SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
A Note from Thiagi
The Mystery of the Missing Months
What Happened to March through May?
Technical Training and Interactive Strategies
You CAN use interactive techniques in technical training.
An Interview with Sonia Ribaux
A chat with our friend in Montreal.
Potent Poetry by Sonia Ribaux
A magnetic poetry set for your training topic.
Encouraging Participation in Debriefing by Roger Greenaway
More practical tips from Roger.
Can you unscramble a summary sentence?
Storytelling, Part 2
Eight more books about storytelling.
NASAGA '05: Play Learn Perform
Innovative ways to improve performance by making learning fun.
Use your first language.
SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.
Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan
Associate Editor: Julie England and Matt Richter
Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2005 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:
Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2005 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us (email@example.com) for permission.
All registered subscribers receive Play For Performance free of charge.
However, to prevent us from becoming bankrupt, we have decided to adopt a Busker Protocol. If you like what you read, if you find it useful, and if you'd like us to continue publishing the newsletter, please feel free to chip in with any financial contribution. Our estimated annual cost for this newsletter is $30,000. So we suggest an annual contribution of $30 (which is less than one-third the subscription cost of Thiagi's earlier paper-based newsletter). We would appreciate any amount that you send us, but make sure it is less than $30,000 (since we don't want to make a profit). You can mail your check to Thiagi, 4423 East Trailridge Road, Bloomington, IN 47408 or call us at (812) 332-1478 to charge the amount to a credit card. Or you can charge your credit card online, through The Thiagi Group, Inc. Please let us know if you need an invoice for financial record keeping.
Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks!
Many PFP readers wrote (and telephoned) to find out why the issues for the past three months are missing. I want to thank all these concerned readers and reassure them that PFP is back on schedule.
Two reasons for the missing months: (1) I had a couple of projects with tight deadlines and (2) I finished writing (and compiling) a book on Interactive Lectures to be published by ASTD.
I look forward to our continued conversations.
A consultant friend recently called to tell me that he has a new job as a technical trainer. He was ecstatic about the prospects of drawing a regular paycheck. “The only thing I regret,” he said as he was putting the phone down, “is that I won't be able to use experiential activities in my training sessions any more.”
Since when have experiential activities become inappropriate for technical training? My workshops on training games have received consistently high rating for usefulness from technical trainers. My in-house workshops on using interactive, experiential approaches in technical training are popular. Historically, most technical training has been based on interactive, hands-on approaches.
I decided that my friend's apparently illogical statement was due to a misunderstanding. Perhaps he thought that experiential activities applied only to interpersonal simulations and soft-skill roleplays. Perhaps he was worried that his engineer-participants would not tolerate playfulness and games or that he would not be able to cover enough technical content in the limited time available. Whatever the reason, I hope that my friend does not regress to endless lectures and computerized slide shows. Because, if he does, he will miss some of the most powerful approaches to technical training.
Here are four interactive experiential approaches that I have found especially useful in technical training:
Interactive Lectures. Lecture games facilitate two-way communication while providing complete control to the technical trainer. You can shift between a traditional lecture and the interactive variety with very little effort. If you know your technical content and have an outline for your presentation, you can easily convert the session into an interactive lecture. In the integrated-quiz format, you insert quiz interludes in the middle of your presentation. In the interspersed-tasks format, you interrupt the presentation and ask participants to perform a task. In the participant-control format, you let the trainees dictate the content and the sequence of your presentation. In the teamwork format, you ask trainees to work with one another to create a product based on your presentation.
Textra Games. Textra games combine the organization of technical manuals with the motivation of playful activities. Trainees begin by completing a reading assignment before participating in a game that uses peer support (and peer pressure) to encourage transfer and application of what they read. In the cooperative-learning format, trainees read and master one step of a procedure. Later, they form teams in which different members have mastered different steps. The team members now teach each other.
Structured Sharing. This interactive format enables practitioners to share their expertise with each other in the tradition of a medieval craft guild without its undesirable indenture system. Especially suited for advanced technical workers, this type of activity facilitates the sharing and analysis of participants' experiences, knowledge, and opinions. The primary source of information is the participants themselves. Recently, for example, I facilitated a group of people who worked with a software program (about which I knew nothing) to share their tips, tricks, shortcuts, macros, and strategies for working around known bugs.
Paired Coaching. Technical training frequently involves manual skills. The best way to teach them is to use the coaching mode in which the “trainer” gives a personal demonstration, watches the performance of the “learner”, and provides constructive feedback. In a game called Multi-Level Training, you teach a procedure to a few selected participants and give them the role of coach. Each coach recruits and trains as many of the other participants as possible, who become members of her team. The trained participants are tested and certified by a member of another team. Certified participants recruit and train more participants. This process is continued for a specified period of time. At the end of this period, whichever team has the most certified participants win the game.
The common element among the four approaches identified above is that they are all framegames. This type of game is designed to permit the easy replacement of old content with new material. So, once you have mastered a few framegames, you can load them with different technical content and create hundreds of training games. The other important thing about framegames is that they can incorporate various sources of technical content. In the above examples, interactive lectures incorporate presentations from subject-matter experts, textra games incorporate different documents, and structured sharing and paired coaching incorporate the knowledge and skills of participants themselves. Other framegames include Double Exposure (which incorporates videotapes and audiotapes) and WebQuests (created by Bernie Dodge) which incorporate online content resources.
In the flattened world of tomorrow, technical workers will have to master interpersonal skills (as in the case of a medical technologist interacting with a patient). At the same time, salespeople will have to master technical skills (as in the case of helping a customer reset the VCR clock). The same is true of managers (when they want to send a memo through the company's intranet). We are all going to be teaching and learning increasing amounts of technical skills.
Aren't you glad there are alternatives to lectures?
This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest, Sonia Ribaux, is an instructional designer whose designs are highly interactive with a special focus on games and simulations. She works with a wide variety of clients on diverse topics.
She also has been teaching at Concordia University for the last 15 years. As a part-time faculty member she has taught Instructional Design as well as Educational Gaming and Simulation at the Master's level in the Educational Technology programme.
Actively involved in the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA), Sonia hosted its annual conference in Montreal in 2003. She has published in NASAGA's newsletter Simages, in the journal Simulation & Gaming and in The Team and Organization Development Sourcebook 2004 and 2005. She is the co-author of the simulation Choices for Poverty Reduction.
Sonia holds a Bachelor's degree in Education from McGill University and a Master's degree in Educational Technology from Concordia University. She works in French and in English. Sonia lives and plays in Montreal.
PFP: Sonia, what would you say is your specialty area?
Sonia: I'm very interested in using games and simulations to create some learning around social issues. I recently developed a simulation on poverty reduction that is being used with new development officers at CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency). I'm also very interested in environmental issues.
PFP: How did you get into designing and using games?
Sonia: I took a Gaming and Simulation course with Harold Stolovitch many years ago and decided to make games a focus of my practice. I soon discovered NASAGA and its wacky, warm and generous members. I learned about games and simulation by having to prepare and teach a university course on it. When I first started, I really didn't know much more than my students.
PFP: How long have you been designing and using games?
Sonia: About 15 years.
PFP: Where do you use games?
Sonia: I almost invariably use games for warm-ups and reviews since they lend themselves so well to those types of activities. But I also try to use games to help participants discover content and make sense of it on their own.
PFP: How do your clients respond?
Sonia: When I suggest incorporating games in a design I usually get a very good response. I think that many clients already know about my interest in games when they contact me, so it's not really surprising that they are receptive. If someone else is facilitating my designs, I'm more likely to get pushback from the facilitators. I've learned that some facilitators need to be coached on how to facilitate games. I haven't lost one yet.
PFP: How do your participants respond?
Sonia: The best predictor of participants' response to games in an instructional setting is how comfortable and confident the facilitator is about using games. Enthusiasm is contagious. If the facilitator loves to play, so will the participants. Sometimes I get a participant who doesn't want to play. I make that person my assistant or give him or her a special role to play and leave it at that. It really doesn't happen often.
PFP: What has been the most embarrassing moment that you have experienced in conducting a training game?
Sonia: Once I was facilitating a one-day course which included several small games. The participants were very enthusiastic about it. I made a big deal about the fact that we were going to play a really fun game later in the afternoon, sort of to whet their appetites. Well, imagine my dismay when I realized I had not brought the right game! After all the build-up, I felt embarrassed to admit my mistake. I told the participants the truth and challenged them to develop a new game to review the content. They did this with much enthusiasm and I think they thought this was the plan all along.
PFP: What advice do you have for newcomers?
Sonia: When designing games, first, choose game formats that you love to play. Secondly, keep games simple. Third, test your game before you use it with the client (enlisting or blackmailing friends and family members to test your game is a common practice amongst gamers).
When using games, trust that the spirit of play will be ignited in your participants. Deep down, everyone wants to play.
When you want to get acceptance for the use of games, remember that as with everything else, give your client a solution that meets their needs. Focus on the results and use language that is appropriate to the client. If using “games” doesn't fit in your client's culture then simply call it an “activity”.
PFP: What do you think is the most important characteristic of an effective facilitator?
Sonia: I think that learning occurs when a facilitator is able to develop a trusting relationship with the participants. When people trust, their minds open and they are ready to learn.
PFP: What is the most important characteristic of a training game?
Sonia: The games that I admire the most are those that are simple and elegant. It's my life goal as a game designer to develop games that are described as simple and elegant.
PFP: What is the most important characteristic of a participant?
Sonia: I love to see a participant who abandons himself to the spirit of play. So much can happen in these circumstances. It's really fun to watch.
PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a facilitator?
Sonia: I don't like it when a facilitator showcases his or her own knowledge or skill. I also get really bored if a facilitator is focused on entertaining me.
PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a training game?
Sonia: I hate it when the “pre-play” period is too long. I want to be able to play quickly. When the instructions are too complex I get bored and usually make up my own rules. The game can be complex in terms of ideas but the instructions should be straightforward.
PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a participant?
Sonia: Poor hygiene! No, seriously, negativity. A participant's inability or unwillingness to engage in new learning situations not only makes the experience unenjoyable for that person, but can also dampen the experience for other participants in the group.
PFP: What types of games do you use most frequently?
Sonia: In a work setting, I use a lot of board games. I have some quick and easy templates for game boards that I can easily customize for a given client. The basic construct of these types of games is, the more you know (or paid attention) the more likely you are to win. So, it makes sense in an instructional setting.
PFP: What is your favorite game?
Sonia: For fun I love to play games like charades or Pictionary or any kind of improv games.
PFP: Do you have any book recommendations?
Sonia: There's a book called Playfair that I love. It was written by Matt Weinstein and Joel Goodman. These are games to play for fun anytime you're with a group. The book is from the 80s (so everyone in the photos has bad hair) but you might still find it in a used book store. I also like Kat Koppett's book on improv activities called Training to Imagine. And, I love Thiagi's book, Design Your Own Games and Activities.
PFP: What is your prediction about the future of games?
Sonia: I predict a world where game stores are as common as book stores, where Playing Games is a major in college and in which adults and children spend as much time playing games as watching TV. That's my wish list anyway.
I've been really enjoying playing with my Magnetic Poetry set. I thought that this would be fun to use in an instructional setting. I think that people are intrigued by poetry because most of us can't write it. Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate poetry in your course.
It's very easy to make your own set of poetry cards. You need approximately 200 cards. A 2 by 4 inch format works well. Customize the cards so that words related to your topic are well represented. Below is a recipe for the type of words to include on the cards, the number of words, and some examples. All numbers are approximate.
Verbs (30): create, stimulate, explore, lead, frolic, be, is, lift, explode, to love, write, show, call, talk, jump
Adjectives (20): mellow, clever, playful, soft, enough, too much, pale, dark, fast
Nouns (45): bird, integrity, teacher, team, rainbow, cement, light, bed, table, marble, fence, passion, fruit
Adverbs (20): joyfully, well, elegantly, randomly, why, not, how, where, far, near, softly, lovely, very, really, wisely
Poetic phrases (15): truth dreams, silver wolf, tender stars, brisk air, cool stream, darling buds, heavenly honey
Prepositions (10): at, from, with, up, across, under, over, with, for, of, by, beside, next
Pronouns (10): who, which, what, it, she, he, it, I, you, they, this, that, any, his, her, none, anything, some, every
Interjections and conjunctions (10): oh, wow, hey, and, because, as, if, then, for, since, until
Suffixes (10): -s, -ed, -ing, -es, -ness (these can be repeated)
Custom words related to your topic (20-30): For a set I made recently on instructional games I used words like these: games, learning, play, teach, coach, creativity, laughter, players, competition, tomfoolery
There are many different ways to use the poetry cards. Here are a few ways to incorporate poetry in any instructional situation.
Review. Ask each team of 4-5 people to create a brief poem that summarizes what they have learned in the training as a whole or on a particular topic. Debrief by having a poetry reading. Let the participants explain the meaning of their poem.
Team Building. Ask teams to use the cards to write a poem or slogan to express their team's spirit. Post the poem on the walls.
Vision. Ask team to come up with 10 to 20 words that come to mind when visioning a particular project or idea. Have them write the words on cards. Give them a set of poetry cards without custom words. Use the words they wrote as the custom words. Now ask the teams to come up with a vision poem, using both their words and the poetry cards. Debrief by having the teams present their vision and discuss.
Icebreaker: This Describes Me. Distribute a set of cards to participants seated around each table. Have each person select 5 words that describe him or her. Ask the participants to work in pairs and explain to each other their choice of words. Have participants to introduce their partner to the group.
Icebreaker: Group Poetry. Use this activity with large groups: Give each person three cards. Ask the participants to mingle and meet, showing each other their words. Eventually, participants should form groups of 5 or 6 people with whom they can form a short poem.
This is a continuation of Roger Greenaway's article on debriefing. You can review the previous articles in the December 2004, January 2005, and February 2005 issues of PFP. The earlier articles explored five strategies for encouraging participation in debriefing (investigate, facilitate, clarify, demonstrate, and change). This month, Roger continues with the next two strategies of consult and inspire.
When you face a problem as a trainer such as trying to encourage more contribution in a group, there is rarely much to be gained from being “secretive” about the problem you see and your plans for solving it. If the group does not know what you are up to, this may slow down the building of trust between you and the group. Also the problem you see is probably one that they are also keen to solve. So explain the problem as you see it and how you are thinking of tackling it (or why you are unsure about how to proceed). Encourage comments. Ask for ideas. Enlist their support. You may find plenty of ideas and support coming from group members. Your toolkit is not the only resource you can draw on. I call this “transparent training”. It instantly gives you a much bigger toolkit, but if you use it too much, the group may think that your toolkit is empty!
Be radical. Do the opposite of what participants expect. Change the routine. Be imaginative. Make debriefing at least as appealing as the game being debriefed. Above all, ensure that debriefing sessions are alive to learners' needs.
Meet “What's-in-It-for-Me” Needs. Despite your best efforts, some individuals may find that what you are offering during the debriefing session is neither meeting their needs nor helping them towards their goals. It often happens that a lot of thought is put into designing the activity to stimulate and engage the participants. But how much thought do you put into designing debriefing sessions to stimulate and engage? It is not enough to expect that the energies aroused during activities will keep things alive during the debriefing process. This clearly does happen on occasion, but if you find that involvement and contribution levels drop off during a debriefing session, then maybe it's time to put as much care into the design of your debriefing.
So what are these needs that we should try to meet in both activities and debriefing sessions? In my book Playback I have compiled a list of developmental needs from a number of developmental theories. I also give brief examples of how debriefing techniques can help to meet these needs. The needs listed are:
If you can offer all of these in your reviews, there will be very few people who could possibly resist taking part!
We summarized the key points of one of the articles in this issue in a single sentence. Then we converted this summary sentence into this twisted-pair puzzle:
AHRSTTTTU EHIIPRSTT AFLOPY BEILLW DEGIIINNT AACIINOPPRRSTTUY
To solve a twisted-pair puzzle, unscramble the first group of letters to discover two words. Decide which word comes first and which word comes next. Then unscramble the next group of letters to discover the third and the fourth words. Repeat this process until you have unscrambled all the groups of letters, discovered all the words, and reconstructed the original sentence.
Here's a sample twisted-pair puzzle:
Since there is only set of letters, this must be a two-word sentence. Working with the letters, I identify the word WALKING. That leaves these letters: OPRSY. I create the word PROSY with these letters, not sure whether it is a legitimate word. Even if it is, PROSY WALKING or WALKING PROSY does not sound like much of a sentence. So I decide that WALKING is not one of the two words.
Next I try PARKING. That left LOSWY to be formed into a single word. Still no luck.
I work with the word ASKING. Using the remaining letters, I create two words: PRY and OWL. For a moment I decide that the hidden sentence is PRY ASKING OWL. Then I remember that the sentence can have only two words.
I keep playing with other words, intuitively feeling that one of the words should end in “-ING”. After several minutes of torture, I end up with the correct sentence: PLAYING WORKS!
Go back to the twisted-pair puzzle at the top of this page. See if you can solve it, two words at a time.
If you want, we can give you a hint.
Do you want to see the solution?
We published mini-reviews of eight books on storytelling in the Bookshelf section of the September 2003 issue of PFP. Here's an update with mini-reviews of eight more recent books (or older books recently discovered).
This book includes original presentations by four outstanding scholars at the 2001 Smithsonian Associates Event (entitled “Storytelling: Passport to the 21st Century”) along with their updated reflections three years later in 2004. The basic presentations included in the book are “Storytelling in Organizations” by Larry Prusak, “Narrative as a Knowledge Medium in Organizations” by John Seely Brown, “Using Narrative as a Tool for Change” by Stephen Denning, and “Storytelling in Making Educational Videos” by Katalina Groh. Sample practical suggestion from the book: The best story does not come from the chief executive officer of the company. It comes from an obscure person that nobody suspected would be a great storyteller.
Much more extensive than his previous two books, in this latest hands-on guide to storytelling, Stephen Denning explains why storytelling is a critical skill for leaders. The second part of the book features instructions and examples related to eight types of stories for motivating others to action, building trust in you, building trust in your organization, transmitting your values, getting others to work together, sharing knowledge, taming the grapevine, and creating and sharing your vision. Sample practical suggestion from the book: To create a future story, bring together the people who will be involved in implementing the future story and involve them in crafting the story. If appropriate, use roleplaying.
Stephen Denning narrates a satirical fable about a group squirrels with Diana as the heroine. An executive at Squirrel, Inc., Diana masters the fine art of leading change through storytelling including techniques for overcoming obstacles, generating enthusiasm, fostering teamwork, and sharing knowledge. From the story, you realize how the right story told at the right time can determine the outcome of any major change effort. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Tell the story from the point of view of a single protagonist who is typical of the potential audience. Make sure that the story has an authentically happy ending.
Kat Koppett's book on improvisational techniques includes a chapter (and 20 ready-to-use activities) related to storytelling. Kat explores different applications of storytelling to pique interest, to introduce participants, assess needs, increase retention, enrich visioning, and build teams. All of the activities in the book go beyond one-way storytelling to interactive story creation and analysis. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Use the character creation activity. Give a fictional name of a character and ask participants to take turns offering characteristics, building on the earlier contributions. (Order the book from Amazon.)
This book is not about storytelling but about teaching other people to tell their stories. Doug Lipman illustrates his coaching principles with excerpts from actual sessions. Chapters of the book provide ground rules for coaching and deal with overcoming obstacles to effective storytelling: lack of information, needing more experience of the story, misdirected effort, and emotional blocks. Sample practical suggestions from the book: Be generous with your praise. Praise is an under-used tool of awesome power. Many of us desire praise, but are afaid to seek it. Many of us desire to give praise, but are afraid to express it. We need to hear what we do well about ten times as often as what needs improvement.
Written by two educators from New Zealand, this book presents practical suggestions for encouraging participants to create and share stories related to their professional practice. The authors introduce and illustrate a storytelling model and describe the relationship between the storytelling process and reflective learning outcomes. Chapters of the book elaborate on the stages of storytelling: story finding, story telling, story expanding, story processing, and story reconstructing. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Have participants identify key elements and reflections by identifying key feelings and players, significant events, insights into preparation for the storytelling activity, new insights gained while sharing the story, processing of the experience, and outcomes.
This book is an excellent collection of practical advice. It contains answers from more than 50 contributors to 21 questions such as How do I find the right stories?, What mistakes are frequently made by beginning storytellers? How do I control stage fright? and How do I market myself?. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Make sure that the story has a strong definite ending. Even though our lives are on a long chain of events, we must have a conclusion in a story-for-telling. The audience must clearly know the story is over. Try several different endings. An audience can sometimes help you choose the best ending.
Doug Stevenson is the creator of the Story Theater Method® which involves acting out the story instead of standing still and telling it. Story theater blends physical and emotional action. In this book, Doug presents and explains nine steps for strategic storytelling in business: setting the scene, introducing the characters, beginning the journey, encountering the obstacle, overcoming the obstacle, resolving the story, making the point, asking the question, and restating the point. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Use self-depreciating humor. If you are bald, play it off. If you are tall, make fun of your height. In the midst of a story, during a dramatic moment, insert a self-depreciating comment—to get a laugh and to relieve tension—and move on.
The sentence is a piece of advice given by Sonia Ribaux during her interview.
Back to the puzzle.
Please join me and my colleagues from the Thiagi Group at this year's NASAGA Conference. Experience the spectacular colors of a New England autumn during NASAGA's annual conference. “Play Learn Perform” is the theme: a blend of interactive activities and fun designed to help everyone be more productive on the job, in teams, and within their community. Come to Manchester, New Hampshire and experience a pre-conference workshop, interactive concurrent sessions, dynamic keynote presenters, a banquet and dancing, as well as informal networking and professional development!
The Thiagi Group is coordinating the NASAGA Training Game Design Certificate program. To earn this official certificate, you have to attend our pre-conference workshop, selected concurrent sessions, and a post-conference online follow-up.
Pre-Conference Workshop: October 5, 2005
Conference: October 6 - 8, 2005
Radisson Hotel Manchester
700 Elm Street
Manchester, NH 03101
Telephone: 603 625-1000
Visit the NASAGA website (http://nasaga.org/) for more information and to register.
Storytelling is our native language. Lecturing is an acquired language.
This statement was inspired by a slide show in Stephen Denning's website (http://www.stevedenning.com/). The same slide show points out that children can tell stories while they are two years old whereas they have to be eight years old before they can handle abstract logic (of the type involved in lecturing).
So, why should we struggle to communicate key concepts in a foreign language instead of talking to others in their own (and our own) language?