Show-Stopping Training

By Leeds, Dorothy | Training & Development, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Show-Stopping Training


Leeds, Dorothy, Training & Development


The techniques theater actors use can add drama to your training. Here's how.

When you think of your roles as a trainer, does the word "performer" pop into your head? If trainers didn't have a little bit of performer in them, they probably wouldn't be trainers. When you think about it, anyone who gets up in front of others to make a presentation or share information is a performer. Even though the venue may not be Broadway or Hollywood, professional acting techniques can make presentations more powerful, memorable, and entertaining.

Just because we trainers ply our trade in organizational settings, we tend to think our programs have to conform to narrow confines. And we tend to follow traditional patterns. But even effective patterns can be enlivened.

In my own experience, I debated whether to go ahead with a theatrical approach or remain more straightforward in a program I was preparing for participants in a technical field. I decided to go for the pizzazz - music, hats, and all. The "techies" loved it. And they thought it was effective. From then on, I had the acting bug, you might say.

A theatrical approach has several advantages:

* Credibility. Many trainees want to feel that they've participated in a memorable experience. It makes the trainer more believable and helps motivate trainees to use what they learned once they're back on the job.

* Career advantage. Most of us don't want to be doing the same things other trainers are doing. We want to stand out, increase our recognition, and get hired or have our services used more often.

* Confidence. Adding entertainment value can be challenging. But trainees can gain confidence by growing. And we might inspire them to take on new challenges.

* Creativity. New approaches can dispel the career doldrums and add life to our training programs.

* Cash. When trainers become more creative and confident - and gain more credibility and recognition - they shouldn't be surprised if the results show up on their bottom line.

Setting the stage

I began using a theatrical approach in my own training because my work had begun to feel routine. So, I decided to use music and drama to make my training more dynamic - and more fun.

I came up with the idea for Theater for Learning - content-based training with a theatrical flair. I didn't make huge changes in my programs right away. I just started adding a few songs, monologues, and melodramas to reinforce some key points. I'd think of the point I wanted to make and then find a way to represent it in a song, a story, a character, or an item of clothing. I didn't buy elaborate costumes - just a pom-pom here and a feather boa there. And I developed a cast of characters: the storyteller, head coach Patricia Riley, Detective Curlock Jones, Dr. Friend, Dotty the Cheerleader, and a fairy godmother.

When I began designing theatrical programs, I realized they were a perfect way to utilize part of the presentations-skills training I'd been teaching for years: the PEP formula for effective presentations - point, example, and point. For every major element in a session, you make a point, give a descriptive example, and then remake the point as creatively as possible. One way people learn is through repetition and illustration. What better way to utilize the PEP formula than to create a theatrical example? Participants are more likely to remember a lively song or funny story than a dry synopsis.

Learning the lines

Theater for Learning is made up of several different programs.

In my speaking-skills program, I ask participants to tell me their expectations, which I write on a flipchart. Then I ask them to pantomime their expectations. The exercise is fun and sets the tone for the theatrical part of the session. It also gets participants to concentrate on what they want from me and the training.

I've also added theatrical techniques to a program on overcoming presentation faults. …

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