Jargon Busting in

Jargon Busting in "Ten Hundred Words"

Jargon busting - an activity for training trainers

As a trainer who knows a little bit about technology - it’s easy to get carried away in the moment. Satisfied that we have finally understood what an API is, or why people should care about JSON - we forget that we didn’t always know, and that the bewildered people in the room probably don’t know either.

This is one of my favourite exercises for making sure people remember not to get too carried away with jargon in their training.

Ten hundred words

Audience for activity: Potential Tech Trainers

Purpose: Warmup activity. Discourage your trainers from using jargon.

Requirements: At least one computer between two participants

The nerds among you will likely be familiar with the online comic XKCD - which shines light into some of the geekiest topics on the planet.

Some of you will also be familiar with the “Up-Goer-Five comic” where Randall (the author) attempts to label a rocket, in all of its complexity, using only the top “ten hundred” aka “one thousand” words. The result is very amusing:

Up-Goer Five Up Goer Five by XKCD - CC-BY-NC

The exercise:

It can be very funny to try and explain technical terms using the same method. You can use the “up-goer five text editor” to help you. The text editor only allows you to enter words that appear in the 1000 most popular words in the English language.

  1. Set your trainers the challenge to brainstorm a list of the concepts that people find most problematic during training. Need some words to get you started? Try: API, data, XML, pull request, sandbox.
  2. Have a competition for who can come up with the best definition in the constraints available.
  3. Revel in watching the frustration.
  4. (Optional) Check your results by tweeting the cryptic definitions out without the word which was being defined (some previous examples on the #translatetech hashtag). If someone understands which word your definition refers to, you win a point!
  5. Remind the trainers that they don’t have to use this definition, ever. The point of the exercise is to harness that frustration from being forced to use very basic words to cement a recurring memory into the trainers - so that they never forget to keep it simple!

I first tried this exercise at Transparency Camp in 2013. Many thanks to the organisers for giving me a slot!

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