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4 Old-School Ways to Train Your Marketing Team to Be Cutting Edge

This article was originally published on MarketingProfs and is republished here with permission.

Most marketers strive to communicate as effectively as possible—except, it seems, when sharing their knowledge with other marketers. That’s when, for some reason, PowerPoint tends to take center stage.

During my relatively short time as a digital marketer, I’ve witnessed countless keynotes, classes, and presentations where information was recited from slides—and expected to be digested and implemented efficiently. I come from a teaching background, so I’ve learned a few effective ways to teach new skills and ideas. Let’s take these old-school practices out of the classroom and bring them to the boardroom.

Old-School Is the New Cutting-Edge

Don’t get me wrong, PowerPoint slides are useful in certain circumstances. But the key to teaching is less about “cutting-edge” technology and more about helping your audience learn the information—and being open to learning something yourself.

The key to teaching is less about “cutting-edge” technology and more about helping your audience learn the information–and being open to learning something yourself.

Next time you’re called on to share your knowledge with colleagues, interns, or even the general public, here are four old-school ways to help ensure that your audience learns and retains information:

  • Group work
  • Open-ended questions
  • Problem-based learning
  • Time management

These suggestions may seem less sexy than a spiffed up Prezi, but they can be remarkably effective. Here’s how to make them work for you and your team.

Group Work

Through dialogue and collaboration, group work allows you to connect with the knowledge and experiences of your audience. In general, for every hour I spend in front of an audience, I plan at least three small group activities. By small groups, I mean 3–5 people per group. In short:

  • Plan at least three group activities per hour.
  • Keep groups to fewer than five people.

Doing so helps break up time into more digestible chunks and establishes a reasonable expectation for audience participation. It also helps individuals on your team come out of their shells and speak up, as they have more opportunities to interact on a personal level and form bonds with their group members.

To help you get started, here are some ideas for small group activities:

  • Discuss an open-ended question (more below).
  • Complete a questionnaire.
  • Search social media for topic-related content.

Open-Ended Questions

Group work can take various forms. I like to start by posing an open-ended question that audience members then discuss in their groups. Open-ended questions break down barriers to participation and are a great way to warm up your audience.

Open-ended questions break down barriers to participation and are a great way to warm up your audience

To get a better idea of exactly what I’m talking about, let’s consider what constitutes the opposite of an open-ended question. Essentially, when I pose a “close-ended” question, I am looking for one, specific answer. For example:

  • Close-ended question: Do you know what Intelligent Customer Experience is?
  • Open-ended question: What is Intelligent Customer Experience?

My open-ended question will most likely produce a set of answers that includes the expected answer to my close-ended question. Plus, it has the advantage of encouraging other unexpected answers—promoting discussion and an opportunity for debate.

Audience members have to think through their own answers, of course, but they are also exposed to much more information—especially when you have them share their answers with the entire group at the end of each activity. This is how your team members expand their knowledge base and grow their marketing skills. Discussions like this can also be the breeding ground for great ideas and new techniques.

Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning can help your audience learn more effectively because it encourages critical thinking and facilitates collaborative experiences; those, in turn, help cement acquired knowledge.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s an example of two approaches to solving a real-life problem:

  • We can improve customer experience by implementing chat options on our sites
  • How can we improve customer experience?

In the first example, I give my audience a solution right away (i.e., chat will improve customer experience). In the second example, however, I can gather various answers from my audience that may or may not include my desired answer. This sort of collaboration will teach your team and may help you come up with new ideas as well.

The good news is that you can always add to the group conversation by discussing the desired answer in addition to all of the creative answers that you have gathered from your audience.

As a group, you can then revisit the answers and critically evaluate which are the most relevant to your discussion. Audiences are thus transformed from consumers of information to active participants, which can help them learn and retain new knowledge more effectively—and could help you come up with more effective solutions.

Time Management

You’ve spent a lot of time becoming an expert in your field. You’ve gathered together all of your learnings and best practices and want to make sure that you don’t leave anything out for your audience. The key now is to learn how to manage your time effectively so your audience gets the information they need in a format that best encourages learning.

I recommend thinking of your presentation in the simplest terms possible. First, break down the information that you need to convey into two or three main points of discussion. Next, start thinking of how you can develop your discussion using group work. Finally, plan out how you’re going to manage your group activities.

  • Focus on 2–3 discussion points.
  • Create corresponding group work.
  • Plan out how to manage group activities.

Admittedly, group work can get away from even the most seasoned teacher, so here are some quick-and-dirty tips to help you stay on track:

  • Chunk up group work into 2–5 minute segments.
  • Give your audience time updates.
  • Use a timer to stay on task.

During your class, presentation, or workshop, communicate time limits to your audience ( “You’ll have five minutes to complete this task.”) and then inform them as their time limit approaches (“You all have two minutes left.”). Doing so helps your audience stay on task and helps set expectations for participation.

Use your phone as a timer and walk throughout the classroom, keeping tabs on what’s going on. That will help you stay on task and interact more with your audience.

By effectively managing your time, you’ll help your audience focus on essential information and produce knowledge that you may have overlooked. It’s a win-win that doesn’t require anything more than a few old-school techniques.


In the beginning, it may feel strange to loosen the educational reins a bit. But, in the end, you’ll notice that your audience will be a lot more responsive to what you have to say.

Next time, instead of powering up your PowerPoint, involve your audience just a little bit more. You’ll see the difference in how much the knowledge you share takes hold.

Mike Strayer

Mike Strayer taught for ten years before starting his writing career at Clearlink. He currently writes electric copy for the Energy Team as senior copywriter and resident denim connoisseur.


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