(First published, February 2004)
Participants at a training session are often preoccupied with other important things in their life. Here's a simple jolt to wake them up.
Ask participants to pair themselves up. In each pair, ask the taller participant to assume the role of a listener and the other participant to become the IV.
Ask the IV is to sit close to the listener and to whisper a string of disconnected distractions that the person is likely to be thinking about.
Recommend that the IV use topics that are highly interesting (Should I buy a lottery ticket?) or disturbing (What if they decide to rightsize again?) or bothersome (Did I turn the stove off this morning?) or intriguing (What exactly does Sheila see in him?) or guilt-provoking (I forgot Doug's birthday again. I am an idiot!). Also suggest that the IV should use first-person singular and run-on sentences in a stream-of-consciousness mode.
Begin a short, fact-filled presentation on some dry topic. If you prefer, you can read from a boring report. Simultaneously ask the IVs to begin whispering. Continue with this combined activity for 2 minutes.
Stop your presentation. Thank the IVs for their imaginative contributions and ask them to stop whispering.
Ask a series of short-answer questions based on the content of your presentation. Ask all the participants (both listeners and IVs) to decide whether or not they know the answer.
Point out that everyone's listening was less than perfect. Both listeners and whisperers missed some important points in your presentation.
Explain that IV stands for Inner Voice and the whispers simulate preoccupied self-talk. Conduct a quick debrief to elicit the point that talking to yourself and listening to yourself reduce learning effectiveness.
If you want to be more dramatic, you can assign two IVs (one for each ear) to each listener.