The Law of Brevity

August 12, 2017 | 189 Views

The Law of Brevity

John Isbell

Speaker, Trainer, Consultant | John Isbell Training

This blog, #3 in a series, first appeared on August 7, 2017 on the John Isbell Training website.

The ironic thing about the Law of Brevity is the word brevity itself. In its essence, it means short, compact, and concise. So it’s a longer word for “short,” but it means to keep it short? Okay, but for our purposes The Law of Brevity is a fancy way to say, keep your training programs and learning initiatives short & concise. Also, it sounds way better than The “Law of Short."

There are 2 parts to this law.  The first part is to say only what needs to be said. When I first got into training in the Air Force, I was pretty young.  I always felt like I had to prove myself. I might not have had the years of experience that some of my trainees had, but dang it I was going to show them how smart I was. I would talk as if they were only there to listen to me!  Then one day, Colonel Zerby, my Unit Commander, was walking by my class and stopped to listen. He was a crusty old bird who had absolutely no filter.  After class he said to me “You’re pretty f^*&!%@ smart. You don’t have to prove a d*#@ thing to anyone. Oh and don’t use 20 words when 10 will do."  I had never talked to him before so of course I was petrified, but in the words of Kenny Rogers, “... in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.”  For you younger readers, Kenny Rogers is an iconic country singer of years past and a purveyor of delicious roasted chicken. The nugget (no chicken pun intended) I took from the Colonel (also no chicken pun intended) was that I needed to stop talking smart and start training people to be smart about what they do.  

Which of these signs would you pay more attention to? Due to the harmful effects of smoking on unborn children, born children, adults both young and old and most animals, this establishment does not allow smoking. Or simply, No Smoking. There is no comparison. The first one might be true, but ultimately all we really need to know is that smoking is not allowed. It’s the same with training materials. Tell them what they need to know to do the job proficiently.  You aren’t training to perfection because there is no such thing. That only comes with practice and time. Give them the basics so they can start working toward perfection.  

The second part of The Law of Brevity is the method in which we deliver the information. Often times, we put our trainees at a desk or in a back room somewhere and give them their materials and say "We’ll see you in a couple hours." When taking into consideration the way we connect, communicate and consume information these days, we have to completely change the way we deliver the information. I call it Chunk Training or Twitter Training. We have to give them a small chunk of information, the human equivalent of 140 characters or less, then let them go practice it. Then they come back and get another small chunk to digest and go practice that. We keep doing that over and over, always reviewing and incorporating previous chunks to make sure we're also practicing the law of repetition. Short chunks = more repetition and practice time. This produces more work-ready trainees. Also, use pictures instead of words when possible. In the smoking example above, a sign with a picture of a cigarette with the Ghostbusters red circle and line through it would have worked even better.  

To wrap up this ironically long blog on the Law of Brevity, all you need to remember is the following: 1. Training binders still suck and go against everything I just talked about. 2. Keep what you say and how you say it as short and concise as you possibly can. It will allow a trainee's mind to digest and process the information in a way they are used to consuming it. If you do that, you’ll have better training programs, more successful trainees and a lot more time, energy and words to write really important things like…blogs…and stuff. Anyway that’s all for this week. I hope you have a great day and make it count. 

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