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Making dry topics engaging

These tips were drawn from a number of LinkedIN discussions, focusing on how to make dry topics (accounting, insurance, technical training, etc.) more interesting. Perhaps the ideas listed here will get your creative juices flowing.

1. Your enthusiasm is contagious

If you’re not excited about your topic, you can’t expect your learners to be.  If, on the other hand, you are super charged up about your topic, it’s importance and relevance, you will surely convey this energy to your group. Here’s what several contributors had to say on this topic:

There are no dry topics, only dry speakers. Humor, story, and engagement always help.”  Posted online by Dee Dukehart

Part of what keeps them awake is that I really enjoy the content and strive to keep it fresh, if I am bored they will be too. I also like to sprinkle bits of pop culture into the examples that I give.”  Posted online by Chad Neumann

Make them feel the benefits of learning by adding humerous intelligent jokes associated with subject and case studies. And the trainer’s rejuvenated mind for such approaches when practiced, any topic can be facilitated with more fun and the trainer should have cool but action oriented mind-set for the same.” Posted online by VASUDEVAN HARIHARAN

Use great visuals!”

Keep in mind that the words are only 7% of the impact of the conversation. You, your voice, tone, your energy, enthusiasm etc. are what really makes people interested….or not. Make it seem to be (sound) exciting, whether or not it is. How does your voice sound when you’re excited and passionate versus dry and bored (or boring).” Posted online by Annie Hart

2. Create Links to “reality”

  • Link the topic to your highest values and purpose until you’re absolutely on FIRE about this opportunity. It will influence preparation & development and produce original thought and perspective. People will become mesmerized by your enthusiasm and connect with you until your last word.
  • The best way I have found to make these regulation and documents interesting is to actually work on real projects. I don’t teach the regulations without having active projects and participation. This way, the individual has a direct connection to solving real problems while learning about the applicable regulations. The mere act of working on a real project while studying / learning about the regulations has a profound impact on interest and learning.
  • Contact some insurance carriers and let them know what insurance topics you’re planning to cover; they’ll most likely send you a DVD of a touching real-life story of somebody helped by their insurance, etc.  Then you can cite “a major auto insurance company” if your own location has a no-solicit policy. In my realm, I don’t have one, so I let the carrier know how many would be in my class and then they provided enough materials for the entire class — reducing my expenses as a trainer! Better yet!
  • Start with media news clips – (in teaching insurance, we look for people who have lost their homes in a fire and have no insurance to build a new home or business insurance disasters etc.; it builds their interest in what happens to people who don’t have insurance.)
  • Find someone passionate and knowledgeable about the topic and who can connect with your intended audience and bring it to life.

3. Introduce Exercises and Activities that bring the subject to life

  • I use TV-Style game shows for these kind of technical questions. I could see using games similar to Feud, Match Game, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune for training or reinforcement. Posted online by Kenny Zail
  • Key Term memory game – Hang a piece of card stock (8×8) with a sleeve in the back from the ceiling.  Have it hanging down to where you can reach it.  Use rubber bands tied together to fasten to the ceiling and the card stock. On the card stock put different colored question marks on the front. In the sleeve in the back put the “key term of the day” on a piece of paper and slip it in the back of the card into the sleeve.  In the beginning of class, let them know you will be going over several key terms. (Let them know that when they hear you say “KEY TERM” they should  take it as a “hint-hint” for a future challenge). At the end of class, you are going to ask one person at a time what they think the key term is in the card stock sleeve. As they reveal which key term they think it is, they also have to explain what their term is. The 1st person to guess the key term and explain it will be the winner. I usually have a gift card in the sleeve as well. The impact is that learners have an incentive to listen to the key things I want them to get. You can also add to the fun by using a fake mic when you mention a KEY TERM.  Posted online by Linda Randazzo
  • Here’s a banking example:  Have 3 volunteers stand in front of the class to illustrate each of the parts of the equation. Have several “transactions” (i.e. loans, cash deposits, purchase, withdrawals, paid in capitol) on a flip chart. Assets, liabilities and OE will have the current balances on card stock they will hold up. Go over the transactions on the flip chart one at a time and ask how it changes the #s. Divide the class into two teams. Teams will write down on their card stock what they think the answer is and give it to assets, liability or OE to replace what they are holding depending on what you are asking.  Now if their team is wrong, the other team gets a chance. Team with winning answer goes first next round. Team with most points at the end of your transactions or a predetermined time limit win. Posted online byLinda Randazzo
  • Discuss what you learned – It’s great to share about 10-15 min of content with them, then give them time to process the information (extremely important to learning and memory). So one example activity would be to have them partner up and take a walk around the room as they discuss what they just learned and how it applies to them. It gets oxygen to the brain and shakes it up. Posted online by LaVonna Roth
  • Morning review – Every morning do a morning review of the material covered the previous day.  Make into a game.  Split the class into small groups/teams, they will need a blank sheet of paper. Pose a question from the previous days lesson. Give the groups a set amount of time to come up with the answer (30 sec or 2 mins etc) and write the answer on the paper. When time is up, instruct them to tape (post it) the answers to the wall. Review the correct answer and give every team with the correct answer a point on the board. After you review all the questions, the team with the most points wins! Rotate the teams from day to day.  Posted online by Jeffrey Jasso
  • Case study – write up a case study, or look for one already written. Harvard Business has some great examples of case studies, as they use them prolifically with their MBA students.
  • Learning Lab / Role-play – replicate a real organization, with a real problem, with real conversations. Assign each participant a role such as manager, employee, CEO etc. Then provide them with a scenario about what’s going on in the company and a problem to be solved. Ask them to work with each other on how to solve the problem. Aside from the role they play, the scenario you’ve set, and the problem they have, the rest is up to them. They are responsible for the interactions between players, the content of the conversations, and the outcome. This is different from role plays as there is no script to follow – the conversations are from the participants’ knowledge based on what they’ve learned. For instance, say you wanted students to learn about risk and transferring risk through insurance. You could set up a situation (a 100 year old organization like a hospital) give them a problem (hospital is unsure how to manage risk with insurance to cover pioneering surgeries), give them roles (administrators, doctors, surgical suppliers, etc.) and have the students examine what risk pioneering surgical procedures will present to the hospital and how insurance will reduce that risk. Whether they resolve the situation right or wrong, great learning occurs because it comes from them. Posted online by Karen Barrow MSOD, RODC
  • Question stumpers – To the participants who are attending the program, the topic itself may not be dull or dry. It’s always my intention to engage the participants with a variety of techniques, games I create, contests around the content of the material, case studies, etc. For example, after a couple of hours of content, you might split the group into teams and have the groups come up with questions to “stump” the other teams. Naturally, keeping score, having prizes for the winning team, etc. gets the competitive juices going for most people. Posted online by Ken Kukla
  • “Break the game” – Make an outrageous statement and see their reaction. Suddenly there will be lot of excitement. Then you can slowly direct their attention to the point you are making. Posted online by Ramam D.S.S.
  • Teach back challenge – When I have a lot of information that absolutely must be communicated, I give it back to the group. I break them up into small groups and then break the material up and give it back to the groups. I ask them to review it, learn it, and then teach it back to the whole group. I give them no parameters and tell them to make it fun and educational. Posted online by Lynne Oakley

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