My Advice to Aspiring Wine Educators

I get asked all the time, during classes, at wineries, in e-mails, and via just about every medium possible, “How do I get your job”? Well, I really want to answer by saying something like, “Study for twenty years, write a book, learn instructional design…”  But I’ve long since learned that’s not the answer people are looking for.

And it’s a good question, and since so many of you asked, here’s my real answer:

  • Know your stuff.  Enough said.
  • Spend just as much time studying and mastering presentation techniques, public speaking skills, and audience management as you do studying wine.  As a matter of fact, spend more time studying them.  Knowledge is everywhere in our society…every student in your audience has all the information you are going to spill forth for them readily available on the little e-gadget they have in their pocket.  They don’t need you to provide them with information…they need you to provide them with a way to understand, remember, and be engaged with the information.
  • Develop your own style of teaching and work at perfecting it.  Don’t beg or borrow other people’s teaching materials…look inward and produce your own.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had other educators e-mail me asking if they can have my power point presentation.  My only thought is “Why would you want to use my materials”? Can you really speak from the heart using someone else’s presentation?  Trust me, you will do a much better job at presenting using materials that are your own. 
  • Create opportunities to engage your class.  People who don’t undestand how to engage an audience think that it only has to do with energy or activity.  Points of engagement should be pre-planned, practiced, and executed at regular intervals in any class. 
  • Develop a skill or gimmick for remembering and using people’s names.  Draw yourself a room diagram with people’s names on it, write short descriptors (for your eyes only) of individuals on your class list or roster, or have people wear name tags.  The sound of one’s own name is the most engaging thing known to humankind.  If you have a large group, make sure you know and use the names of everyone in the front row.
  • Become an expert at A/V.  If you are going to be using projectors or microphones, be able to hook them up, break them down, turn them on and trouble shoot.  Nothing will throw you off your game faster than having to leave your area to go find a techie.
  • Arrive at your location an hour early.  No excuses.  Get set up, find your wines, figure out who is going to be in your audience, relax, and be ready to greet everyone at the door as they enter.  Introduce yourself to every attendee (or at least the first 25 if you have a big group).  Make small talk with your students in the time you have before class begins, and by the time you start you’ve already made friends.
  • If you are going to use Power Point, Keynote, Flip Charts or slides, study up on the latest research and advice concerning their use. One of the quickest ways I can detect an amateur is the use of wordy, detailed, or complicated visuals.  Same goes for handouts.
  • Don’t make excuses. If you are a good teacher, you can teach your subject with or without a projector, in a wine bar or a lecture hall, with the exact wines you ordered or with the wines they delivered by mistake. 
  • To get started; give one class for free at a wine bar, winery, or tasting society.  After that, you should be able to start to charge for classes.  If not, perhaps you need to practice some more.  Don’t go on too long giving it away…there are far too many “wanna be” wine educators out there who are willing to charge nothing for their services.  If you are providing a valuable service, you deserve to be paid. 
  • If attendees are answering questions or describing wines, find what’s right in every contribution.  No one should ever be embarassed or belittled for speaking up in class. Appreciate everyone’s attempts to answer your question or participate in your class even if they are technically “not correct”. 
  • Don’t get drunk in public.  Ever.  Especially not at your own events.  As a matter of fact, as long as you have the floor, the microphone or the name on the marquee, you should only take a sip or two of any wine that you are presenting; that’s all you need. (Ok, after the class is over go ahead and have a glass of wine to unwind while chatting up your students.  But JUST ONE.  End of rant.)
  • Don’t quit your day job.  Very few people make a living teaching wine classes. However, there’s nothing wrong with working the floor of a retail wine shop, pouring wine  samples in a grocery store, or waiting tables to to make ends meet.  While working at a retail store might not be your dream job, a job at a retail store (or restaurant or grocery store) just might lead to many opportunities to teach if you are willing to “make it happen”. 

And here’s my best advice:  Always keep growing.  Develop new teaching skills and new teaching materials constantly.  Appreciate the people, the surroundings, the wine, and the opportunity to share your passion.  Have fun, and if you can snag a full-time job with benefits that has anything to do with wine….take it.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” of Austin, Texas

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...Full time for 16 years!

16 Responses to My Advice to Aspiring Wine Educators

  1. lorentema says:

    Very good… thank you Miss Jane!

  2. Ruthie Loves Wine says:

    Awesome advice, Miss Jane. I love your comment about paying as much attention to teaching methods as to wine knowledge. I hate to say it but sometimes the Master Somms are the worst presenters (no offense to anyone, I hope)

  3. BubblyProf - aka Miss Jane! says:

    Hi Ruthie – Thanks for the comment! I know that I am a bit pedantic about this subject, but I feel it is so important that people who want to be speakers or educators “educate” themselves about how to do it! I hope The Bubbly Professor Blog “fills the gap” in the Wine Educators’ arsenal by emphasizing both wine knowledge and presenation skills. Have a great day!

  4. John Driscoll says:

    Excellent advice. Quick question…can you give a range of what one should charge? I do staff training for stores and restaurants, host wine dinners and pairings, and host wine presentations at trade shows and events.

  5. BubblyProf - aka Miss Jane! says:

    Hi John – Thanks for the comment! You’ve asked a good question, and one that I am sure you realize has many variables (what city you are in, how much experience you have, whether or not you have a “day job”), but if I just had to state a range…I would say a good educator should charge at least $100 an hour for “face time”. I would also consider a minimum, such as $250.00 or $500 just to go through all the effort of putting together an event. For large corporate functions or to speak at a conference, start your pricing at $2,000 and go up depending on the situation. Does anyone else out there have some ideas on pricing?

    Have a super week, everybody!!

  6. Pedro Lobo says:

    I’m a wine professional and a Teacher of Economics and Management, and I fully agree with you, is probably more important to be a well prepared lecturer and ready to face the unpredictable things than just to know a lot about the subject, the best teachers are not the ones that now more but the ones that are able to transmit more knowledge.

    Thank’s,
    Pedro

  7. JohnSomm says:

    Love this article, Miss Jane! And to all you aspiring wine educators…what she says about getting a job in wine is true! I am working as a full time somm, and the job has led to many opportunities to teach about wine both at my job and in other venues. Thanks, Bubbly Prof!

  8. Stumbled upon your blog site via Facebook, pun intended. I conduct consumer wine classes for a large wine retailer and the classes are all based on a curriculum/power point presentation dictated by corporate. I have found this article to be quite the revelation and hope to embody the principles expressed in it.

    • bubblyprof says:

      Hi Stumbling – Thanks for the note! I hope that the power point presentation provided by your corporate office is a good one; I always find it very difficult to teach using someone else’s materials. But like I say in the article, a good teacher can make it work no matter what! Good luck with your teaching!

  9. Great advice. I’m teaching a course at a local community college and have the added challenge of teaching wine education without being able to taste wine (at least in the class). some great hints here to help out.

    • bubblyprof says:

      Hi Brian – Thanks for the comment!! I too have had the “challenge” (I am trying not to call it an “impossibility”) of teaching wine and not being allowed to actually have wine. Over the years I have developed activities to talk about tastes, aromas, flavors, and flavor dynamics without wine, but it is at best a challenge – I am sure you have done the same! I have had a lot of success using Ariel dealcoholized wines for basic tasting classes. While not ideal, the product is “real” wine from Napa Valley. But still…it is probably the toughest thing I have ever done in teaching! Good luck!

  10. Tom Ewing says:

    This actually has great application for those of us in the wine-industry who are regularly given time (and very little of it!) at distributor sales meetings to present their wines to the sales force. There is of course one HUGE distinction in terms of the audience – wine consumers come to events on their own accord and with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm. Sales reps, on the other hand, sit through wine-supplier presentations grudgingly. But in either case, your advice is excellent.

    • bubblyprof says:

      Hi Tom – How true!! Perhaps we should write a Part Two Column with advice for delivering three-minute wine classes to harried salespeople. I bet the restaurant industry with its five minute pre-shift meetings could relate as well! You’ve given me a great idea! Thank you!

  11. As I struggle to get over the CWE Faults and Imbalances exam, your insights are both sobering and encouraging, Miss Jane. A love of wine and a passion for teaching(sharing) are not enough for this to be a successful ambition. ‘If it can’t survive as a business, it won’t survive as an art’ a mentor once told me.

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