How to Become a Computer Expert (in five minutes or less)

Thank you, Toastmaster Parker and Toastmaster Anderson.

Members and guests, how many of you are not computer experts?

How many of you know an elementary school student who is more of an expert than you are?

I’d like to share a secret. If you can read and follow simple directions, you too can become a computer expert in five minutes or less. All you need is this simple flowchart.

I’ve already printed out copies for everyone. Please take one and pass one to your neighbor.

Now, take your copy home or to work or wherever it is you need to be a computer expert. Tape it up next to your computer. Congratulations! You are now a computer expert. But I see that the green light1 hasn’t come on, so let’s go through the process together. If you can’t read the large chart I have here, please refer to your handout. Start wher it says [Start] and follow the arrow to the large diamond-shaped box that asks you to make a decision.

Find a button

Find a menu item or button which looks related to what you want to do.

I’m not very good at finding things. I’ve got to be the worst computer expert in the world. I remember when I was about thirteen years old my Mom sent me down to the basement for a can of peaches. So I went down there and I looked all through the top shelf for a can that said “Peaches”. Then I looked all through the middle shelf. Then I looked all through the bottom shelf. No peaches. So I came back up and told Mom, “We don’t have any peaches.” She said, “Look again.” So I went back down and I looked through the top shelf, the middle shelf, and the bottom shelf. Then just to be sure, I looked again, through the top shelf, and the middle shelf, and the bottom shelf. No peaches. I came back upstairs and said, “Mom, I looked twice. We don’t have any peaches.” She said, “Follow me.” And I followed her back downstairs where she walked up to the middle of the top shelf and turned a can around, and on the back of the label, it said “Peaches.” Mom said, “If it was a snake it would have bit you.”

The point is, sometimes what you’re looking for isn’t right there in front of you, jumping up and down and waving a flashing neon sign that says “Pick me! Pick me!” Sometimes you have to open up a menu or a tab or look behind a label that says “Advanced,” but if you poke around long enough, eventually you should find something that looks promising.

Click it

Click it

Some people are afraid to click on things. That “Advanced” button looks scary to non-experts. Trust me; you can’t break anything by clicking the mouse, any more than I could have broken that can of peaches by turning it around. I have a friend who is a busines consultant, and he told me the secret to his success. “All it takes to be a subject-matter expert is to know one more thing than they do, and to know it with confidence.” Mom was a subject-matter expert because she knew we had peaches in that basement. A computer expert is someone who knows that the answer is right there on the screen. So click on it with confidence.

Did it work?YesYou’re done.

NoHave you been doing this for more than thirty minutes?

The light hasn’t come on, so find another button or menu item, and try again.

I can’t find one.

I can’t find one

If you can’t find anything that looks promising, just click on the first thing you do find. Really. Let me say it again: you can’t break a computer from the keyboard. You can’t break a computer by clicking the mouse. Small children already know this; that’s how they became experts at using your cellphone.

Pick one at randomClick itDid it work?YesYou’re done.

NoHave you been doing this for more than thirty minutes?

The light still isn’t on, so:

Find another menu item …

Google

I’ve tried them all.

When all else fails, read the directions. Maybe you’ve clicked on everything on the screen, or maybe you’re just tired of trying. Now it’s time to look for help. Let me tell you another secret. The instructions for how to use your program didn’t come with your program. Nowadays, instructions are distributed on the internet through a website called Google.

Google the name of the program plus a few words related to what you want to do. Follow any instructions.

By the way, if someone calls me for help, this is my starting point. When my grandma calls me with a computer problem, I immediately start up a browser and go to google.com. As she’s talking, I’m typing into the search bar. Before she gets through telling me (for the third time) what she did and what happened and what she wanted to do and what it says on the screen and how frustrated she is, I’m already looking at the solution to her problem.

Did it work?YesYou’re done.

No ..

Ask for help or give up.

Over ninety percent of the time, these simple steps will solve your problem. For the really stubborn problems, there’s a final step of the flowchart.

Have you been trying this for over half an hour?

Okay, I lied a little bit. Sometimes you might have to invest more than five minutes into becoming an expert. But if you’ve been trying for over thirty, it’s time to give up. Nothing should be that hard. Go find that subject-matter expert who knows just one more thing than you know, and ask for help.

At this point, knowing how to ask for help becomes important, but for time’s sake, I’ll defer that topic to my next speech.

The simple procedure in this flowchart has made me a computer expert for over twenty-five years. And if it can work for someone who can’t find a can of peaches sitting in the middle of the top shelf, it can work for you.

Thank you, Toastmaster Anderson.


  1. Each Toastmaster speech is timed. For a speech like this one, the timekeeper turns on a green light at five minutes, a yellow one at six minutes, and a red one at seven minutes.