This interview was originally published in the September 2012 issue of TGL.
David King is a reformed Investment Banker who is now a trainer and coach working with professionals and executives to help them improve business and professional skills. After 15 years in Banking and Finance, David founded his training company, Vue Consulting, in early 2007 with a focus on providing passionate, practical, and interactive training experiences for the modern professional. Having lived in Sydney, Tokyo, New York, and London, David and his team are based in Brisbane, Australia.
TGL: Hi David. So, in what areas does your training focus?
David: We work primarily with professionals and executives: bankers, lawyers, accountants, financial planners, recruiters, and managers. These people, who typically give advice, tend to have a strong technical background in their area of speciality but need to acquire better business and people skills. So we focus in areas such as productive use of time, finding more and better clients, building trust and business with clients, and retaining and growing client relationships.
TGL: So why do you use games for these types of training?
David: Professionals are really busy. They often come to training events quite distracted. They can also be skeptical or jaded about non-technical topics as it isn't something that gets a lot of focus during their professional training. Games and activities quickly build energy in the room. They create compelling lessons that keep the participants focused on the training (and not on their telephones). Games also draw out key points from the participants so they can self-teach, which helps break through resistance to learning new ideas. Hearing a lesson from your inner voice or a trusted peer can be a far more powerful teacher than the trainer. Finally, brief games like jolts can make key points fast. Games and activities can teach a lot in a short time, which suits the modern professional.
TGL: How do these busy, jaded professionals respond?
David: Really well. It's quite interesting to watch the participants get increasingly competitive, involved, and creative as the workshop progresses. In particular, games that allow peer discussions or peer sharing are extremely well received among the professionals. I think these games respect the fact that the participants are experienced professionals and have valuable lessons to share. Running these types of games also builds respect between the participants and the facilitator. Basically, when the facilitator does need to act like an expert for a bit, the participants are far more willing to listen.
TGL: What are some of the biggest lessons you've had in designing your games?
David: I think I will remain a student of game design forever. There is just so much to learn. Some of the key lessons I have picked up include the following:
Simplify the instructions for games and activities. While I am extremely familiar with the game, for the participants it is their first time. Make the activity directions extremely clear and, ideally, give the directions in writing to the participants so they can read them as well as listen to you.
Run through and step through. I tend to run through the entire activity directions with the participants so they get an overall feel. I then go back to the start and step the participants through the game.
Allow more time than you estimate. Games tend to take longer than you estimate, especially if the participants need to move around. You can always use any leftover time for an extended debrief. So allow more time to begin with.
Expect revisions. It's normally the third or fourth time you run a game that it works as you wanted. I actually enjoy watching changes in the flow of game evolve and often the best games are the ones I alter on the spot, based on feedback from the participants. It's really rewarding to make that final alteration to a game and see it play out as intended.
Re-use games with the same participants. You don't need a brand new game for every topic. By repeating a game structure, you allow participants to benefit from their existing knowledge of the game and to do better on the next topic. This saves a bit of time while training (and in development) and allows participants to feel like experts when repeating the activity.
TGL: Is there a secret to designing a great game?
David: I'm not sure if there is a secret, but the real key to a game isn't the game itself; it's the debrief afterwards. So as a part of any game design, you need to spend considerable time on designing an appropriate debrief. This is an art in itself and often the debrief from a game takes as long (or longer) than the game itself.
TGL: What types of games do you use most frequently?
David: I use a lot of Group Scoop games to tap into experience in the room. I also like structured sharing games to encourage discussion, particularly as many of our topics involve dynamic issues with non-fixed outcomes. We use quite a few jolts, often at the start of the day to snap participants out of their work mindset into the training. We also use quite a few card games (with scenario cards and index cards) to help structure role-plays and discussions.
TGL: What is your favorite game?
David: We use several variations of the Envelopes games from Thiagi—actually, I reckon 30 percent of our games are based on this concept. Brain Pick is another great game when we have access to SMEs. Thirty-Five is a fantastic, and very flexible, game to allow participants to take ownership of results.
TGL: Any final tips for trainers looking to use more games?
David: The main lesson I have learned from games is that the participants want the game to work. Participants come to training with a hope that the session will be great. Games allow them to help make the training great because the session becomes a collaborative exercise with the facilitator, rather than a judgement exercise against the facilitator. Games break down learning reluctance by creating co-ownership of the training outcomes. Participants often suggest minor changes to the games, create new rules, or develop outcomes that I couldn't have foreseen. These are all great outcomes for adults since they pay respect to the fact that we are often working with people with useful life experiences to share.
A Debriefing Game from David King
In the January 2012 TGL, Thiagi described a card game called Situation Cards. I decided to add this game to our existing sales training course. However, the game did not work as I had hoped. With our topic and participants, the game seemed to lack energy. During the workshop, I made an on-the-spot decision to change the game—and Quick Situations was born. While it's still a card game, we now use it as a debriefing game.
To allow participants to apply skills and knowledge from the training session to unexpected situations. This game helps in contextualizing theoretical concepts into real life and drawing out remaining questions and uncertainties.
Maximum: Almost any number
30 to 45 minutes, depending on the length of the debrief discussion
Handout. How to Play Quick Situations, one copy for each participant.
Situation Cards. You will need one card for each participant plus a couple of extra cards. Each card briefly describes a situation that is relevant to the training topic. (See the Preparation section below for guidelines on creating situation cards.)
Thiagi listed four criteria for generating appropriate situation cards. Here they are, with just a few modifications.
Keep them brief. You are not writing a lengthy case for a business textbook. Come up with a short scenario that describes a relevant situation. Pretend that you are writing a 140-character twitter message.
Keep them authentic. Describe situations that participants could confront in their real-world jobs. (See also Variations below.)
Keep them generic. Don't write the situations to suit a specific skill or lesson. Include ill-defined, vague or grey situations from the real world. (See also Variations below.)
Keep them mixed. Don't limit yourself to negative situations. Include some positive events. You want to be sure that the participants can handle success as well as failure.
Introduce the activity. Explain that the time has come for a review and debrief. You will challenge participants to apply their new skills to real world situations. They will need to think fast and expect the unexpected.
Brief the participants. Run participants through the activity directions. Give them a copy of the directions to follow along with you.
Prepare the room. Ask participants to stand and make space in the room—by pushing in chairs, and moving personal items under the tables).
Distribute the cards. Give each participant one of the Situation Cards. Ask them to keep the card to themselves.
Begin the activity. Ask the participants to form pairs and begin the activity according to the directions. As a facilitator, you can watch and count down the remaining time.
Conduct small debriefs. At the conclusion of the activity, ask participants to form small groups of four to six people and compare cards. Allow them to talk and debrief each other for a few minutes.
Prepare for a large debrief. After a few minutes, ask each small team to pick one card from their team for a large-group discussion. Encourage them to select the most common situation, the most challenging, the most difficult, or something worthy of the entire group's attention. Once they have chosen, they should give the card to one team member, return the remaining cards to the facilitator and return to their seats.
Debrief as a group. Once all participants are seated, ask for one volunteer who has a chosen card to read it aloud. Ask this person what was the best response she heard. Ask which other participants encountered this card and what responses they got. Ask other participants to contribute their responses to the situation. Ask how common this situation is. Ask if there are variations on this situation that should be discussed. Continue the debrief through each of the chosen cards until all the key points have been raised.
Have participants write the Situation Cards. For a suitable topic, you can ask participants to create the cards themselves. Careful instructions will be required to ensure a wide variety of situations (not just the obvious ones). You may want to form small teams and assign each team a theme (such as positive situations, negative situations, and unexpected situations) to ensure variety.
Involve the facilitator in the game. There is nothing to stop you from participating in the game—it's a good way to sample how participants are applying the knowledge. If you are a SME, invite the participants to pair up with you when they encounter a particularly challenging situation. If you have an odd number of participants, your participation ensures that everyone gets to pair up.