Business Lessons I Learned as a Teacher

Business Lessons Learned Teacher Susan RoAne

Teaching is the metaphor for my business, if not the mantra. Most people understand the reference because…they went to school!

Remembering My Roots

 I have never forgotten my roots as a public school teacher and believe that people who don’t remember where they came from make a big mistake. Although I didn’t plan to be an educator, circumstances — and the fact that ad agencies, which were very Mad Men— only hired women (even English majors with BA degrees from University of Illinois) as secretaries— prevailed. So I had no preparation for my first real job. Instead I attended the hard knocks school of “on the job training” for a career I came to love.

Now in my second and third careers, I find I extrapolate many lessons from that first unintentional and important profession and often refer to it in my presentations, books and day- to-day conversations.

Preparation is a Teacher’s Best Tactic

Preparation is so important for educators who study the relevant coursework and become student teachers. I didn’t have that benefit when I entered my first classroom as a twenty-one year old newly- hired teacher. Missing that important
“Internship” as student teacher informed my first book, How To Work a Room®, which throughout emphases “preparation”.

Being prepared also translates to creating “lesson plans” which we had to do in order to meet educational standards. They had to be approved by a curriculum director or principal. Being adept at writing lesson plans involved assessments (of students, timelines), analysis and “Big Picture” thinking. We couldn’t just plan for the following day we had to determine the end-goal and work backwards. This practice has helped me start, manage and grow my speaking business as well as contributed to my authorial endeavors. There is always a “lesson plan” or to do list on my desk for the next day’s work and activities..

My presentation handouts all have an introductory section on preparation, there is also a section for note-taking. I remind audiences when to jot down something I’ve said and often explain the importance of note-taking as it relates to learning theory and life. (I use the grocery- shopping list as an example).

Home “Working” The Room

Whether it’s a coaching client or audience, I “assign homework” based on an exercise, action item or point of wisdom. Once we finish our group “meet and mingle” exercise, I explain the homework is to continue self-introducing. meeting and mingling throughout the conference. That sets the tone for the rest of the event.

Did the Dog Eat Your Notes and Your Homework?

 After two lengthy phone conversations. a coaching client met with me for the first time. After twenty minutes, I generated six ideas for both his book and development of his speaking career and noticed he just sat there listening (at least he looked like he was).

“You mean you showed up without paper and pencil?” I asked— almost as a rhetorical question.

Teaching RoAne Studying

Those words were ones we heard throughout grammar school from almost every teacher as well as a few in high school. I repeated them more times than I cared to remember as a public school teacher in Chicago and San Francisco! So it was no surprise that, as I coached a would-be author and speaker, that they automatically came out of my mouth.

Mr. Paperless looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. So I took three pieces of paper from the pad I brought, dived into my purse to fish out one of the (generally) six pens and pencils this former teacher always has on hand, and shoved them in front of his face and said, “Start writing.” I used my “sixth grade teacher” voice— which is very persuasive. So he did.

Smart people in business come prepared to listen, learn and take notes….whether it’s with a notebook or on their digital devices.

Whenever I make a comment that sounds “teachery” I explain, “You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but never take the classroom out of the teacher.” And that’s a good thing!

Teaching Is Foundation for Success in Business and Life

There are many former teachers who have made transitions to other fields and professions. To name a few: Sting, Secretary Madeleine Albright, John Hamm, JK Rowling, Mr T, Bill O’Reilly, Stephen King, Steve Wozniak.

When asked to what I attribute my success as an author/speaker or just in life, my answer is always, “My years as a teacher. No self-respecting teacher ever goes to bed without a “lesson plan” or To Do list and all the material she or he needs for the next day is lined up at the door.”

Being an educator is my metaphor for my coaching, my books, my presentations and my life: My mantra is the same for those building a career or building a business as it was for me as a teacher:

Prepare, think long-term and short term to create lesson plans, do due diligence, listen and take notes …always!  And be sure to read them within 24 hours so you can create your plan of action.


Susan RoAne is a writer, best-selling author (How To Work a Room®, The Secrets of Savvy Networking, What Do I Say Next, Et Al.) and in-demand professional speaker who shares the strategies of mixing and mingling and building long-term business relationships with corporations and organizations who want to increase connections and communication.

Susan co-designed the San Francisco Examiner Careers series and has been in the media and published and quoted in newspapers and magazines across the world





About Susan RoAne

Susan RoAne leads a double life as a sought-after professional keynote speaker and a bestselling author. Known as The Mingling Maven®, she gives diverse audiences the required tools, techniques and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. The San Francisco Chronicle says she has a “dynamite sense of humor.” To hire Susan to speak for your company, association or college, 1.415.461.3915