How fast can you learn? Depends on the topic, your interest, and how you learn–reading, doing, practicing. I teach business communication classes–writing largely, with a big dose of giving presentations and how to do a decent PowerPoint presentation. (Hint: Get rid of the bullets and tell a story.)
Most businesses value good writing, and know when their employees need a course. So far, so good. Then things get messy. They want me to teach a dozen or more people how to write . . .in half a day. In a lecture format.
I thought my writing class was ambitious as a two-day class. This is writing. And while it doesn’t include grammar, it does include knowing your audience and goal, how to do a topic brain dump, figuring out how to present the material, writing a good lead, following up with an interesting and useful middle, and writing a conclusion that will lead to action. There are about eight exercises in the class–and exercises mean writing something. If each exercise takes just 20 minutes, just writing the exercises will take two hours and 40 minutes.
If I ask 5 people to read their work and discuss the answers for 5 minutes each, that’s about half an hour for each feedback session, or a total of four hours of feedback for eight exercises. So teaching it in half a day is not in the program. “Take out the exercises,” is always the first suggestion.
But would you want your doctor to have listened to someone lecture on how to perform your surgery, and be doing it for the first time on you? I know what happens when I have the trainee wait-staff or the trainee checker at the grocery store. They are slow and have questions. They should. Trainee writers should have the same opportunity.
Writing is a skill that improves with exercise. In fact, writing often is the only way to become a good writer. Giving participants time to try out a skill, see how it works, ask questions and see/hear others’ writing is the key to a good class. The comment I get most often on the evaluations is, “I wish this were a three-day class.” I have never gotten an evaluation that said, “this class should be shorter, we should have fewer exercises.”
We are a nation in a hurry. A corn plant, from the day it is put into the ground, until the day you pick the ear of corn, takes about 90 days. It will take 90 days if you yell at it, or send it urgent emails, too. Some things can’t be rushed.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and trainer. See her work at QuinnCreative.com Image: pencil on index card. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.