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Derek NelsonDerek Nelson has been writing the Friday Funnies since 2002. He also creates the Photo of the Week feature for this website. A long-time Naval Safety Center employee, he is head of the Media Division in the Communications and Marketing Department. He is author of more than 200 freelance magazine articles and ten books about Americana and military history.

Faster and Funnier

Posted December 2, 2013

Y’know what I hate? Training that is boring. I have no trouble sleeping at bedtime with my very own pillow and blankie. I don’t like having to make do an uncomfortable auditorium armrest or a hard wooden desktop. Plus the drool is embarrassing.

I don’t know that safety training is more snooze-inducing than any other genre, but from my vast experience, it definitely isn’t any more exciting. It is definitely well-intentioned, but it can lack in the execution. I used to work with a Navy fighter pilot who said that the default remark from the back of the room at any sort of ready-room presentation was “Faster and funnier!”

I nearly always feel the same way.

An Army civilian (a former Marine) once emailed to thank me for “making safety somewhat engaging” (I liked that “somewhat”). The safety briefs when he was stationed at Camp Lejeune “were interesting enough,” he wrote, “and delivered in a way as to be quite attention-getting.” Army-style safety briefs, however, were soporific. “These guys and gals have no sense of humor when it comes to anything remotely ‘mandated,’” he explained.

Maybe that’s part of the problem – the training is mandatory. Since there’s a supposedly captive audience, there’s little incentive to make the training interesting or engrossing. I have had some great training, taught by people who knew their stuff, were moderately articulate, had some great stories, and didn’t waste time. Assuming I wanted and needed the training, this experience was painless and positive.

Alas, that accounts for about quarter of all the training I’ve had. The rest suffered from a litany of common defects. Lackluster presenters who didn’t appear to know their subject very well and had to read their own material, usually in a monotone. Even worse, so-called “facilitators” who didn’t even pretend to know the material. Cluttered slides that were hard to decipher and not particularly enlightening even after you figured them out. Material verbalized that should have stayed as a handout. Material that was above or below the audience’s heads. The wrong people in the audience to begin with.

Some of this so-called training was so bad that it seemed like the whole point was just to get names on a list of attendees.

Are all these problems easy to avoid? No. But isn’t fighting through the “it won’t happen to me” and the “you’re just making my job harder” attitudes hard enough without added layers of hostility and confusion?

Which brings me to a master-at-arms third class in Guam who, during training, had to debrief an audience at an ordnance annex. A patrol officer in the audience lobbed a coconut at him. The report didn’t say why. A local custom? The imp of the perverse at work? I prefer to imagine that it was because the guy on the podium was putting everyone to sleep. The coconut lobber was a good shot, because he caught the speaker smack on the side of his head. His ear swelled up, and he lost two days of work and spent a couple more on light duty.

Please, fight the urge to think you have a captive audience. Liven it up a little. Be creative. Showing is better than telling. Specifics are better than generalizations. You never know if someone in the audience is going to have a coconut.

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