The biggest mistake people make is they expect that others know stuff. I always assume that everyone should know, step by step, how something is done. Preparation is key. Every guest on our show, no matter who—movie stars, rap singers, everyone—is always prepped for the process in the how to. They don’t want to be embarrassed. Everybody has to know how to teach the task at hand before we go on. You want people to get excited about doing the project. Either show the finished product or talk about the process to get there. Surprise people by showing that they can actually do it themselves.
The fewer steps the better. Simplify your instructions and bring it down to the very basics, and then you can add embellishments. A long list is not as effective as videos or photos with great step-by-step instructions. If you break down a recipe into five or six steps, that’s best. If it gets too complex, people will say “I don’t have time.” It could be the best semifreddo in the world; they won’t try it. I remember when I first made Julia Child’s French bread; I think it was a 17-page recipe. No one would put up with that now. A bread recipe that’s called no-knead bread and you bake it in a pot: Boy, is that a successful recipe.
I get really tired of presentations on PowerPoint. I hate decks. They’re confusing. People get distracted and take out their BlackBerrys. Forget that stuff. Do something innovative. You can film with a little handheld camera these days. If you make a good video, people will learn more from that. Make it a real lesson.
My whole philosophy about teaching how to is that I don’t care if the viewer or the reader actually does the process. That you know how it should be done is important. Even if you’re hiring someone else to do it, you should know how something should be done. If you’re hiring a housekeeper, you want that housekeeper to know how to wash a dish. A lot of people have no clue how to wash a dish. Everyone appreciates simple clear instructions. — As told to Diane Brady
Watch Martha Stewart explain how to do a how to at www.businessweek.com/howto/martha or in our iPad and iPhone apps