Eloquence is Overrated: Why You Should Teach Like You Tweet


Growing up, the two best movies about teaching were “Dead Poets’ Society” and “Stand and Deliver.” The key moments in both movies were when the teacher made eloquent and amazing speeches that made the hair go up on the back of your neck, when suddenly the students — and you — saw the world in a new and wonderful way. Those movies were totally great.

Also, totally wrong. Not because inspiration isn’t important — it is. But because that’s not how effective teachers really teach.

Great teachers don’t make inspiring speeches to groups. They send short, super-clear bits of targeted information to individuals, which helps them make the right move. They’re like a really useful twitter feed — Do this… Now try that… Reach here… Now here.

We saw a beautiful example of that this fall, when Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, and largely confined to his hospital bed. An interim coach took over the team, but Pagano kept coaching, sending in small, targeted messages via text and phone.

Before a big November 26 game against the Bills, Pagano sent a message to punt returner T.Y. Hilton that said just three words: “Stretch and cut” — in other words, stretch out the defense by running horizontally, then cut upfield.

No speech. No elaborate explanation, no inspiration. Just three words. And it worked. Early in the game, Hilton received a punt, stretched the defense, cut upfield, ran 75 yards and scored; the Colts won.

The deeper reason that this kind of tweet-style teaching works has to do with the fact that even the simplest instruction is, underneath, incredibly complicated. There are four basic steps for any communication:

  • Step 1) The teacher/coach has to think up the right idea.
  • Step 2) They have translate that idea into the right words
  • Step 3) They have to deliver those words in such a way that they can be understood and retained by the learner
  • Step 4) The learner has to translate those words into the right action

The simplest teaching — stretch and cut — is actually a complex, fragile four-step chain, with each step holding the potential for misunderstanding and mistake.

Teaching is not about eloquence; it’s about information and interpersonal skills — delivering the right signal to the right person at the right moment.

Which is, when you think about it, pretty damn inspiring.

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6 Responses to “Eloquence is Overrated: Why You Should Teach Like You Tweet”

  1. Jamie says:

    Fantastic article and example!

    As coaches, we tend to want to spell everything out for our players, even though we know that guide and discover teaching methods are most effective.

    I love the cue of coach the way you would tweet, it should help coaches stay focused on the best way to impact their players.

    Do you have any quams with me reposting this on our companies facebook page? It is a anti-bullying program for sports clubs, and we like to post useful articles for our subscribing coaches.

  2. Dennis says:

    Coaching and teaching are two different things.
    A short text message that includes 3 words, but as you say, contain several steps in each word that can be misunderstood will work like a charm if the team have a mutual understanding for what those 3 words really mean. And they had probably practiced this a lot, hence why the 3 words was so effective in this case. The room for misunderstadning was already erased.

    But I completely undertsand the context though.
    It’s all about giving the right instructions. Detailed instructions are too complex, especially with young kids.
    So to put it short leaves less room for misunderstandings, and the kid will in this case find his own way to complete the move or whatever the instruction and drill was targeted at.

  3. erik krause says:

    I suppose the exception to that rule is when the student/listener needs some help getting motivated.

    Love your insights, Daniel!

    Check mine out, please: http://www.pathh.com/

    you are one of my positive influences and i think you’ll see some of your fingerprints on my ideas, as well.


  4. djcoyle says:

    That is a great point, Erik — thanks for making it. Completely different problem.

  5. Nancy S. says:

    Erik, I have to disagree to some extent with your football example. As the wife of a football coach, they all talk in very cryptic language so the opposing team cannot interpret and defend against their plays. And it is a new language that the players need to learn. My husband draws up plays and then they go through those plays using multiple modes of learning – so they are actively engaged with both their mind and body. By they time they reach game mode, everything is code based. And if you watch the coaches, they even have a visual que that goes with those so the players just have to read the sign language.

    All coaches have to deliver inspiration talks as well. And depending upon a time-out or half time depends on the length of that speech. Coaches are masters of optimizing time.

  6. Andy Taylor says:

    Oh so simple, oh so succinct. Nice, thanks.

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