How I learned Personal Shorthand

Shorthand Textbook

My sister needed to use shorthand for her work. She kept looking for shorthand training courses at so many places but couldn’t find a single place offering shorthand courses. After a long search, she finally stumbled upon one place that offered shorthand courses. After she took the training course and brought the textbook with her, I got curious about shorthand. I was still studying at university by that time. I started looking through the shorthand textbook and my interest grew.


I then set about to learn shorthand from the textbook on my own. I used lectures I attended at university as an avenue for practicing my shorthand skills. It was not that I was learning shorthand so that it could help me write down lectures I am attending but it was actually the other way around. I was curious to learn shorthand so I used university lectures I was attending back then as an excellent opportunity for practice.

Personal Shorthand

I remember I started on that journey during the second semester of my third year at Cairo University. The type of shorthand I was learning is called Personal Shorthand or PS for short. It is a renaming of what had been known before as briefhand. What distinguishes PS from other types of shorthand, such as Pitman shorthand, is that it relies solely on the 26 letters of the alphabet and therefore is very easy to learn compared to most other shorthand methods and can even be typed on a computer since it contains no special symbols and relies only on letters of the alphabet.

Full Lecture Transcription

I started reading in the personal shorthand textbook and doing the exercises it had. I started practicing during all lectures I attended at university. It was a lot of fun. By the second semester on my fourth year at university I was able to write down every single word the lecturer was uttering during the lecture. I no longer needed to rewrite my shorthand notes into longhand as I came back home. I just kept the shorthand sheets I had written during the lectures as they are and studied from them directly.


When I went to university I did not need to take any notebook with me, all I needed was a few folded foolscap folios and a pen. A whole 2 hour long lecture could be transcribed in full in just 2 foolscap folios since I wrote on both the front and back sides of each folio.


As the time for the final exam came at the end of the semester, I used the transcripts of the 12 or so lectures that I had stapled together as a way to revise all lectures before taking the exam. I was surprised at the amount of information they contained most of which I would have totally forgotten had I been attending the lectures without caring to take notes during the lectures.

Lessons Learned

There are many lessons to be learnt from this story. One of them is that a new skill can help you do better in life. Another lesson is that lots of practice is required to master a new skill. Practicing in a real life context also proved more effective. A third lesson is that one can learn some skills from a book plus practice without the need for external help.

Have you ever thought about learning shorthand? If so, what might you be using it for?

Lecturing During Training

Can Lectures be Good?

I used to hate lectures. As a response to finding so many trainers using lecturing in all or most of the time of their training sessions, I developed an inclination to jam pack my training with training activities and to avoid using lecturing altogether in all training sessions I was delivering. Despite finding the all-activities training to be highly successful, enjoyable and engaging yet as I gained more experience in delivering training I started to realize that lecturing does indeed have a place within the training session and can even improve the overall effectiveness of a training program if used appropriately.

Activities Saturation

The first insight about the importance of injecting some lecturing in a training program came to me after delivering a training session in which I led participants into repeatedly carrying out a number of group activities in a row. I observed that participants just got fed up from the repeated group activities they were asked to do after having to do them for several times. The final time they were doing the group work they seamed reluctant and went through the activity with low energy.

Lecturing Appreciation

The second incident that helped me change my mind about the all-activities no-lecturing approach I once clung strongly to was when I attended a training program by some senior trainer. He used very few activities during his full-day training sessions and did not provide for a lot of interactivity. On the contrary, he spoke a lot and lectured for long during the sessions. At the end of that two-day training program I was surprised to find most participants giving him the highest score in the training evaluation forms! Many of them came to greet him and thank him heartedly for the training. They even clapped with enthusiasm and appreciation for him as he closed the training program. This experience had me rethink my earlier beliefs and start appreciating the concept of lecturing once again.

Some Like Lectures

I also remember a third incident where one of the trainees spoke up during the first half of the training session I was delivering and said to me: “Now we want to hear you speak.” I attempted to explain to him that the training program was based on activities rather than on lecturing yet I did realize that for many people they have been conditioned to listen to lectures and expect to find one during the training program they are attending.

Mixing Lecturing and Activities

After such revelation I had I started injecting mini lectures or lecturettes in between activities during training sessions I delivered. I noticed that providing such mini-lectures made participants very eager to carry out activities when the time for activities comes. I also noticed that giving several activities to trainees makes them very attentive to the trainer when the time comes for him to speak and give a mini-lecture or short presentation. Alternation between training activities and short lectures seemed to provide the best effect in a training program. Nevertheless, I still believe that time provided for activities should still be more than that given to lecturing perhaps its double.

Lively Lecturing

In order to make lecturettes interesting and effective it is best to fill them up with storytelling and perhaps accompany them with drawing or charting on the flip chart. This would help make them the more engaging and impactful.


So whenever designing for a training program remember to include a combination of many activities and a few mini-lectures in order to get the best of both worlds and achieve the highest impact.

When do you think is it not appropriate at all to use even mini-lectures during a training program?

My Story with Lively Vs. Boring Training

Creative Writing Workshop

I once joined a 3-day creative writing workshop. We were a small group of trainees and the trainer was a highly competent one. I really enjoyed attending the workshop and benefited from it enormously. The main focus of the workshop was activities rather than lecturing. The amount of information provided by the trainer during the workshop was minimal yet the activities were plenty. We had pair work activities, solo activities and group activities. We were guided and gently pushed to write which eventually led to the opening up of some creative doors in our minds that have long been locked.

Conflicting Session Time

I remember that at the final day of the creative writing workshop it coincided with another training course I wanted so much to attend. It was about how to start a new business. I had to make a decision whether to attend the final session of the creative writing workshop while leaving the first session in the other training course that I have long been dreaming of attending or do the opposite. I decided to go for the start your own business course and leave out the final session of the creative writing workshop. I even excused myself from the creative writing trainer and told her by the end of the second session that I would not be able to attend the final one.

Start your Business Course

Off I went with great hopes to attend the start your own business course. As it started, the ‘trainer’ told us that the course will be interactive and that he will not be relying a lot on lecturing but rather taking a participatory approach. I was shocked from the start of the session that his approach actually lacked any activities, was so boring and the ultimate ‘participatory’ element he ever used was asking questions to participants. His comments on participant answers were even so negative and not by any means encouraging.

Back to Creative Writing

seriously considered leaving as my heart was leaping at the thought of the creative writing session I had left behind to attend such dry and useless course. I kept meditating the idea of leaving this boring session to catch the coinciding creative writing session. Luckily, we took a break soon and I did make the decision and drove to the location of the creative writing workshop which was not very far away. I entered the creative writing workshop and was a bit late. The trainer looked slightly surprised that I showed up. I told her that I just could not resist attending! I was indeed extremely happy that I have joined that final session of the creative writing workshop. It was so lively, engaging and enjoyable. After the workshop I realized that a creative door has opened in my mind and an avalanche of writing started to flow from pen to paper as I went back home.

This experience of mine showed me a sharp contrast between a boring useless course with little value vs a lively highly engaging truly interactive workshop that is of high value. One of the main lessons learnt here is that a training course with plenty of engaging activities and a minimal amount of direct information can not only be more enjoyable than another with no activities and loads of information transferred through lecturing but can also be of much higher value to participants.