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Before Buddy died he filmed a workshop with several other comedians, discussing the art of comedy. And one of the things Buddy had to say about telling jokes is that a good punch line is usually a surprise to the audience. And he told a few jokes to illustrate the point. As I wiped the tears of laughter from my eyes, I realized Buddy was probably right.

I am not a comedian. But as a dangerous goods professional who regularly delivers regulatory training to audiences who find dangerous goods to be a necessary evil, and not a source of intellectual fascination or even mild interest, I find the unexpected twist to be a helpful training tool. While I’m not trying to elicit laughter during a training session, a quick tug at the corner of a mouth or a brief widening of the pupils can tell me that this rendition of dangerous goods training isn’t quite as dry and boring as some others.

I also believe that a person is more likely to obey a rule if she or he can agree with the intent of the rule, or understands the problem the rule is meant to correct or prevent. If I can get the person to think to themselves “oh, that makes sense”, then we’re more likely to get compliance, and the concomitant increase in safety, long after I’m gone.

Third, I believe a visualization is much better than mere words, whether those words are written or spoken or both. Pictures and video are great ways to enable student visualization, but they aren’t good for everything, and besides, a well-told, brief story can be a nice, change-of-pace method to cause visualization to occur.

After a long stretch of pictures and drawings as a part of my training, I came to a place where I wanted to explain that an intermediate layer of containment (bag, can, liner, etc.) was required by the S.O.P. for all air shipment of liquids, in addition to the absorbent. The matter-of-fact, direct-to-the-point explanation is that most absorbent doesn’t work instantaneously, so something is needed to hold a leaking liquid long enough for the absorbent to work. Well, okay, saying or writing that makes some sense, but how could I get the students to visualize it for greater impact and longer retention? I created a short story about a sink full of dirty dishes, a dry sponge, and an idiot, me, who in an effort to wet the sponge, initially turned on the tap (spigot) way too hard and sprayed water everywhere. Only when the water flow was turned down to a trickle did the sponge readily absorb all the water presented to it. Great, I could give the class a brief laugh at my bumbling, and tie the sponge visualization to the intermediate layer of containment requirement. Now all I needed was a lead-in, a small distractor so I could spring the sponge as DG absorbent analogy on them.

Written 8/12/2010 for HCB Magazine