and slide decks. I’m not an expert on that.

I don’t teach information design. It’s outside my zone of expertise.

I don’t teach based on the writing philosophy of others. Don’t ask me to teach someone else’s writing course. You wouldn’t hire Tony Bennett to sing Pearl Jam songs, would you?

It isn’t just me. Consider any other expert. If a woman is an expert on creativity, don’t hire her to speak on diversity and inclusion. If a man is an expert on negotiation, don’t hire him to teach about financial statement valuation. Don’t hire a marketing expert to teach customer service, or a customer service expert to teach marketing.

Learn to respect the expertise

You may think my examples are silly. But I get requests to teach other people’s material all the time. I turn them down, because not only am I not interested, but I would do a terrible job. I’m not a great teacher — I’m a great teacher of my own deeply researched material.

I imagine there are trainers that can teach anything. They are good teachers, but don’t have deep expertise. They cost a lot less than experts, and without the expertise to fall back on, they’re not as likely to be able to do a great job.

It’s not hard to learn what experts are good at. If you want something else, hire a different expert. Experts are expensive, but it’s worth it — if what they teach is what you want your people to learn.

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  1. I would TOTALLY pay to go see Tony Bennett sing Pearl Jam songs. That should not be a reflection on your argument.