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Crazy Facilitation Favorites

On the LinkedIN group, “Learning, Education, and Training Professionals Group,”  posted the question: “What are your crazy facilitation ideas that have worked or you’d love to try?” I reposted the wonderful question again on the group called “Effective and Fun Training Techniques.” What follows are some of my favorite posts from those discussions.

As you teach and train, remember you are merely a facilitator of learning. Focus on asking the right questions; questions that will help students discover learning on their own–not on feeding learners a series of correct answers.

Customer Service and Hospitality

Coffee shop field trip

Take your group of students down to the cappuccino strip (the row of coffee shops), split up into pairs, and each pair go to a different coffee shop and order something different. Then meet up afterward and debrief on the quality of service, the points of difference of each coffee shop, weak & strong points, etc. Easy and fun, and people will just about teach themselves if they get it right. Posted by Ross Woods

Creativity and Brainstorming

Worst idea

We have participants try to generate bad ideas instead of good ones (and then find something of value/a trigger in the worst idea to inspire a good one.)

Object Role Play

To invent a new laundry detergent, we had session participants role-play a day in the life of a sock. To generate a new make-up, we had participants imagine the unique make-up needs of a mermaid, a pioneer woman, a vampire, and an animated character. The animated character led to a very successful new product from Prescriptives: the idea of light-reflecting make-up called, appropriately enough, Magic. Posted by Bryan Mattimore, author of Idea Stormers (Wiley Jossey-Bass)


Breaking into teams: Splitting up the men and women

I had a course of 15 people with two-thirds male and one-third female.  I put all the women in one group and the men in two other groups to work on a case study in the evening of a residential course (with a presentation of their findings first thing the following morning). When I handed out the group lists I was greeted with cries of “bastard.” The male teams decided that they just could not do worse than the female team. And, the female team decided that they would smash the male teams into the ground. Instead of working until about 9:30pm and then adjourning to the bar all groups worked into the early hours! Posted by Jeremy Hall

Managing Varying Abilities

I once had a class that had PhDs along with non-HS graduates. The PhDs tended to go too fast and the non-HS graduates had trouble keeping up. Until… I paired them together. That worked well because the experts helped the new users. I’ve used the technique since, to help struggling students and to help those students who arrive late or “miss” a portion of the class. Posted by Glenn D

Pay for great questions

This technique gets (and keeps) people engaged. Early in the training, someone will ask a question. I’ll pause, look at the person as if I’m going to be mad, pull out my wallet, and hand that person a $1 bill, exclaiming, “That was an OUTSTANDING question! Jimmy gets a dollar.” And then to the rest of the class, I’ll say, “You’ve heard of ‘pay for performance’ right? Well, in this class I pay for great questions, and that was a great question.”

I’ll do this several times and sometimes even include a $5 bill for a truly SUPERIOR question. This, of course, gets people wanting to ask questions — which is good! Pretty soon, someone will catch me NOT handing out a dollar and say, “That was a great question; Sally should get a dollar!” I’ll respond, “Well, there are dollars floating around out there; who’d like to give Sally a dollar?” Sure enough, someone will hand Sally a dollar.

THEN the dollars become tokens for recognizing their peers for contributions and get passed around throughout the training. P.S.  most of the time I get all my money back at the end of the training.


What do you want others to know about you?

I presented one training session to a Polish Army unit getting ready to deploy. No one in the class knew anyone else in the class which I found quite different from the US Forces I have trained. As an icebreaker, I ask each soldier to tell us their name, where they are from, and the one thing they would like the group to know since they would be spending the next year together. The group came to discover many were playing instruments but not planning on taking the instruments while deployed. By the end of the class, many agreed to form an ad hoc musical group, who would practice as time allowed while they were deployed to a country at war. A few others found common interest to make their time away from home more bearable with “friends” sharing time together. Who would have thought such an innocent question could build deeper bonds among “strangers” Posted by Robert Parry

Introductions, Aspirations, and Unusual Facts

I ask participants who do not know each other to introduce themselves giving their names, why they are in the class, plus an aspiration for the future. Then everyone has to write down an unusual fact about themselves that no one would know, something surprising or unusual. Then the facts are read and the group has to guess one by one, which fact belongs to which participant. This does help people get to know each other in a rather light-hearted way.  Posted by Kathryn H.W. McCrary

Orchestrating a team

To develop a team that works together ‘like an orchestra,’ we did just that.  We bought 100 musical instruments, including penny whistles, harmonicas, xylophones, ocarinas, etc., and then set the entire team the task of planning, rehearsing, and performing an ‘orchestral’ piece of music!

The result was stunning! The whole team was fully engaged, those with some musical ability trained others when they did their final performance. I have to admit it brought a tear to my eye. The team was certainly proud of what they had achieved. Posted by John Cooper

Energy Booster

Move it!

  • When I find an audience beginning to dose off, wander away, or when there is negative energy that is starting to build in the room, I announce: “The energy isn’t working properly like this, everybody MOVE now!” and I ask everyone to change his/her seats, most preferably far from the old ones and next to new mates 🙂 Posted by Doaa K (Trainer’s Box)
  • I changed the seating from a standard classroom formation to groups of 5-6. It created a new energy and level of participation. Posted by Thomas Dworak, Sergeant at Wilmette Police Department

Managing Change

Organized Mayhem

For a Managing Change class, we purposely do not set up properly, meaning chairs are scattered about, the doorway is partially blocked by a table, trash” such as empty bottles, notepads, etc. are scattered on the tables, flip charts from other classes are still hanging in the room – the appearance of the classroom not cleaned up and re-set for the next class. Obviously, things need to be changed! Yet it is amazing to see how differently people react. Our observations yield key insights as to how each person approaches change. Some leave and come back later; others make a space for themselves; some start cleaning up and rearranging the room (with or without asking the facilitator if it’s okay). Confusing but great introductory activity. Posted by Dixie Grow, Career Growth Associates

Interviewing Techniques

Rubber Gloves for PROBING questions…

An essential element of being competent at interviewing is asking “probing questions.” When a candidate responds with a partial answer, or you want to explore the motivation/background/technique, etc., that underlies their response, you must ask follow-on questions. You’re digging for information that will help you determine how the candidate performed within the situation.  To make the concept stick, try this:

Before class, stop at a pharmacy and get a box of thin rubber gloves, the inexpensive latex kind (about $10 for 200 gloves). When you set up the room, lay out the participant guide and one glove for each person.

As people come into the class, they sit down, and then with wide eyes, look at the gloves, then look at me. The look in their eyes clearly radiates, “You’re not going to ask us to DO something with these gloves, are you?!?” I just smile and respond, “we’ll be using those a little later…”

About two hours into the class, we get into the section where the topic of probing questions comes up for the first time. Before I use the word, I make an exaggerated display of putting on my glove, which causes nervous energy around the room. Then I turn around so participants cannot see what I’m doing, but loudly announce, “when you hear this sound … [I hold my hand up and snap the glove as loud as possible] … what comes to mind?”

People generally respond with some variant of “doctor’s office/doctor visit, etc.” Then I announce, “MEN only … what ONE word comes to mind when you hear this sound?” and snap the glove again. Squeamishly, they respond, “PROBING” — and the women all laugh.

Then I ask them to put their gloves on, and announce, “From now on, whenever you do an interview, I want you to remember putting on this glove … and the snapping sound … and remember that the most important skill you can put into practice during an interview is ASKING PROBING QUESTIONS.” Then I tell them they can take the glove off if they would like.

At the end-of-day review, almost everyone talks about the importance of probing questions — and in that way, I know that the glove has had its intended effect. The combination trigger of the word, the visual image, and the snapping sound all together plant the skill for them. (BTW, the vinyl gloves don’t snap, that’s why you need latex or nitrate.) Posted by David Rappuhn

Visual impact

Strong Foundations

I did a presentation on the value of their community activity. To create a memorable image, I printed key actions and ingredients on big cartons; I had the audience stack the boxes in a pyramid. At the right moment, a volunteer stepped forward and pulled out the foundation box: PEOPLE. This brought down the whole pile and made its point. It’s memorable, raises a laugh, and makes a good picture for the local paper. Posted by Howard Ellison


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