“To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.” — Søren Kierkegaard

Inspired by the quote above (which is the anchor of my teaching philosophy), I have been learning while teaching for a decade. Ten years ago today — on Monday, June 18, 2007 — I began my career in academia when I started teaching COM 120, Effective Persuasive Writing online at what was then called Axia College (University of Phoenix‘s online junior college).

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It’s hard to believe that much time has passed; it feels like just yesterday when I began my career in academia after having previously consulted and worked in marketing. Technically I started teaching on September 2, 2006 when I taught my first traffic school class, but this was my first academic course. Since that first step I have embarked on a much longer journey. I have had the opportunity to teach and learn with more than 4,500 students in over 80 classes — in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and online.

Acting as a “guide on the side” and not a “sage on the stage,” I combine learning with laughter and encourage students to pursue their individual ideas. Having taught students of various ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, I am especially sensitive to the diverse challenges with which my students might be contending.

I join with my students on a journey of generative learning. Sensitive to the unique experiences, challenges, and learning styles of adult learners, I assign projects relevant to their personal and professional perspectives. Believing education should create community, not competition, I combine learning with laughter to construct a collaborative classroom. Interdisciplinary, I welcome varied viewpoints and encourage my students to own their education.

I have been fortunate to have taught for numerous notable educational institutions including American University in the Emirates (AUE), Jumeira University, Musicians InstituteNational University, Strayer University, UCLA Extension. and UC Santa Barbara Extension. Actively involving myself in higher education, I have embraced academia as both my vocation and avocation.

I have spoken at academic conferences; written a book, a book chapter, and several scholarly papers; conducted corporate training seminars; appeared on three podcasts; and made a 1.5 second appearance in Star Trek Beyond as an extra! I was also honored with an award from AUE recognizing my program development efforts for the College of Business Administration.

The past 10 years have been filled with personal growth and professional development; I have improved as an individual just as I have expanded my abilities as an educator. I look forward to many more years of continuous improvement in both areas. These years have not been without their challenges and setbacks, but I remain grateful to my colleagues, friends, family, mentors, and students for the chance to help shape the lives of others, while giving my life greater meaning.

Why did the identical twins cross the road? To tell NSFW jokes at the Improv!

smash_brothers_cory_n_chadIdentical twins Cory and Chad Baumgartner — “The Smash Brothers” — have a unique approach to the business of comedy they’ve used to fuel their careers as comedians. They operate their act under the perfectly named company: Identical Entertainment. Born and raised east of Los Angeles, the brothers had a challenging yet character building childhood:  they attended more than 14 schools! To help make friends they embraced the role of class clowns. It worked!

Those experiences drew them close to each other, strengthening already genetically close ties. They now consider themselves each others best friends. Interestingly, even though they look alike, Cory and Chad are very different: Cory is the “Good Twin” with a laid back style and calm demeanor (he  doesn’t drink or party). Chad is the “Evil Twin,”a bad boy type, who, with his wild party stories, always keeps Cory on his toes.

Their lives are intertwined at almost every level:  they have switched college classes, broken up with each others girlfriends, showed up to work for each other, and even used each others drivers licenses (allegedly). You really never know what to expect with these two: although they are identical twins, their act is one of a kind!

I first encountered the brothers after I praised the Hollywood Improv on how effectively they leveraged their Facebook page. I added that, whenever I teach public speaking courses, I always discuss the impressive public speaking skills of successful comedians. Shortly thereafter I received a message from Cory and Chad offering to come speak to a class of mine.

Comedians Cory and Chad with Matthew Gilbert at National UniversityA public speaking class I teach at National University — COM103, Public Speaking — was a perfect fit. On Saturday, June 4, 2011, they spent nearly 2 hours (with their colleague Mark Gonzalez).  They enthusiastically shared their experiences as comedians with my students. Cory and Chad also provided my students with inspiring and insightful ideas about pursuing their passions. It was a sincere and soft-spoken experience (especially considering how energetic their stage act is).

On Friday, March 30, 2012 everything came full circle: I attended their show at the Hollywood Improv. This was my first time attending their show; it was as wild and whimsical as I imagined! After the show, they spent time with me, sharing insights into their entrepreneurial experiences and efforts as independent comedians. They discussed how, in addition to social media, they continue to use traditional marketing tools (something I stress in my classes). They also mentioned that the marketing tricks they use can translate to any small businesses or entrepreneurial effort.

You can watch the interview in the video below. Note: This video contains some mild profanity (Cory and Chad speak from their hearts). As a result, you might want to avoid watching this at work or in mixed company (or wear headphones). But, I assure you, the insights Cory and Chad share are invaluable.

Here are the top 10 tips from the interview:

1. Accept the Benefits of Bombing: accept that bombing on stage is a good thing; it will light the fire under you to do better next time and improve your act.

2. Be Patient, but Persistent: Comedy is a tough business; it takes years to “get paid” and finally realize results from your efforts.

3. Dedicate Yourself to Your Dream: work for the recognition of your writing and the reward of making your audience laugh; you’re going to hear “no” a lot so anchor yourself to your idea and let that motivate you through the tough times.

4. Embrace Word of Mouth Marketing: Cory and Chad worked every audience after each show, handing out flyers and building relationships with their audience.

5. Invest in Marketing Yourself: the brothers paid people to place 5,000 flyers on cars at concerts or other events. Their expectation was a modest 5 people from each effort; they were willing to invest the money on the exponential potential of getting their name out their and leveraging their brand awareness.

6. Make Your Money on the Road: Building your brand in comedy is not something you can do casually or comfortably; you need to hit the road and tour comedy clubs across the country — around the world if possible too!

7. Maximize Every Moment: the brothers got their break while joking in line at a Starbucks; a club promoter was also in line and thought they were funny. Cory and Chad said they were stand-up comedians and he gave them 5 minutes on stage at the Improv that night!

8. Promote Yourself and Believe in Your Potential: don’t expect a comedy club to promote you; take responsibility for your own marketing and put your heart into it.

9. Put the Effort in You Want to See Returned: show business is just that — a business; to build an empire you need to keep building your brand, work hard, and keep improving your comedic craft.

10. Use Every Promotional Option Available: Cory and Chad have used Craigslist, e-mail blasts, Facebook, MySpace, radio commercials, Twitter, and even 5″ x 7″ promotional cards they hand out after shows.

Smash it!

National University Surprise SpeechHow well can you give a speech on the spot?

Thanks to an in-class exercise, the students in my COM-103, Public Speaking class at National University now know their answer to this question.

During a class on Saturday, December 3, 2011, I challenged them to give one-minute informative or persuasive speeches about one item they randomly selected from a bag. They energetically engaged the assignment and succeeded superbly (as I anticipated, despite initial hesitancy on their part)! Here’s how completed the exercise:

I brought a bag I had earlier filled with 20 random items. After announcing and explaining the exercise to my students, I walked around the room, bag in hand, instructing each student to reach in and retrieve one item without looking. The selected items included:

  1. Bac’n Buds Plastic Jar (3.25 oz)
  2. Black Wine Gift Bag
  3. Blueberry Muffin Mix (7 oz)
  4. Göt 2 Be Hair Gel (2.5 oz)
  5. Hand Sewn Bag of Marbles
  6. Hand-Held Hole Puncher
  7. Large Yellow Sponge
  8. New England Patriots Helmet Bank
  9. Playing Cards from London (52)
  10. Rayovac 6 Volt Lantern Battery
  11. Red Bandanna Neck Cooler
  12. Synthetic Pillow Stuffing.

I then gave my students 15 minutes to research and prepare a minimum one-minute speech about the item (using the computers at their desks). Once they were ready, we began. While each student spoke I clocked their presentation without giving them any indication as to their progress or total time.

After giving the speech, each student wrote his or her name on the board and, next to their name, the length of time they guessed their speech to have been. I then told them how long their speech actually was, which they then wrote down on the board next to their estimated time.

My intent was to help them understand the differences in perceived time versus actual time — while also gaining practice giving speeches in a somewhat improvisational way. Notably, with one exception, all of the students underestimated their total time, generally by a large margin. In one surprising case, a student’s estimate of her time was exactly the length of her speech!

The results are as follows:

  1. Guess: 0:55 | Actual: 3:20 | Difference: -2:25
  2. Guess: 0:45 | Actual: 1:11 | Difference:  -0:26
  3. Guess: 1:05 | Actual 1:05 | Difference: 0.00
  4. Guess: 1:00 | Actual: 0:26 | Difference: +0.34
  5. Guess: 1:01 | Actual: 0:51 | Difference: -0:10
  6. Guess: 0:40 | Actual: 1:00 | Difference: -0:20
  7. Guess: 0:40 | Actual: 0:57 | Difference: -0:17
  8. Guess: 1:21 | Actual: 1:31 | Difference: -0:10
  9. Guess: 1:07 | Actual: 2:04 | Difference: -0:57
  10. Guess: 1:04 | Actual 2:09 | Difference: -1:05
  11. Guess: 0:12 | Actual: 0:15 | Difference: -0.03
  12. Guess: 1:30 | Actual 1:35 | Difference: -.05

In one particularly poignant speech, the student with the red bandanna neck cooler first presented a thorough overview of the history and uses of the item, but then explained how it also represented gang affiliation and death in her Los Angeles neighborhood. I was touched and impressed by how mature and meaningfully this student presented something so personal.

Overall the students seemed to enjoy the exercise . And, as I anticipated, each approached his or her item with a unique angle, but with an equal ambition to achieve. In total, the exercise took an hour to complete, and it really helped us start the class off with exceptional energy and excitement.

Are you ready to give your surprise speech?