Monday was the US celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, and on Tuesday was the inauguration of the first African American president of the United States. That’s an awesome juxtaposition; that’s change, baby! I not only found it wonderful, but informative.
As background, I was highly trained to write in a very logical progression, choosing careful vocabulary, and in an objective manner. That’s a side-effect of graduate school and an academic career (one of my previous lives). It mostly needs to be that way for scientific reasons, but for non-specialists, it’s way too dry. I also read quite critically, serving on conference program and thesis committees, and on the editorial board for an academic journal. I have had some subsequent experience in writing more generally: for articles, for online learning, and even some marketing material. And some formal training on speaking, for communicating. I like to believe I’m not bad, but I always want to get better.
In that context, as I read the text of Martin Luther King’s speech as transcribed in my local newspaper, I was struck by what seemed outright florid prose: “seared in the flames of withering injustice”, “joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity”, etc. If it was marketing, you’d pan it as over-the-top. “This is a famous talk?”, I wondered.
Then yesterday I heard President Obama’s inauguration speech, and joined in on tweeting my favorite bits (“judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy”). It was, quite simply, inspiring. Afterward, a tweet pointed me to a blog comparing this inauguration speech with ex-President Bush’s farewell address. This wasn’t a fair comparison (and he’s subsequently updated the post to compare the first inauguration speech of Bush with Obama’s, and it’s very interesting), but it caused me to go back and look at the talk transcript.
Once again, in print, we see what reads like slightly-purple prose: “rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace”, “gathering clouds and raging storms”. It seems too much, when read, but when I pictured it as being spoken, it has a whole different effect. That’s important.
Reading and listening are different, and we (should) write differently for each. It’s difficult in elearning, when we are often required to have written transcripts of all audio. We have to strike a balance in that instance. But we tend to overwrite; I can take pretty much any designer’s prose and hack 40% off (including my own first pass :).
So how can words that seem over the top on the page come across so sincere and important face-to-face? It has to do with the delivery, the transparent sincerity and obvious passion. And that’s the lesson.
For me, I have a personal passion for learning and technology to help individuals and organizations achieve their goals; it’s what I’m here to do. I talk about putting emotion into learning, too, but I don’t practice it in my speaking as well as I could, and should. I do use humor, but I need to put more passion into my speaking. And, with the inspiration from yesterday, I will.
More broadly, however, is something I heard Lance Secretan say: “don’t just motivate, inspire”. It’s something I try to bake into elearning introductions, inspiring interest in the coming materials. I don’t see it enough, and I think it can be ramped up more than we do. The clients and the SMEs say that we can’t treat such material in this way, but I think the audiences prefer it. It’s got to be authentic, but when it is, it’s amazing!
I find that people are most often in the learning field not by default, but by choice; they like creating a difference. Despite the challenges to doing what you really believe is good work, you persevere, because it matters. Tap into that passion, and let it show in your work. Tap into the passions of others when you’re channeling a SME, and let that show. To the SME, the topic is interesting, so find their passion and channel that, not just the knowledge. It’s one of my tricks in learning design, and I hope it will become one of yours. Here’s to better learning!