How To Uncover Your Expert Topic For Your Online Course – What To Teach?
Believe it or not, it took me a while to nail down my ‘perfect’ niche topic of online course creation.
As a qualified educator, I had been writing and delivering training in a whole range of personal and professional development training for years and I loved every topic that I taught.
Like almost everyone who sits down to create an online course for the first time, I had SO much that I could teach, that picking a topic felt impossible.
It was like taking a child to a giant sweet shop and telling them that they can only pick one.
Knowing which one of your skills to focus on (or even dig deep enough within you to find a topic at all) can often be the hardest part of course creation, and why so many don’t ever get started.
For those who don’t get completely overwhelmed with the crazy number of options and directions, the next dilemma is the fact that you want to benefit from all of them.
Why single out ONE topic out when you have so many more you could be teaching?
Then they try to split themselves in a million directions before they even have the blueprint nailed for one successful system that they have tried and tested themselves.
Either lots of courses get started but never finished, or nothing gets done at all.
Funnily enough for me, how I found my topic was by looking at what I was doing every single day, rather than what I was teaching.
Instead of picking the SUBJECT, I picked the PROCESS that I was using to engage with those many subjects as my area of expertise.
Some days I was teaching leadership, other days it was confidence, other days it was business; but the one thing that remained the same regardless of how much my subject changed, was what I was doing to bring that class to life – curriculum design, course creation.
If you are getting bogged down with what your online course topic might be – ask yourself the same question I did:
“Is my course topic the SUBJECT or the PROCESS?”
Picking a topic for our online course is Step 1 of creating an online course. (See the other 10 steps here)
This is the stage where we consciously sift through the abundance of knowledge in our heads and pick just one of the topics to start building a course from.
- But what topic should you pick?
- How do you find the perfect one for you?
- Which one will bring you the most happiness and success?
In this article, I will share some tips to help you pick the perfect online course topic.
And if you really want to deep dive and get your online course created, you can grab my online program “How To Create Profitable Online Courses”
After deliberating for what felt like a lifetime on my ‘niche’ topic, my real topic revelation, and ultimate success came to me when I started asking myself not ‘what can I teach?’, but ‘what do I do’?
I’d been creating, designing and delivering curriculum for YEARS as a qualified educator, and to boot I’d built a very successful education based company along with it. I was ‘doing’ my niche every day and was SO close to it, I didn’t even realise that precisely that was my ‘thing.
I stopped asking ‘what should I teach’ and asked ‘What do I do?’
I stopped thinking about who I could be and asked myself ‘Who am I already?’
When we are really good at something we often don’t realise it, because our execution of that skill, or acquisition of that knowledge, is so entrenched in us that it has become automatic.
You know how you can drive to somewhere and literally not remember how you got there? Yet someone else may have a panic attack even considering getting behind a wheel because there is so much to think about?
Or maybe you apply your make-up majestically and not consider that other people would come away looking like they just had an accident at a kindy craft class….
Or maybe you can just articulately flow out a stream of transformational advice without even thinking about it when a friend comes to you in distress…..
Can you ‘throw together’ a sensational meal without any reference to a recipe that someone else may have burnt down their entire house trying to concoct?
Maybe you do a job entirely effortlessly that others wouldn’t even know where to start when attempting.
When we do tasks that are so well honed and automatic, we can forget just what it was like to NOT know how to do it.
We can find it impossible to ‘remember’ that feeling of our ‘thing’ being alien (this is called the curse of knowledge)
These daily skills that we take for granted are often the best sources of content for our courses.
Changing my question changed everything.
(What do I DO, rather than ‘what can I teach?)
I realised that the whole time I had been running my company, doing what I do for businesses and corporate every single day, that my friends, colleagues and social media followers had been asking me ‘Sarah, please can you help me create my own course too?’.
They wanted WHAT I WAS DOING EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I was struggling with a topic because I was teaching different topics every day.
When I dug down to what I was really doing, in every instance I was designing, planning and constructing the training. I was writing the resources and delivering it, and I was successfully obtaining the well paid contracts in the first place. People wanted to know how they could do that too; they wanted to know how they could replicate my success.
And so it was, from right under my nose – the thing I was doing was so ‘normal’ to me, that I didn’t even realise it was a ‘thing’.
What do you do every day that is completely, unremarkably ‘normal’ to you?
Maybe the clue to your online course topic is in exactly that.
- Who am I?
- What do I do?
My expert topic didn’t come to me like an idea – I simply started seeing something that had been there all along.
And that is all you need to look for too.
So Let’s Find That ‘THING’ Of Yours
A couple of years ago I was on a coaching call with a client of mine who is an MP (Member of Parliament).
This client was coming close to the end of her decades of service in politics and government and wanted to ‘reinvent’ herself ready for a new chapter in her life.
To go out on her own and share what she can with the world.
But she was in the same place most people are in when they are trying to pinpoint their ‘thing’. Just like I was when I was trying to uncover my own topic, I was looking at all of the obvious things I was doing and not noticing the common underlying thread that strung all of the seemingly random activities that we do everyday together.
No matter what combination of activities you do, no matter how completely unrelated they may seem, I can assure you there will be a one or two underlying threads that are common between them all.
The conversation with my client continued as she recited Boards she was an Advisor on, groups she led, political agendas she represented, causes she supported and topics she considered herself an expert on.
These things ranged from multiculturalism, to gender equality, to medical research to social inclusion, to funding. On the outside, all of these things seemed completely separate and unrelated.
But as she was answering my topic coaching questions I had been writing down words that she constantly used.
I had noticed by the way she explained things, what core values that she held.
I could tell by the language and words she used what was important to her.
And it was ultimately one common thing across every single one of them – something she did every single day but didnt even realise because it had become such an automatic part of her existence.
Within an hour, we had worked out how to take that underlying common thread and combine it with all of the obvious things she did every day, and had quickly built out a clear course, workshop, consulting, public speaking and book writing pathway that she could proceed along, complete with her offerings and packages for her services.
It was so obvious, that it wasn’t to her because she did it every single day.
Coming up with a course topic is rarely about ‘looking for a new idea’; but instead is about seeing the one you already have and do.
- What do you do automatically every day?
- What is your obvious ‘thing’?
- What is your underlying thread that ties your ‘thing’ through all of the things you do everyday?
1.Analyse Your Timeline for Clues
We are often told to ‘never look back’, but digging back into our past can be an extremely powerful exercise when it comes to uncovering clues about who we are, what has shaped us, how we are unique and what we truly have to give to the world.
By looking at each of the major milestones, turning points, poignant memories and events in our lives, we can start to pick out patterns and key themes that will make our perfect course topic glaringly obvious.
How to do your timeline
1. Draw up a big line with tape on a spare wall.
2. The far left hand side is the day you were born. The far right hand side is today.
3. Then make a mark for every 5 years of your life.
4. Then grab some post-it notes and on the bottom half of the timeline, add all of the hard, challenging, negative and bad events, memories and milestones.
5. Above the line, add all of the positive, happy, fun, exciting, successes and achievements at the relevant point on the timeline.
6. Then take a step back and analyse what you see.
Questions to answer as you review your personal timeline:
- If life was a teacher, what has it been teaching you?
- If you had been put on Earth to master something to share with the world, and life had been your training ground to qualify you to help others with it, what would it be?
- What are the key strengths you’ve shown whilst travelling that journey?
- What has pushed you through the hard times in terms of inner strengths characteristics, skills, knowledge, methods, tools and strategies?
- What have been the key factors behind your wins and successes?
- What methods, mindsets, tools and strategies did you consciously or subconsciously tap into to get those results and achievements?
Hopefully this exercise will have given you some excellent revelations about your perfect course topic!
2. Say It Out Loud
Have you ever forgotten a word, then gone to ask the nearest person to you to help you recall the word, but before you’ve even finished trying to explain to them what word you are trying to find, it’s already come to you?
Saying things out loud enables our brain to more rapidly connect and recall memories, open vaults inside our heads and release stored information.
Whenever I am feeling unclear about a direction, decision, strategy or anything in my life, I call a couple of my friends and just say ‘hey, can I just share something with you?’.
I don’t need them to coach me, guide me or even have half a clue what I’m talking about – I just need someone to tell it to.
It also works to simply say it to yourself – but it must be out loud to work properly.
Go on, call your mum, knock on the neighbor’s door, ring a friend, buy a stranger a coffee, start a conversation with your partner, grab your housemate and just SAY it out loud.
- Tell them what things you know you are good at.
- Tell them what you do and have been doing.
- Tell them what you love.
In an even more ideal world, you could find someone else who wants to create an online course and talk to each other about your topics, what you do and who you are.
Doing this with someone who gets where you are at can be insanely helpful, in more ways than just picking your perfect topic – you have someone to share the entire journey with!
My Facebook group ‘Entrepreneur to Edupreneur – Course Creators’ is a great place to do this.
1. List 5 people that you could simply have a chat with about your strengths and possible ideas
2. List 5 people who are on the same journey as you that you could talk to
3. List 5 people who have already created courses that you could talk to
4. Go and talk to them all! Book a time right now!
3.The ‘Tell a Tree’ Method
Once you have started to find some possible directions, the next step is to start talking out loud in a little more depth.
The more you say it, the clearer the direction becomes, the easier it gets to articulate it, the easier it is for your brain to dig out stored data and start connecting it to new data, the sooner you start to uncover any natural focus topics or interest areas you have.
When I was still too busy looking around me for my niche topic to recognise that I was already doing it, I felt the frustration just like everybody else does.
I was looking around at other people who just seemed to have such a clearly defined ‘thing’.
Who all looked so clearly set along their path with an absolutely obvious direction.
I wanted to have that too – but I knew that it wasn’t going to magically come to me whilst I sat around hoping for the best.
I knew if i wanted to uncover how a conversation was going to end, that i had to start one.
If i wanted to know what my perfect course would sound like, that I had to hear myself say it.
I hunted down a couple of friends who were on a similar journey to me, and one of them, my friend, podcaster, beat-boxer, public speaker and trainer Samuel D Osbourne, agreed to come round to my house so that we could plan world domination and other such business.
Somewhere in between a red wine or three, we decided that we needed to stop trying to be so formal about our planning, and instead just ‘do what we do – but on camera’.
Now keep in mind, that we hadn’t even figured out ‘what we do’ at this stage, let alone have anything that was camera ready – but perfection wasn’t the point; natural discovery was.
And this came to be one of the most revealing activities I still have ever done personally.
We clinked our wine glasses together in absolute promise that we would commit to meeting up one hour a week, every week, for 10 consecutive weeks to quite simply ‘talk to the camera and see what happened’.
Both of us had different topics entirely, both of us had completely different businesses, client bases and objectives for our lifestyles and business; and the rules were this:
1. No planning
2. No researching
3. No preparing
4. No pressure
5. Go to the park outside my house
6. Cellotape my mobile phone to a tree and press record – yes a TREE. Not fancy studio gear – just a tree who was ready to listen to us.
7. Sit next to each other on camera under a big bush beside the tree so that the Australian sun didn’t make our eyes bleed
8. Ask each other what we’d like to talk about today that someone else may find interesting, entertaining or useful
9. See how those two random topics connected to make a ‘theme’ (we gave ourselves less than 60 seconds to connect them)
10. Each would then take in turns of 3 minutes to share a random tip they had that would help someone in that ‘theme’ (note that there is no planning allowed, these tips must come straight from your existing knowledge base – whatever comes to mind).
11. If we got stuck or slowed down, we pretended we were interviewing each other on television and prompted the other ‘why do you think that? How else could that be done? What about applying that method in another situation?’ to encourage deeper explanations
12. Ignore the flight path above our heads and random dogs sniffing at our feet
13. Stop after 1 hour
Watch all of the footage back and listen carefully – not too much to the articulation, the performance or the tips as such, but to the core, underlying value that persistently comes out.
What we learned from talking to a tree
Natural topic uncovered:
It showed us that although seemingly random (because each week’s conversation was completely unplanned and influenced by the other person’s chosen topic of conversation); that each and every time, we naturally gravitated to a certain kind of topic.
It showed us that regardless of the starting point, we always defaulted through passion and a full topic knowledge bank, to a subtle yet present subject preference.
It gave us clues as to what we are naturally most interested in and most confident in talking about – which eventually lead us in the direction of our perfect course topics.
What it also showed when we watched the videos back is that we very naturally without thinking started talking to a particular type of audience.
It was as if a particular imaginary group of people were in front of us and we were speaking directly to them – again this wasn’t planned, it just happened.
This revealed who our target market was; the type of person that we most like to engage and communicate with, who we prefer to teach and ultimately who our ideal customer is without putting any pressure on ourselves to have decided who that was beforehand.
It also showed us the most natural ‘style’ we had.
Samuel’s was more motivational and encouraged self-exploration from the ‘viewer’ (not that we shared these videos anywhere!).
Mine always came back to ‘teacher’ style and encouraged practical implementation from the viewer.
Having this insight, having experienced it as the post-event viewers ourselves, really helped us further pinpoint what we would create our programs on going forward.
Outside of the ‘topic discovery’ benefits that this method brings, is what it can also teach you about your presentation.
Watching myself back, I rapidly learned how to improve my body language on camera, whether I had any particular kind of ticks or distracting facial expressions, whether I used any annoying filler words and whether I overused my hands and arms whilst gesturing.
As a final benefit it gave me some great experience in a risk and pressure free environment, to practice the art of talking to a camera lens – a very different skill from teaching face to face altogether.
As simple as it may seem, this process of just ‘talking to a tree’, really helped me to discover my perfect topic (and improve on camera).
It’s as if acting it out actually writes the play script.
How To Check That You Are Aligned To Your Online Course Topic
The next task to undertake as you’re finding your perfect topic, is to uncover the things that you LOVE, things that you are GOOD AT and things that you have experience in.
Where these things collide, you have a power topic.
Draw up 3 columns like the ones you see below.
Then write down at LEAST 25 things that you love, 25 things that you are good at and 25 things that you have experience in.
After you have written down everything you can think of in each column, then rate each one out of 10. One is not very much, and 10 is a lot.
Then go through a highlight all of your ‘10 out of 10s’ and see if you could thread those concepts together as your niche topic!
You will be AMAZED at what will come out of this exercise – do not bypass this exercise!
|LOVE||GOOD AT||EXPERIENCED IN|
Do You ‘Have To’?
Have you ever heard yourself saying ‘I’ve GOT to do XYZ today’ and absolutely dreading having to do it?
Or are you somebody who says ‘today I GET to do XYZ’ and feel grateful for how you get to spend your time?
There is a difference between saying ‘I’ve got to do’ and ‘I GET to do’.
In short, if your online course topic feels like an ‘I’ve GOT to’, then do not pursue it.
First write down a list in two columns of all of the things that you feel you’ve ‘got’ to do and that you ‘get’ to do every day in your life.
Do not restrict this to obvious online course topics for now – be open and creative and think about any and all areas of your life. This can be quite a revolutionary process in many ways.
|THINGS I GET TO DO||THING I’VE GOT TO DO|
How was that?
Look at all of the things that are listed in your ‘got to do; column and ask yourself ‘how can I eliminate these things from my life?’.
If you feel like these things are a chore, then find a way to start removing them from your life, or changing how you do them or what mindset you do them with or who or where you do them, so that they shift into the ‘get to do’ column – the place of happiness and gratitude.
Then look at each of the ‘get to do items and ask yourself ‘Could I create a course around this?’.
When you are doing something you love already, you already have the foundations for a great online course topic.
When it comes to your online course topic ideas, remember that if it doesn’t achieve one of your life goals or business strategic objectives, then don’t do it.
If you feel you ‘have’ to do it in a way that it makes you dread your day ahead and makes your existence miserable for a prolonged period, don’t do it.
If you have absolutely no excitement whatsoever or itch inside you to make this dream reality then don’t do it.
Of course, we can’t always be happy all of the time and we sometimes HAVE to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy in order to achieve our goals (like, accounts…. **shudder**), but try wherever possible to stick fiercely to what you love and have an absolutely zero tolerance policy to things that make you want to swallow glass.
List Out Your Achievements and Accomplishments
Another way to find your perfect online course topic is to give yourself some serious bragging rights permission.
Go back through your history and timeline and get super detailed about every single achievement in your life.
They could be formal, informal, personal, professional or life milestones.
List out certifications, training, leader boards, how many people on your email list, how many steps you do on your pedometer every day, a swimming badge you got when you were 7 – EVERYTHING.
Once you have exhausted your list, then find at LEAST 10 people that have known you for at least 6 months – this should be family and non-family. Ask them what they think your accomplishments and achievements have been and add those to your list too.
This approach can often bring up additional topic ideas that you could create a course about as it focuses on your proven results – another great foundation for teaching something of value to others.
Commit To Marriage
Ok, so I don’t mean literally – each to their own in the relationship department!
What I mean is that you’re going to need to stick with your topic for more than 5 minutes if you want it to be successful – so commit to it like a lover.
Give it the attention that you’d give the love of your life (without neglecting your actual one if you have one!)
As you start to uncover what your course topic might be the next major check point is to ensure that your topic aligns with your values, behaviour and beliefs – and most importantly, your passions.
Creating an online course is only the first part of the job, you may then create face to face versions of that program or build services from it.
But regardless of what you do, if you want it to sell then you have to dedicate some serious time to getting it out to the world. This takes a bit more than just throwing some cash down on advertising.
It’s hard work and requires dedication and commitment.
More than anything, it requires love and passion.
Therefore you must love your topic.
It’s likely to change, twist, turn, reshape and pivot along the way – that’s ok and that’s exactly how you evolve into who you are meant to be – but for the love of your own sanity – make sure you find something that you adore.
Make The Commitment
By now you will either have one very clear idea, or 10 billion to choose from! But the next step is to pick at least 1 topic that you will go with to get that first course out there.
Don’t worry if you have lots of other ideas – you can create those courses next!
Just pick ONE for now and get going, because your learners are waiting for you!
Write the topic or draft title really big on a piece of paper and stick it on your wall where you can see it every day and remind yourself daily to take steps towards turning the idea into a reality.
Do come on into my Facebook group ‘Entrepreneur to Edupreneur – Course Creators’ and tell everyone what you will be creating your course about!
When you have publicly announced something – even to complete strangers, it increases your accountability to get it done. Swallow the fear, and jump in! I’d love to know what your planned topic will be!
And if you really want some accountability and support to get your course created, you may like to join my next ‘Concept To Course’ 30 Day Course Creation Group Coaching Program.
Good luck with your course creation!