I’ve had a few conversations with practitioners in recent weeks about teaching public relations to students. This post is the first in a small series summarising my advice, and giving the upsides and downsides of teaching.
In brief: there are lots of opportunities – but vanishingly few jobs.
Step one: give a guest lecture
The best way to start is to give it a go. Course leaders and tutors welcome guest lectures from practitioners, so your best way to gain some experience and make some contacts with university lecturers is to contact permanent members of the team to offer a guest lecture.
Students enjoy guest lectures because they are a refreshing change from their regular (academic) lectures. Yet students like to take something out of each lecture or teaching session – otherwise they tend to feel the content is irrelevant.
So beyond telling them about your personal experience of work, you need to include a ‘takeaway’ element in your talk.
This could be tips on getting a job in your sector, or a reflection on how theory applies to practice, or a cautionary tale of how not to do something. A good guest lecture would describe your sector or specialism in some detail.
The upside of giving a guest lecture is that you’re experiencing the best bit of a lecturer’s job: educating through experience and example and communicating to a (reasonably) engaged audience.
Teaching, however, is only one part of the process of learning – the passive part. Students also need to learn by doing; to learn by reading, by developing relationships and they need to develop curiosity. The paradox of teaching is that the more you teach, they less they tend to learn…
A guest lecture will also help you develop a relationship with one or more members of the teaching team, who may need to call on you for a larger contribution (see part two to follow).
The downside of a guest lecture is that it’s inevitably mostly one-way, with limited opportunities for dialogue and developing relationships (though I would expect some of the class to start following you on your favoured social networks). You may also find it a humbling experience: students are given a lot of lectures, so tend to approach each new one with indifference. Very few practitioners or academics have the pulling power to fill the largest lecture theatres, as happened with Max Clifford (pictured).
You are also unlikely to be paid, though you may receive travel expenses if you’re prepared to fill out the university’s form, submit your receipts, and to wait a while for the payment to be processed.
PR practitioners will understand that this is a relationship-building tool, and that you need to invest your time up front.
In part two I’ll discuss the next step: hourly-paid teaching.