Using Weekend Language to engage students

Imagine the impact our teaching can have if we use "weekend language" instead of teacher speak. Here are some ways to implement that in class. (Flickr / woodleywonderworks)

Imagine the impact our teaching can have if we use “weekend language” instead of teacher speak. Here are some ways to implement that in class. (Flickr / woodleywonderworks)

Fly through a dry list of literary elements or steps in the Krebs Cycle or features of an oligarchy and you’re guaranteed one thing.

A sea of glassy eyes, with heads propped up with hands so they don’t fall asleep.

Tell a story about how your dog escaped from its fence and took you on a merry chase through the neighbor’s geraniums and a creek.

Rapt attention.

The difference? Well, the subject matter, of course, but that’s not all. Part of it is the language we use and how we deliver it. In the dog chase story, we’re using “weekend language,” something that can spice up our classes and get our students hooked.

It’s a concept outlined in a book called “Weekend Language,” written by presentation coaches Andy Craig and Dave Yewman. The crux: storytelling.

“Think about it: on weekends, we’re all great communicators because our default is storytelling,” Craig and Yewman write.

“When we go to a party on Saturday night, we don’t talk about how we optimized our calendar last Wednesday to monetize our mission-critical, best-of-breed, seamless-solution-provider business. (If you do, that’s probably why you haven’t been invited back to many parties.)

“Instead, we tell a story about something that happened on Wednesday. On the weekends our speech is conversational, simple, clear and interesting. We speak in examples, anecdotes, and analogies.”

How do we do that? Here are three suggestions from the book and how we can apply them in the classroom:

1. Suspend PowerPoint. Your presentation isn’t your PowerPoint slide deck. It’s you. They don’t want to read lots of text on PowerPoint slides, and they definitely don’t want to watch you read it to them.

Craig and Yewman cite a Bill Gates TED Talk where he discussed malaria. To prove his point, he didn’t use a bulleted list of causes or symptoms or statistics. No, he put a slide of a mosquito landing on someone’s arm (mosquitos can transmit malaria). Then he released a jar of mosquitos (NOT carrying malaria).

That is the kind of impact a texty PowerPoint slide could never deliver. Consider ditching your info-laden slides for images that students can process in three seconds. That’s a research-based suggestion in “Weekend Language.” It’s also part of the picture superiority effect, which suggests that images outperform text in presenting.

2. Tell stories. The corporate world violates this frequently: the use of jargon and “message-speak,” as Craig and Yewman call it. So many presenters use it, and when they do, they blend in with a sea of boring presenters.

Want to break free and be remembered? Use storytelling. Why?

“Your audience cares about themselves,” Craig and Yewman write. “What do they get by working with you? How will it help their lives and businesses? Has anyone else benefited from what you do or how you do it?”

Basically, answer these questions that are really relevant to students’ lives, and illustrate them with stories. In the book, someone illustrates the concept of “sustainable earth” products by saying that they drop a goldfish in a bucket of a new cleaning chemical to make sure it’s not harsh. Talking about global responsibility and other high-brow concepts doesn’t impact listeners like the goldfish story.

3. Use signposting. I’ve sat through tons of Sunday sermons at church from dozens of different pastors. One thing separates the great from the average in terms of their delivery, and it’s signposting.

Signposting is when you give your audience visual or verbal cues on how your presentation is organized and how far through it you are. It’s like watching mile markers on a highway. Guy Kawasaki, author of “The Art of the Start”, uses top 10 lists when he speaks. Why? “Even if I suck, you can track my progress,” he says.

The sermons where my eyes droop are the ones where I can’t discern the structure of the message and have no idea how much longer it will go. Anecdotes and advice and ideas that are randomly tied together with no coherent path are hard to follow.

Some of the easiest sermons to follow have a simple structure and include regular reminders of where they pastor is in that structure. Often, it’s as simple as telling the audience (or your class) how many key points there are and highlighting them with “first,” “second,” and “third” throughout.

Many classrooms all around the world are filled with dry presentations, but they don’t have to be. Think of the impact your content and lessons can have if they’re delivered with “weekend language” instead.

[reminder]What are some examples you’ve seen where weekend language was used in the classroom effectively? How could you apply any of this in your role in education?[/reminder]

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