CXO

No "ifs" about it: Use direct and precise language to grab students' attention

In the second installment of this three-part series, certified technical trainer Bob Potemski says students respond best to direct, precise language.

In this series of articles, we’re looking at the effective use of language to motivate students. In part 1, “Not all training tools are free, but the language of training is—so use it correctly,” we talked about audience-centered language. In this article, we’ll address the importance of direct and precise language. In part 3, we'll review techniques and methods to keep your training language powerful.
Students who come to your training sessions are sometimes there under protest. It's not that they don't appreciate the value of the training; it's just that they’ve got an awful lot to do back at their desks.

Such students are often skeptical and make constant value judgments as to what constitutes the best use of their time. They ask themselves, "Am I better off here or back at the office?" So you, as a trainer, must continuously provide a high level of value throughout the training session.

More to the point, you have to make sure the audience sees the value of what you’re teaching. The audience's perception is a direct result of your presentation of the material, which in turn depends heavily on the language you choose.

Say it like you mean it
Trainers often make the mistake of not wanting to seem too assertive. But remember that these students (or their bosses) have paid good money for this training; what you have to say to them is important.

You'd never say to your son or daughter, "You might want to consider looking both ways before you cross the street." You'd say, "Always look both ways!" Your immediate goal is to get a very specific message across to an audience—in this case, your child—who has other things on his or her mind. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, the conditional “You might want to consider” language of the first example is very common in training. As a trainer, you have to be aware of the many demands clamoring for your audience's attention and choose an approach that shows them the importance of what you have to say. When you use conditional language, you give the impression that you aren't completely sold on it yourself. If you don't think what you’re saying is important, neither will your audience.

So the next time you’re describing a simple task such as accessing Windows’ shortcut menu, don’t present your students with this lukewarm introduction to the feature: “If you want to save a little time, you may want to try out Windows’ easy shortcut menu.” Of course they want to save time. Just say, “To save a little time, access basic Office commands by right-clicking on a Word document icon.” You get across a lot more information, and your audience can sense your confidence as a trainer.

Precision
So far we've discussed effective, audience-centered, and direct language as a tool for improving communication. Precision with words is another hallmark of a polished and professional presentation.

Precise training language attaches a degree of importance to facts or concepts that can help students process and remember the information. Consider a training session on the Windows Registry. Telling your audience, "There are five key concepts to remember about the Registry" is far more effective than saying, "There are a few things about the Registry that would be a good idea for you to know." The precision of telling them about "five key concepts" facilitates the following three activities:
  • List making
  • Note taking
  • Memorization

Precise language usually grabs students’ attention; they want to make sure they’ve heard everything you said. They double-check their notes by asking you to repeat the information, or they check with you during the next break. Using precise language also gives them the message that you’re prepared, polished, and organized. Finally, it tells them that what you’re saying is important and therefore deserves their attention.

What’s next?
In part 3, we'll pull all of this information together and help you develop a toolbox full of techniques that will sharpen your language skills and make your presentations more powerful.
How do you use the various types of language skills? What language approaches do you use in class? If you’d like to comment on this article, please post your comments below or write to Bob .

Bob Potemski is a writer and certified technical trainer. Raised in New York, he now lives in the Midwest, where he lists some of his favorite things as dogs (especially huskies), motorcycles (especially Harleys), and all things New York (except the Yankees).

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