We've Done It!


Happy New Year!

We’ve done it. We have totally revamped our newsletter. (But we still have a long way to go.)

Since January 2001, we wanted to improve the Thiagi GameLetter.

Recently, Matt became more ambitious and wanted to revamp our entire website to make it look more attractive and modern. Raja was obsessed with maintaining technological integrity of all our online ventures. I was worried about providing useful and innovative content. We had several discussions and arguments before coming up with a common vision. You can see the results.

We outsourced aspects of our new look and feel to Fix8 Media. We chose them mainly because the key people in this outfit used to live in Bloomington, IN.

Our special thanks are due to Sarah who did quite a bit of heavy lifting in the design and development of the new website—including this blog.

Thank you

Our extra special thanks are due to our loyal readers who gave us feedback, sent us suggestions, and responded to our surveys.

Here are the advantages they mentioned about transforming the newsletter into a blog: We can post (and you can read) throughout the month. You can comment about each post. We can embed audio and video. We can add more photos and graphics. We can link handouts as PDF files.

However, some of you were worried about missing some items because it is difficult to keep track of blog posts.

A Blended Approach

We plan to maintain the advantages of a monthly newsletter and an irregular blog.

We will maintain the mix of games, training activities, puzzles, articles, interviews, tips, surveys, podcasts, videos, and other useful stuff.

On the first day of each month, we will send you an announcement listing all the items that we have posted in the TGB since the previous announcement. This will nag you gently or invite you enticingly to catch up with the new stuff if you have not done so already.

Suggestions and Requests

Here are things that you, as our favorite reader, may want to do:

  • Check the GameBlog from time to time. We will keep adding items at irregular intervals.
  • Write notes in the comments section conveniently provided at the end of each item.
  • Participate in our surveys. Especially this month’s survey (presented later as this month's Online Survey).
  • Tell us how you have used the training activities, games, tips, articles, and other things.
  • Send us suggestions about what you would like to see in TGB in the future.

Formula Stories

(Interactive Storytelling)

Storytelling is a powerful tool for trainers. Unfortunately, however, traditional storytelling encourages the participants to become passive listeners. In contrast, interactive storytelling encourages them to interact with the stories and with each other. Different types of interactive storytelling techniques invite the participants to create their own stories and share them with each other. Even when the stories come from the facilitator, the participants modify the stories, change the beginning or the ending, change the characters or the setting, expand or shrink the stories, make decisions at critical junctures, analyze the stories, and roleplay them. The result: More engagement during the session and more learning after the session.

Story Formulas

I read (and listen to) several stories every day, ranging from tweets to multi-volume epics. I also watch videos and movies to increase the daily dosage of fiction. If you are a consumer of stories like me, you are probably aware that most stories fall into different genres and they all can be reduced to a few tried and true plot formulas.

The term formula stories is often used in a pejorative fashion. However, consciously or unconsciously, most authors use a set of standard formulas. You too can use these formulas (just like templates for framegames) to efficiently generate stories for presenting the training content. You can also train your participants to use these formulas to create and share their own stories.

Story Spine

Kat Koppett, author of  Training to Imagine

Kat Koppett, author of Training to Imagine

The story spine is a versatile formula. I learned it from my colleague Kat Koppett in one of her excellent improv workshops. She attributes the formula to Kenn Adams. It is also associated with Brian McDonald and Pixar Studios.

Here are the seven sentence stems that constitute the story spine. To create an instant story, you just complete each sentence and string them together:


Once upon a time...
Every day...
But, one day...
Because of that...
Because of that...
Until, finally...
And, ever since then...

Try your hand at creating your first story-spine tale right now. Fill out the sentence stems without spending too much time on each. Remember, this is supposed to be an improv exercise.

Here’s my spontaneous output (while waiting for a flight connection at Chicago O’Hare airport):

Once upon a time, there was a private investigator called Ken Steele. Every day he worked on boring cases involving fraudulent insurance claims. But one day, he found a corpse in front of his office desk, inside locked doors. Because of that, the police warned him that they were going to arrest him within 24 hours. Because of that Ken had to employ his amazing sleuthing skills. He decided that the dead person was murdered by her husband for the life insurance money. Until finally, Ken was able to clear his name and identify the real culprit. And, ever since then, Ken was in big demand for homicide investigations, making more money than a performance consultant.

I can use this story in its raw form as a part of an interactive storytelling activity. I can treat it as an outline and ask the participants to expand it.

Obviously, not too many of my sessions deal with homicide investigation as the training topic. So let me try my hand at applying the story spine to a workshop on diversity and inclusion. Here’s another story (created during the short flight from Chicago to Indianapolis):

Once upon a time, there was a corporate trainer called Chris Hamilton. Every day, he conducted technical training sessions at a high-tech company in San Jose, California. But one day, he was transferred to a branch office in Chennai, India to train the local employees on Agile software development technology. Because of that, he decided to learn as much as possible about the cultural values and norms of people in Chennai. He found the information from online searches to be inconsistent and confusing. Because of that Chris asked one of the Indian programmers in his San Jose office for some help and advice. His colleague gave lengthy lectures on what not to do in Chennai. Chris continued to get confused. Until finally, Rajiv, the programmer, said, “Chris, you are taking this too seriously. Remember there are more similarities between you and the programmers in Chennai than there are differences. Find the key similarities and build upon them.” And, ever since then, Chris stopped confusing himself with all the books on cultural differences and focused on the fact that all human beings like blue jeans and masala dosai. He was a great success in Chennai with his focus on the shared experiences and common challenges.

Another Formula: Double Jeopardy

Whenever I introduce a new principle or procedures to my training participants, I take great care to warn them against the mindless misuse of what they learned in the session. To drive home the point that the overuse or abuse of any technique could result in more problems than it solved, I use engaging stories. I noticed that these stories fall in a standard formula and I specified this formula. I call this formula Double Jeopardy. The reason for this name will become clear as we explore the formula:

1. First problem. The protagonist faces a problem.

2. First solution. The protagonist masters an effective technique for handling the problem.

3. Backlash. Carried away with the impressive success in solving the problem, the protagonist begins to misuse, overuse, and abuse the technique.

4. Second problem. The misuse of the technique results in a set of new problems.

5. New and improved solution. The participant thinks through the limitations of the first solution and comes up with suitable modifications to the technique.

6. Conclusion. The new and improved technique prevents the types of problems created by the mindless application of the original technique.

Here’s a train-the-trainer application of this story formula:

First problem: Participants are bored by my technical training workshops. Most of them multitask while I make my presentations and some of them even fall asleep.

First solution: I discover the power of training games.

Backlash: I begin the training session with an icebreaker in which each participant discovers which animal he or she most closely resembles. Later, I insert a bridge-building activity in the middle of the session. In addition, I repeatedly use a set of engaging games throughout my training sessions.

Second problem: The participants are engaged. They run around the classroom like headless chickens. They focus on completing the activity and winning the game. But they don’t learn anything useful. They soon discover that they are wasting their time in all this fun and games.

New and improved solution: I think through the advantages and disadvantages of using games in training. I discover the relevance of the activity to the training topic is a key factor. So I select or design activities that clearly and directly incorporate the principles and procedures taught during the session. I highlight these principles before the activity as briefing, during the activity as coaching, and after the activity as debriefing.

Conclusion: As long as I link the game to the training objectives, the participants are engaged more and learn more. The instructional and motivational effectiveness of my training improves significantly.

Glenn’s Seven Sentence Formula

Glenn Hughes, creator of  Photo Jolts!

Glenn Hughes, creator of Photo Jolts!

My mentor and co-author Glenn Hughes (www.SMARTasHell.com) uses a seven sentences story formula as a no-B.S. approach to influencing people by using stories.

Here’s Glenn’s formula:

Opening. Specify the when, where, and who.

Context. Provide important background information

Conflict. Select among man vs. man, man vs. machine, man vs. nature, and man vs. society.

Proposed Resolution. Explain what attempt was made to end the conflict.

Cliffhanger. Explain how the outcome was at risk.

Actual Resolution. Explain how the conflict ended and who won.

MIP. Present the most important point of the story.

For more explanation, an example, and a job aid, see Glenn's 86k PDF at http://bit.ly/1w59xbQ . You can also watch Glenn demonstrating his technique on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjrbTcOuJU4

Here are my seven sentences based on Glenn’s formula:

A month ago, my colleague Matt told me that one of our potential clients decided not to hire us because our web site looked antiquated.
This was not the first time that Matt has complained about our web site.
In a meeting with Matt and Raja (our webmaster), we had major differences of opinion: Raja was a pure technologist, Matt wanted more modern look and feel, and I wanted to maintain the quality of our content.
We decided to outsource our web redesign to a group that specialized on the use of the latest platforms.
We plunked down an advance payment and the design folks walked us through the initial design. Matt and I were impressed but Raja was not because of the limitations imposed by the platform.
We told Raja that he could talk to the designers and resolve his concerns. In the meantime, I came up with suitable workaround solutions for transferring the text and graphic content. We are at a temporary ceasefire and my prediction is that everything will eventually work out fine.

This is why I always say that it is difficult to bring about a change because different people have different needs, standards, and perceptions.

Notice I cheated. Some of the seven “sentences” are more than a sentence. But Glenn says that's okay.

Using Story Formulas Interactively

Invite your participants to create their own stories using one of the formulas. Whichever formula you choose, begin by demonstrating its application and by sharing a relevant story you created.

To increase the interactivity, invite the participants to work with a partner or in a team. Ask them to take turns applying different steps to co-create a story.

Here are some additional approaches for increasing interactivity in creating formula stories that are relevant to the training objective:

Story comparisons. Ask different participants to write individual formula stories on the same topic or theme. Ask them to share their stories with each other. Finally, ask groups of participants to identify the common elements in the stories they shared.

Best of the Best. Ask the participants to work independently on the same topic and write a formula story. Divide the participants into groups of 3 to 7. Collect the stories from each group and give them to the next group. Ask the members of each group to jointly review the collection of stories and select the best one. Ask the best stories to be read and conduct a poll to identify the best among these.

Debriefed stories. Ask the participants to take turns reading their stories to a group. Ask the group members to debrief themselves and discuss their emotional reactions, the learning points in the story, and their implications for personal action.

Prompted Stories. Provide the appropriate information related to one of the steps in the formula. Ask the participants to complete the other steps and assemble the final story. For example, here’s the information related to the until-one-day step: Until one day, Ramon came to the meeting after only 3 hours of sleep during the previous night. He sounded totally incoherent during the discussion.

An Assignment for You

Choose a training topic. Use one of the three formulas presented earlier to create a story related to the topic. Also generate a set of debriefing questions to follow up the presentation of your story.

If you want a wider and appreciative audience, email a copy of your story to me at thiagi@thiagi.com .

Four Cities


I learned an earlier version of this jolt from Tracy, who learned it from the participants in one of her workshops. I played with basic structure of this activity to come up with a version that can be played individually and within a reduced period of time.


The participants write the names of four different cities, one letter at a time, rotating through the cities. Later, they write the entire names of each of the five cities. The debriefing discussion focuses on the inefficiency of starting and stopping the work on different tasks.


To increase personal productivity by avoiding inefficient work practices.


Minimum: 1

Maximum: Any number

Best: 10 to 20


5 minutes for the activity

5 minutes for debriefing


Pieces of paper (4 pieces for each participant)

Pens or pencils




Prime the participants. Ask each participant to think of the names of four different cities.

Explain the first task. Distribute four pieces of paper to each participant. Ask them to listen carefully to your instructions before writing anything:

Take a piece of the paper and write the first letter of the name of one of the cities you thought of. Place this piece of paper aside.

Take another piece of paper. Write the first letter of another city.

Continue this process of picking up a new piece of paper and writing the first letters of the third and fourth cities.

When you have written the first letters of all four cities, pick any of the pieces of paper. Now write the second letter of the city.

Continue the procedure, writing the second letters of all four cities.

Repeat the process, adding one more letter at a time to the name of each city.

During later rounds, one or more of the pieces of paper may contain the complete name of the city. Put these pieces of paper aside and continue with the other pieces of paper.

Conduct the first task. Blow the whistle and ask the participants to get started with the first task of writing the names of four cities on four different pieces of paper, one letter at a time. Ask them to complete as much of the task as possible within 2 minutes.

Conclude the first task. Blow your whistle at the end of 2 minutes. Reassure the participants that it does not matter if they have not completed the total task.

Explain the second task. Tell the participants that you will have them write the names of same four cities on the other side of the pieces of paper. This time, however, tell the participants that they are to write the entire name of each city on each piece of paper.

Conduct the second task. Ask the participants to begin the second task. Remind them to write the entire name of a different city on each piece of paper.

Conclude the second task. The participants should be able to finish the task within a minute. When everyone has completed the task, congratulate them and proceed to debriefing.


Ask the participants how many of them found it took more time to write the names of four cities, one letter at a time than writing the same names one city at a time. Keep a poker face and use an innocent tone of voice as you ask this question.

Ask and discuss these types of questions about inefficiently switching tasks before each task is completed:

  • Why does it require more time to complete the same set of tasks when you keep switching from one task to another?
  • What are some examples of switching from one unfinished task to another in the workplace?
  • How frequently are you able to set aside an uninterrupted block of time to complete a task?
  • What are some of the causes of being distracted from completing a task?
  • Technology is making our world hyper-connected. How does this trend increase distractions, interruptions, and inefficient work habits?
  • What can you do to prevent frequent interruptions while you are working on a task?

Five LOLAs


For the past 5 years, we have been experimenting with increasing and improving interactivity in virtual classrooms. Here’s a brief introduction to five of the LOLAs (Live Online Learning Activities) that form the core of our approach.

Structured Sharing

Structured Sharing activities encourage the participants to generate their own training content and to process it collaboratively. These activities ensure effective recall and application of relevant information.

Respond and Predict is an example of a structured sharing activity. Here's an example: You tell participants to set their text chat to send messages only to you. Then you ask them to respond to an open question: “Why are most training webinars so b-o-r-i-n-g?”. The participants send in their responses. After a suitable pause, you tell participants to set their chat to send to everyone. Then you ask them to send their prediction of what the most frequent response to the previous question was. After another suitable pause, you ask participants to type the reasoning behind their prediction. When this is done, you reveal the top five high-frequency responses from participants in this session and in earlier sessions where the same activity was used. Then you invite participants to score the accuracy of their own prediction.

The training rationale for Respond and Predict is to encourage the participants to think deeply about the topic in the open question. Initially, they think about their own reaction. In making the predictions, they put themselves in the place of their cohorts. In coming up with the explanation, they think more deeply not only about their response, but also about the reasoning behind their response.

Respond and Predict is a framegame. You can use it as a template for generating online learning activities simply by changing the opening question to relate to your training topic.

Thought Experiments

Thought experiments involve individual participants undertaking cognitive exercises that involve guided visualization, generating and comparing alternatives, and imagining what-if scenarios. The activity is followed by a suitable debriefing discussions and explanations of relevant principles by the facilitator.

Here’s an example of thought experiment called the Green Monkey with the training objective of reducing obsessive rumination. The participants are asked to spend the next 60 seconds thinking about anything they want, except about green monkeys. (Try this thought experiment right now, if you want to. I can wait.)

At the end of the minute, the facilitator starts a debriefing discussion. The participants discover the key point about thought control: The more you try to control your thoughts and action, the more you are tempted to indulge in them. The facilitator asks the participants to suggest strategies for overcoming obsessive thoughts and comments on participants’ responses. The facilitator steers the conversation toward evidence-based though controlled techniques of focused distraction (example: concentrating on solving several sudoku puzzles), postponement (example: “I will think about this thing nonstop for 30 minutes after 5 PM”), acceptance (example: “Let’s face it. I cannot think of anything other than green monkeys, and that’s okay.”) and paradoxical therapy (example: "Let me wallow in these thoughts right now and think without any attempt at control").

You can design your own thought experiment to support your training objective. The psychological literature is full of suitable experiments. Here’s a thought experiment for you: Think how your participants will feel when they complete your first thought experiment activity.

Interactive Storytelling

Unlike traditional storytelling, in which the facilitator tells a story and the participants passively listen to it, interactive storytelling involves active participation from the listeners. The participants create and share their own stories or they listen to the facilitator’s story and analyze it, deconstruct it, change it, condense it, expand it, discuss it, and interact with it in many other ways.

Here’s an example of an interactive storytelling activity called Debriefed Stories. The facilitator tells a story that incorporates principles related to the training topic. The participants listen attentively. At the end of the story, the facilitator asks a series of questions to encourage the participants to reflect on the story, gain useful insights from the story, and share these insights with each other. The participants conduct this debriefing discussion through the text chat area.

Coming up with a story that has the theme, setting, and characters reflecting the training topic is the key success factor for designing and using interactive storytelling.

Instructional Puzzles

Instructional puzzles provide engaging previews or reviews of the training content. You can use appropriate puzzles involving numbers, words, graphics, or lateral thinking as intriguing training tools.

Here’s an example of an instructional puzzle called Number Series. The participants are presented these numbers and asked to come up with the next one in the series:

1, 4, 7, 10, ?

They accomplish the task fairly easily. The facilitator comments on the power of pattern recognition and presents the next puzzle:

3, 5, 9, 17, ?

This puzzle takes some more time to solve. During the debriefing, the facilitator points out that a pattern can be explained in more than one correct way and presents the next series:

8, 5, 4, 9, 1, ?

After few minutes of frustration, the facilitator points out that these are single-digit numbers arranged in alphabetical order (if written out in English). The learning point that is brought out during the debriefing is the importance of trying out new approaches rather than complacently staying with the approach that successfully worked in the past.

With suitable exploration and experimentation, you should be able to come up with instructional puzzles that suit your training needs and participant preferences.

Interactive Lectures

Interactive lectures involve the participants in the learning process by having them ask questions and make responses before, during, and after a lecture presentation.

Here’s an example of an interactive lecture called Mixed-Up Sentences. The participants listen to a lecture on the Zeigarnik Effect. At the end of the 10-minute presentation, the facilitator displays six sentences, purportedly summarizing the key points from the lecture. The participants review this list and perform these three tasks:

  1. Identify an incorrect sentence that contradicts something that was presented during the lecture.
  2. Identify a superfluous sentence that deals with a point not presented in the lecture.
  3. Supply a sentence that summarizes a key point presented in the lecture but left out of the list.

Mixed-Up Sentences is another template for the rapid design of a training activity. All you need to do is to come up with a list of summary sentences that contains an incorrect statement and a superfluous statement—and leaves out one or more key points.

Five Examples, Three Elements

These five examples of live online learning activities (LOLAs) are selected from a larger collection. These activities and the others in the collection share three important elements:

  1. They do not require technologically sophisticated webinar platform functions.
  2. They actively involve the participants in the learning process.
  3. They reinforce the activity with systematic debriefing discussions.

An Interview with Roxanne Russell

(Guest Gamer)

Roxanne Russell, Ph.D.

Roxanne Russell, Ph.D.

Roxanne Russell is an instructional technology, design consultant, and teacher with 19 years of experience. She and her partners at Full Tilt Ahead, LLC (fulltiltahead.com) bring brawns, brain, and beauty to the design, development, facilitation, and evaluation of online learning for mostly higher education.

An incurable academic, she publishes and presents in all of the right places and was cited for groundbreaking work on the cultural dynamics of the instructional design process in the 2014 edition of the Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology.

TGL: What’s your specialty area?

When it comes to live training and facilitation, my specialty is in preparing university faculty to create and facilitate learning experiences online. I started teaching undergraduate writing courses face-to-face in 1995 and online in 2003. I became so fascinated with the online learning experience that I changed my focus from writing and humanities to instructional design and technology. I now translate my lessons learned for faculty who are new to online learning. As a form of train-the-trainer activity, faculty development offers me the chance to stay ever reflective about whether I do what I say to do.

TGL: How long have you been designing and using games?

Ever since I read my first batch of student evaluations from Freshman Comp: “She told me what I should be doing but didn’t show me how to do it.” After this feedback, I realized that my approach of throwing a bunch of resources at them and expecting them to make sense of it wasn’t going to work--even if I did place them in groups to do it.

As a learner who had tended to be bored by lectures myself, I looked for approaches that would let me provide instructive guidance but did not require me to lecture. That is when I first started using interactive techniques in the classroom, quickly realizing that making those activities competitive or timed would up engagement. My first game was designed to have students anticipate opposition through rapidly drafting questions about their peers’ essay topics as 22 different famous people in one minute intervals. 

TGL: What is one important lesson you have learned about interactive approaches in online learning?

Online learning environments may require more upfront preparation and explicit instructions. In face-to-face environments, it can be easier to read participant reactions and adjust accordingly on the fly. Although this is possible in live online sessions as well, the restrictions of user and technology can limit agility. As a face-to-face facilitator, I like to have several possibilities at hand and stay flexible to levels of my control vs. participant control in the roll out of a lesson. In online sessions, I have found it easier to start with tight centralized control, as participants become used to the technological environment, and then I scaffold the introduction of participant interactions and eventual distributed control. I made the mistake of approaching my first online session as an open environment for all and ended up being derailed by technology issues before getting off the ground with the content.

TGL: What is one piece of advice you would offer for using games in online sessions?

Always have a back up plan. For every tool and every feature. This plan should include a separate set of materials and guidelines. One recent version upgrade to a web conferencing system could derail an entire lesson because it impacts just one feature.

TGL: What is your favorite game for the online learning environment?

Variations of Thiagi’s games that involve skeptics. Since I work with higher education faculty, I have to be sensitive to the fact that they are so much smarter than me and their peers. And entirely too serious to waste time playing games. If skepticism is not only welcomed but also integrated into the lesson, the participants can let go of some of the inner resistance. This skepticism layer works particularly well in the online classroom since chat boxes or webcams for the skeptics display next to primary content and presenters in the flat presentation space of online web conferencing platforms.

TGL: Are your online participants open to using games?

Although the faculty I have worked with have been receptive to participating in games that I use during my sessions, I have not seen a great deal of uptake by faculty in using games in their own sessions. I see them using interactive techniques, (for example, polling and breakout groups), but I have not yet seen them introduce competition or leveling. I’d like to provide faculty with more resources and tools for developing their ideas into games that can be rolled out online and that they will be confident facilitating.  My plan is to bog down Thiagi’s concise resources with magniloquence to make it more palatable to this audience. 

TGL: What is an aspect of live interactive online learning that you would like to see get more attention?

I am very interested in the role of the technical producer in smaller scale online learning environments. For large training sessions or webinars, there is usually someone behind the scenes to run the show for the primary speakers and participants. To introduce interactive techniques and gaming into smaller live online sessions, like course level facilitation, I see great value in the role of a technical producer for set up and participant management—even if this producer is someone recruited from the participants and trained on the spot with quick guides.

A Definition

(Instructional Puzzle)

Here’s a definition of an interactive training activity. To prevent other people from stealing the definition, I have encrypted it.

Cryptograms are highly engaging language puzzles. If you are unfamiliar with cryptograms, we recommend the explanation from our October 2006 issue of TGL.

The puzzle is presented in our interactive cryptogram solver. It requires JavaScript to run, and is specifically designed to work on mobile devices (i.e., iPhones and other smartphones, iPads and other tablets). It also works with modern desktop browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and up-to-date versions of Internet Explorer.

Please try the puzzle out at http://thiagi.net/pfp/onlinepuzzles/tgl-2015-01/ (opens in a new window) and tell us what you think by commenting below.

A hint for this puzzle

The solution 

The Motto

(Mini Memoir)

"City of Kakata, photograph of main road near BWI, May 2012" by Thadk - Living in Kakata. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

"City of Kakata, photograph of main road near BWI, May 2012" by Thadk - Living in Kakata. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1979, while doing a USAID project in Liberia (in West Africa), I was stopped by two local policemen near the city of Kakata for speeding.

I dutifully gave them my US driver's license (which is valid in Liberia for 60 days). The first policeman tried to figure it out. The second one grabbed the license impatiently, scanned it, smiled, and said:

“Welcome to Liberia, Mr. Michael Deckard! I see from your driver's license that you are the Commissioner of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Monroe County, Indiana. Since we are in the same area of motor vehicle laws and regulations, we will let you off with a warning.”

I thanked the policeman profusely, apologized for my inappropriate behavior, and tried to sneak away quietly.

But the other policeman held on to the license, pointed to “Sivasailam Thiagarajan”, and spoke excitedly to his partner in Kpele.

After a few minutes, the first policeman smiled superiorly and responded to his partner in English (so I could appreciate his sophisticated knowledge).

“Sivasailam Thiagarajan,” he said “is obviously the Latin motto of the State of Indiana!”

Wow, How, Now by Mark Isabella

(Recap / Action Plan)

Mark Isabella, creator of  Engagement Emergency  card deck

Mark Isabella, creator of Engagement Emergency card deck

Mark Isabella has created a card deck called Engagement Emergency that contains 54 activities for instant interaction. The activities take 2-10 minutes to run and require little setup or preparation. These a la carte activities come in a variety of formats including action planning, feedback, group formation, openers, pair work, and reflection. If you are in the midst of rapid instructional design and need an opener, you can consult the deck and find one quickly. If you are in the middle of a presentation and need a shot of engagement and interaction, you can thumb through the deck right before you begin your session or during a break.

Wow, How, Now

At the end of a training session, ask participants to take 3-4 minutes to write down their answers to the following “Wow, How, Now” questions:

Wow: What surprised you, interested you, or encouraged you to think creatively?

How: In what ways will you apply what you’ve learned?

Now: What are the first steps you will take in the next few days to begin your action plan?

Ask 2-3 volunteers to share their answers to each question.

A Special Offer

Engagement Emergency decks usually sell for $59.95 (plus $10.95 for shipping within the USA). If you order now, you will receive a $10 discount. You can purchase each Engagement Emergency deck in our online store for $49.95 (plus shipping). No need to enter a coupon code—as long as you order before February 28, you'll get the discount automatically.

Revised: January 29 2015 to use the new title style and fix the Special Offer (especially the link to the online store).

Attention, Emotion, and Intuition by Brian Remer

Brian Remer, creator of  Firefly News Flash  and author of  Say it Quick!

Brian Remer, creator of Firefly News Flash and author of Say it Quick!

(From Brian's Brain)

Your ability to sift through competing sensory input and focus on what’s important is a critical success factor.  It’s not easy to balance lower brain emotional reactions with analytical upper brain functioning.  Fortunately, Daniel Goleman offers insight and advice in his book, Focus.  Read a review of Focus in the December 2014 issue of Firefly News Flash.

Power Tip:  Focusing on the negative activates distressful emotions leading to avoidance rather than solutions. 

Read more in the December 2014 issue of Firefly News Flash:


Pieces of Advice


Every day, Thiagi tweets ready-to-use pieces of practical advice on HR topics such as coaching, creativity, customer service, feedback, leadership, listening skills, and management.

Here are some recent pieces of advice that were retweeted frequently:

  • Foster autonomy and collaboration on the job. An increase in these two factors will result in an increase in motivation.
  • Encourage the employees to think about the benefits of completing a task instead of thinking of a prize or reward.
  • Facilitate your employees to discover the answer rather than dictating it. The employees will feel more ownership.
  • If you want to motivate people, tell them what to do. (Don’t tell them what not to do [as I am doing now].)
  • Discourage employees from seeking your approval. You want them to complete the task for personal satisfaction and not for your praise.
  • Create a playful work environment. When people are playing, they don’t feel incompetent.

Follow Thiagi on twitter. If you don’t have a Twitter account, it is easy to sign up for a free one at twitter.com.

Thiagi Workshops Outside the USA

Thiagi is conducting public workshops outside the USA. Here are sessions scheduled for 2015.

  • Singapore: January 8-10, 2015. Interactive Training Strategies: A 3-day workshop. Organized by Centre for Communication and Sales Training. Download our brochure (1.1M PDF) for additional details.
  • Hong Kong: January 12, 2015. More Interactive Training Strategies. Organized by Yzer Solutions Pte. Ltd and The Hong Kong Management Association. Download our brochure (189K PDF) for additional details.
  • Valencia, Spain: May 18-19, 2015. Thiagi’s Tools for Intercultural Training (co-facilitated with Samuel van den Bergh). Held as a pre-conference workshop of SIETAR Europe. Download our brochure (458K PDF) for additional details.
  • Winterthur, Switzerland: June 1-3. Interactive Training Strategies: A 3-day workshop. Organized by van den Bergh Thiagi Associates. Download our brochure (458K PDF) for additional details.

If you would like to organize a Thiagi workshop in your part of the world, send him a note at thiagi@thiagi.com .

Thiagi Workshops in the USA

Thiagi will be conducting a certificate program and a clinic at the Training 2014 Conference & Expo in Atlanta, Georgia this February:

  • February 6-8, 2015. Training Magazine Three-Day Certificate Program: Training Design, Delivery, and Faciliation. (with Bob Pike and Sharon Bowman).
  • February 11, 2015. (12:15 pm – 3:15 pm) It’s in the Cards: Effective and Engaging Training Games. (with Tracy Tagliati).

For more details, download the conference brochure ( http://www.trainingconference.com/2015/pdf/t15brochure.pdf ; 3.1M PDF).

If you would like to organize a Thiagi workshop at your location, send him a note at thiagi@thiagi.com .

Survey Results: Newsletter or Blog?

(Survey Results)

In the December 2014 issue of TGL we asked our readers to help us decide whether we should transform the newsletter into a blog.

As of December 28, 2014, 73 readers responded.

32 of them (44%) said we should change to a blog.

41 of them (56%) said we should stick with the newsletter format.

Open Question

As a follow up to the poll, we asked our readers to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of converting the newsletter to a blog.

Twenty readers responded to this question. Here are some of the responses:

  • Assumptions: 1) The blog would be one that people would subscribe to email alerts that included a link so folks would automatically be able to view posts. 2) Blog posts would be limited to three or fewer topics per post.
    Advantages: People might be more likely to read shorter posts more quickly with less materiel to review each time. Could be easier to do the blog because less need to collect larger quantities of materials for once a month. Could provide a forum for increased interactivity with readership.
    Disadvantages: Blogs tend to be posted more frequently than current once a month newsletter and, coupled with increased interactivity, could mean many more emails to deal with rather than a once a month.

    Reading articles as they are published (rather than waiting for a month for all of them).
    A true discussion forum for each article (again, rather than for the whole newsletter).

  • If you are unable to frequently review the blog, it can be difficult to find past information or pick up a topic midstream.
  • It might be nice to receive your tips once a week or so, rather than once a month. If it doesn't work out, you can always go back to the way it was.
  • Pros: Newsletter subscriber comments & interaction, feedback and questions from using the jolts, activities, etc.
    Con: Newsletter subscriber comments & interaction, feedback and questions from using the jolts, activities, etc.
    I jest (mostly). Two way dialogue is a richer experience for everyone. I believe it's going to be tougher on your team but if you're willing to try it, I'd love to read it!!!
  • Why not both? I like receiving the email - it's a good reminder. Then, it links back to the blog. Not that different than what you do now, it seems to me.
  • Pros: easier to search, categorize, etc. Enriched by comments. Cons: Pull vs. push participation. Reduced, closed, like-minded audience.
  • Advantages are the blogs are very popular. Disadvantages are that because blogs are popular, Thiagi might get lost in the mix or that without a newsletter receipt it might get ignored. To overcome the disadvantages you may want to consider a gradual transition from newsletter to blog and then continue to send notifications that there is a new blog posting. Shy of a blog I would highly recommend revamping the newsletter into something more visually appealing and/or engaging. It's very monochromatic and plain currently.
  • We can share the info more easily on social media platforms. More ++ visibility for you. More visibility for you on WordPress. We can comment, react and share again with others. Up to date approach.

Thanks to everyone who responded.

Principles and Procedures

(Take Five with Thiagi)

In this video series, Thiagi discusses important performance-improvement principles in about 5 minutes.

In this segment, Thiagi talks about principles and procedures.

When you are providing how-to training, you have two different approaches: The procedural approach specifies steps to be completed; the principles-based approach works around a set of guidelines. You can use either of these two approaches whether you are training chefs or hostage negotiators. After discussing relevant examples, Thiagi attacks the key question: When should you use which approach?

Watch this video on YouTube for Thiagi’s answer.

(Note: If you can't see the video above, the original is on
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM0nLdh1hzI&feature=youtu.be )

Check it Out: Creative Problem Solving Institute Conference

For the past 5 years or so, Thiagi has been having fun at his keynote presentations by getting his audience members actively involved in a series of jolts. It is interesting to watch large groups of people standing up, milling around, and working on individual and partnership activities. It is not irrelevant fun and games, because Thiagi brings everything home through debriefing and connecting the experiences to key concepts related to his topic.

In this Vimeo video, Thiagi is at the annual conference of the Creative Problem Solving Institute. Thiagi (or his evil twin brother?) spontaneously picks up the theme of an earlier presentation on the importance of execution and gets everyone involved in exploring the topic in greater depth.

Watch the video and get some pointers for smoothly incorporating jolts in your presentations.

(Note: If you can't see the video above, the original is on http://vimeo.com/46039538 )