50 years ago Dr Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous "l have a dream" speech. Few who have ever heard these words and experienced his delivery would argue with the assertion that this was a modern high water mark of the orator's art.
Re-listening to this speech over the course of the celebrations and memorials of the last week, it is still moving & profound. Remarkably the famous “I have a dream” sequence was not included in the original script. What is also striking is how simple the words are. Although it may feel that is has become clichéd after 50 years of repetition, it wasn't in August 1963.
Then, King's words were fresh, new, momentous.
I turn to the rest of the news. The debate about the UK’s participation in military action in Syria dominates. There is concern that we must not ‘stand idly by’. Any strikes will be 'surgical', we will ‘stop short of boots on the ground’, despite ‘red lines’ having been crossed. There is no analysis, no call for justice, no compelling argument for or against. We are to oppose or accept going to war on the basis of cliché and catch phrase. It is sound-bite politics of the most depressing and cynical hue.
A little oratory – making clear the case for or against - in simple & persuasive language, would be welcome.
In other news, the report into child abuse at a nursery in Birmingham saddens & revolts equally. 'Experts' are interviewed. They call for the staff who are working with young children to get ‘clued up’. ‘In what way?’ they are asked. What follows is such impenetrable jargon no sense is conveyed. I cannot imagine how this could result in any kind of preventative action being taken by the average nursery team.
What’s this got to do with training? Some of the Ted Talks excepted, we seem to have lost the idea that change requires passion, explanation and persuasion. If in relation to the major issues of the day, both protecting toddlers from sick and dangerous individuals and, in a land far away, from the murderous intentions of their rulers – we cannot find the words and the language to make the case, to promote change and to take action, what hope do we have in the training room?
Clichés and jargon limit understanding, reduce analysis and proscribe debate. Understanding, analysis and debate are at the heart of changing behaviour and learning. Above all else, the words we use and the way they are delivered matters. Fifty years after Dr King’s momentous speech, language still matters.
Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
Robin Hoyle is a writer and consultant working with organisations large and small to implement change through people development. He has a long track record of strategic L&D leadership and materials development and design - working for a wide range of organisations in private, public and voluntary sectors in the UK and throughout the world...