In this series we've discussed the power of language in motivating students. In Part 1, “Not all training tools are free, but the language of training is—so use it correctly,” we looked at audience-centered language. In Part2 , “No ‘ifs’ about it: Use direct and precise language to grab students’ attention,” we discussed the use of directive and precise language. In this article, we’ll look at putting these language tools to work to present the most powerful information possible to your students.
Audience-centered language ensures that the audience receives the benefit or result of the action. It includes students in the learning process and shows them that you have their best interests in mind.
- Your first tool is replacing the phrase "if I" with "when you" in each and every demonstration you perform. Students don't attend training to verify that you know the subject; they're there to learn it for themselves. Include them in the process by sending the message that the concept under discussion is indeed something that’s relevant to, important to, and directed at them.
- The second tool at your disposal is the use of examples. You probably have a set of examples and illustrations that you use regularly for each topic you teach. If you don’t have a ready arsenal of examples, create a list. Using examples helps you to train consistently. Maintaining that consistency will increase your effectiveness.
Directive language calls the audience to action and reinforces the importance of the concept you’re teaching. Your best tools for this type of language are active phrases such as:
- "Turn to page five."
- "Add this definition to the glossary."
- "Write this down."
Avoid passive, apologetic, conditional constructions such as:
- "If you would…"
- "You might want to…"
These weak phrases send the message that participation is optional. Choose active phrases instead to show your audience that what you're saying applies to them. To get the most from the training, they need to pay attention to what’s being said or demonstrated.
Precise language helps your audience remember what you said by making it easier for them to make lists and take notes. Your first tool for increasing precision is the numbered list. Prepare your training material with an eye toward building in a set of lists that stand out when you present the information. Actually say the specific number of items on the list when you introduce it. For example, "There are three important concepts at work here." It will help your audience even more when you tell them in your introduction that you'll be doing this, so they'll know exactly what to look for to maximize their training experience.
Precise language also helps participants see differences and distinctions between similar concepts. I continually hear new trainers describe something as "kind of like" something else. If I, as your trainer, tell you that "A is kind of like B," you have an incomplete picture of how A and B relate to each other. In fact, that kind of comparison creates confusion. Be more precise in describing the difference between A and B. Say, for example, “A is different from B because… and B is different from A because…”
Another way to increase precision in your speaking is to learn the sequence of your training material inside and out, forever banishing the word "later" from your presentation vocabulary. Here's why. I began to see much higher evaluations from my students when I stopped saying, "We'll be covering that later." I replaced that tired phrase with sentences that told my students when to look for the information to which I was referring. Phrases such as, "We'll talk about that topic in our first segment after lunch," and "That's covered in the second half of day two" clarifies your schedule and gives your students a signpost for when to watch for things.
Practice makes perfect
Now you’re ready to put your language tools to use in your upcoming training sessions. Here are some activities that will boost your confidence.
- Videotape (or at least audiotape) yourself. Play the tape back, and listen for one bad habit at a time. For example, try to catch all the utterances of "kind of" the first time through, all the "laters" next, and so on. As you find each one, look at the way it affects the power, polish, and precision of your message.
- Find a partner. Share these tips with a colleague, then commit to helping each other improve. Sit in on each other's sessions, practice (yes, practice) together, and critique each other. Your goals will be congruent since you both know what you're looking for.
- Listen to the “experts.” Listen to others who speak for a living, be they politicians, TV newscasters, preachers, or teachers. Listen for how their messages could be improved by applying the things you've learned.
- Read aloud to yourself. Find a book that contains a passage you find to be exceptionally well written. It can be fiction or nonfiction, technical or entertaining. The content doesn't matter. My only caution is to avoid material written in dialects, such as Huckleberry Finn. Read that passage aloud verbatim to yourself every night. You will train your ear as to what good prose sounds like, which in turn will make it easier for you to hear your own points of development.
Applying these tools as a matter of habit takes practice. Then again, so does turning a pile of dead trees into a beautiful piece of furniture. In both cases, using the best tools for the job will always give you the best results. Pay close attention to the type of audience you have in your classroom, and choose your language style and words carefully based on your students’ needs.
How well has audience-centered language worked for you? Post your comments below.
Bob Potemski, MS, CTT, is a writer and trainer transplanted from New York. He and his five dogs now make their home in the Midwest. Bob has a bachelor's of science degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master's degree in counseling from Long Island University. He has spent the last 10 years working in the field of human development.