CXO

Not all training tools are free, but the language of training is—so use it correctly

As trainers, we sometimes need to get back to the basics—including the words we use. In the first of three articles on effective training language, Bob Potemski explains the importance of using audience-centered words.

Some of the most effective tools we use as trainers are words that are audience-centered, directive, precise, and powerful. In this series, we'll be looking at each of these qualities. Part 1 will cover the first tool: audience-centered language. In part 2, we'll address directive language and the importance of precision. In part 3, we'll discuss some techniques and methods to keep your training language powerful.
What are my training tools?
I'm about as mechanically adept as a grapefruit. My dad, on the other hand, has always been good at making things, fixing things, and otherwise working with his hands. During a recent visit, as he and I perused some woodworking magazines, he made a comment about the quality and expense of the tools used by the pros.

Dad’s observation caused me to think about my job as a professional trainer, and it also made me look hard at the tools I use to do my job. I realized that professional trainers have a distinct advantage over cabinetmakers, dentists, carpenters, mechanics, and other workers. While many at the top of their fields pay top dollar to buy the best tools, and do so gladly, trainers don't have to. Our most powerful tool doesn’t cost a penny.

Words are free
As trainers, we deal with ideas, knowledge, and concepts. These things are important, and we can't train without them, but they're not the foundation of our work. To assemble these raw materials and build our training sessions, the tools we use are words. And since words are free, it doesn't cost us any more to use the best tools—the best words—for the job than it does to slide by with ones that aren’t up to standard. What we say from the front of the room carries weight by virtue of our position there, so it’s imperative that we use the best possible language to communicate with our students.

Audience-centered language
Audience-centered language puts the audience first and directs all actions toward them. Let's say that you’re teaching a class on using a spreadsheet program. It's very common for trainers to demonstrate features in such a scenario by saying:

"If I want to select this cell, I put my mouse pointer here and click."

You should take note of two features of this phrase:

  1. The action is not directed toward the audience; it's directed toward the trainer. It's the trainer who is placing the mouse pointer and the trainer who is selecting the cell. While on the surface this may not seem to be a big deal, it really is, because your audience will always respond more favorably to language directed toward them. It makes your training seem more relevant and geared toward their needs—and it gives the students a reason to invest themselves in what you're saying.
  2. The phrase is conditional, because it begins with "if." “If” constructions are weak because they imply a degree of doubt or uncertainty. By saying ”if,”you're diminishing the importance of your point by subtly lowering the probability of its occurrence. A stronger construction would be:

"When you want to select this cell, put your mouse pointer here and click."

This gives your audience the message, again subtly, that what you’re telling them is important and that it’s something they'll need to do again and again.
Do you pay attention to the language you use when you instruct your students? If you would like to comment on this article, please post a note at the end of this article, 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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