Omit Needless Words – The Elements of Style

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

– William Strunk Jr. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, p. 23.

  

A great quote from a book that should be studied by every English reader.

The original 1918 edition is online for free.   

Don’t shoot: Stop Bullet Point Overkill

Bullet Point OverKill 

Bullets points are not the answer. What value do they add to a presentation when the text is already in a 28 point font and is the only text on the screen?

If you must use bullet points, use them sparingly and use them well.  Here is one slide example (Click once to advance the slide).* 

PowerPoint presentations can shine without bullet points.

Think before you shoot.

*The animation is better in PowerPoint, NOT PowerPoint Viewer.

Thanksgiving Day and National Fasting

Happy Thanksgiving 

What if Thanksgiving was proceeded by a day of national fasting? The whole nation volunteering to go without food or drink for 24 hours and everyone donating the money they would have spent on food to the charity of their choice. The fast would end on Thanksgiving Day so everyone would still eat.

What would be the impact on American attitudes towards health, humanity, self control, and sacrifice? I look forward to that day.

In the mean time, enjoy this fall photo and be good to your family.

Paper is the enemy of words: Redefining the Dictionary

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Erin McKean is a lexicographer who believes “the book is not the best shape for the dictionary.” In her 2007 TED talk “Redefining the dictionary” she explains that we use the word “dictionary” synecdochically. We use it to represent all of the English language when the dictionary, like a flag, is only a symbol of the language. “The dictionary” doesn’t contain everything and online versions are not much better. They give us very limited context and without context words have no meaning.

Watch her delightful talk “Redefining the dictionary” (16:02 minutes) and you may come to see how at times, as Erin says, “paper is the enemy of words.”  

Erin McKean is currently the editor of VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly and maintains two blogs; Dictionary Evangelist and Dress a Day.

Story Telling and the “Internal Control Switch”

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Have you read Tell Me a Story: Why Stories are Essential to Effective Safety Training by Elaine T. Cullen and Albert H. Fein? It’s a free publication from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The work of Cullen and Fein validates the strength of story telling as a vital component in adult learning. Although the focus of this publication is worker safety in the mining industry, the following quote can be applied to adult learners universally;  

Humans are storytellers. Stories have been used throughout history to entertain, to inform, to provide a sense of inclusiveness in the narrative of mankind. Stories work at a very different level than pure informa­tion-sharing because they deal not just with rational thought, but also with how we feel about what we have heard. Stories are able to move beyond the barriers people create, to touch not just our minds, but our hearts.

Trying to change another person’s behavior permanently (one of the primary objectives of safety training) without obtain­ing their buy-in is impossible. It is true that people will change their behaviors to gener­ally comply with mandated rules when they must (when the supervisor or the inspector is watching, for example), but when nobody is around to monitor their behavior, they often revert to how things have always been done and how their occupational culture expects them to behave, particularly if those man­dates are in conflict with culturally expected behaviors. To openly go up against a tradi­tional norm, people have to be convinced that the new behavior is a better choice and that the choice to follow it is their choice.  

The key for a safety trainer, then, is to find the internal control switch in each trainee that responds to the “why should I care about this information?” question and provides the answer “because it makes sense for me to care. It may save my life some day.” Stories have the ability to do this.  

Are you finding the “internal control switch” for your target audience? Are you giving them what they need to convince themselves that your message is relevant? I never tire of this subject.

100 Years of Interactive E-Learning

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E-learning is not new. It’s been around for a hundred years, only for the first 90 years we called it “radio.” Now we’ve added slides, lost the bumper music, put it online and it’s become a mystery. Suddenly everyone seems to have forgotten the power of story telling and few have been successful at making driveway moments into desktop moments. Driveway moments; those moments when stories on the radio are so compelling you stay in your car and listen. Moments when the learner really does ignore incoming e-mail, instant messaging, and the temptation to surf the web.

So leave the bullet points behind and focus on capturing what been right in e-learning for a 100 years. Focus on true connectivity.

Their Dreams are more Beautiful

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Their dreams are more beautiful than yours. You’ll never be able to create an image of something your audience knows well, better than they can. If you ask them to imagine a wonderful dinner, you can describe the setting, the food, the drinks, but the minute you show them a picture of that dinner you’ve ruined their image, and perhaps their appetite.

So pick your images wisely and let the audience dream and imagine in those realms they know best. That’s what often makes the book, better than the movie.