Boost Training with a 3-Letter Word

In our previous show...

Last month we looked at the serious side of humor - the research proving that humor makes us think, learn and work better. If you need convincing, click on the link at the end of this article to last month's empirical humdinger.

This month, I promised some "how-to" tips for making your training more fun and, as a result, more meaningful, effective, engaging and memorable.

When does the world laugh with you?

What's the safest subject to poke fun at? If you pointed at yourself you're right.

I'm 5'1" tall on a humid day. When I want to write something on a flip chart I pick the tallest guy in the room to help. I lead the discussion and he writes down the points made by the audience. I advise that he's my Vanna - like Vanna White on the Wheel of Fortune. He's the tall good looking one and I'm Pat Sajak - the short, smart one. People laugh. When they're laughing they're open, engaged, connected - all good states for learning.

I once saw a balding, middle aged, DT instructor get a laugh and the attention of his Gen X and Y recruits by pointing to his head and declaring,

You see that! You know what causes that? Too much testosterone! Bring it on, Curly!

I've tripped in a courtroom as a prosecutor and in a national forum as a trainer. A self-deprecating,

You should have seen me before I took ballet lessons.

gets people to laugh, relax, see you as human, and establish a safe environment where mistakes are learning opportunities.

Find a way to make fun of yourself. This kind of playful self-deprecation:

  • Reduces the threat level - a key for learning
  • Makes you human and accessible
  • Invites your learners to make mistakes and learn from them.

Can't think of anything to poke fun at? Ask your spouse, kids, or a good friend. Tell them they'll be helping you advance your career.

Be in the fun moment.

Life, and training, hands you moments. Be ready to have fun with them.

In my leadership training, I sometimes discuss the Ghurkas - soldiers from the mountains of Nepal who became renowned as the bravest of the brave.

I begin by asking if anyone has heard of the Ghurkas. There's usually a history buff who shares what he knows. At a recent training an energetic woman waved her hand enthusiastically. I happily called on her and she proudly offered,

Sure! They're a kind of pickle.

I lost it - the kind of laughter that hurts. When I'd wiped my eyes and blown my nose, I tried to play it straight and replied,

Not exactly, Ma'am. I think you're thinking of gherkins. Ghurkas are legendary soldiers from the mountains of Nepal. But you're very close.

There was a moment of breath-holding silence in the group. Then this delightful woman slapped both thighs, tilted her head back - and busted out laughing. The rest of us joined in.

Later a participant told me that because I'd first made fun of myself, it gave everyone else permission to make mistakes, laugh at them, and go on to learn new things.

No one in that audience will ever forget what Ghurkas, or gherkins, are.

Another moment occurred when I was doing a train-the-trainer presentation for a state NAFTO chapter. I asked the group to tell me IN ONE SINGLE WORD what the most important quality for being a great trainer is.

That session's Vanna wrote the words up as I went around the room. From the back corner a woman replied,

Good listener.

I started laughing. I didn't even get to explain before the rest of the audience good naturedly pointed out that the woman hadn't listened very well since my instruction was one word. She quickly responded,

I knew that. I was just checking to make sure YOU were listening.

I bowed to her and added to Vanna's list, Humor. The woman grinned as if she'd just won a prize. The rest of the room smiled. We'd just become part of the same fun team.

Fun can have a mind of its own.

In this same training, I had planned an activity where participants are given a paddle and ball attached with a rubber band. The instruction is to talk about 3 points made in the class while keeping the ball in motion. Most people will try to bounce the ball against the paddle - a difficult task. And fun to watch.

Eventually, someone flailing the ball or watching in the audience realizes they could have easily followed my instruction by swinging the ball like a pendulum. This leads to a discussion of how we often over complicate tasks and can sometimes come up with better ways of doing things by thinking outside the box.

Things didn't go quite as I'd planned. I'd wound the bands and balls around each paddle individually so they wouldn't get tangled up in transport. As I handed them to the participants, I said,

The first thing you need to do is untangle your balls and let them dangle.

Amidst the resulting group crack up, it seemed a good time to take a break.

Become a figment of your imagination.

Did you ever pretend to be somebody else when you were a kid? I'd organize the neighborhood kids and we'd star in long, involved plots from TV and books. We played Daniel Boone (I got the lead after getting a faux coonskin hat and powder horn for Christmas), Man From U.N.C.L.E., Black Stallion, etc. We didn't need any sets except backyards, basements and the nearby woods. We made our props. We were totally engaged. It was serious fun.

You can similarly engage yourself and your learners.

No discussion of alternate egos could go without mentioning J.D. Buck Savage (aka Dave Smith). If you haven't seen Buck, there's a link to his videos at the end of this article. Buck, I mean Dave, is one of my heroes. Once I saw how he made great training points by becoming a mix of Dudley DoRight, Charlie Chaplin and all three Stooges, I found the courage I needed.

I train on courtroom testimony - countless times. I get bored easily. If I'm bored, I have little hope of engaging my learners. Fun is engaging. So I invented

Xavier Steele, dominatrix prosecutrix, her friends call her "X.S." for short.

X.S. appears and gives some courtroom testimony tips and leads some cross examination scenarios - complete with black leather suit, stiletto heeled boots, and a riding crop (all purchased at a local thrift store). She's even appeared on a Law Enforcement Television Network training video.

Making blood borne pathogens fun.

I had a train-the-trainer participant challenge me to make his topic - blood borne pathogens - fun. He confessed even he was bored with the training videos. We brainstormed.

I suggested he begin with some cranked up jazz rock by Blood, Sweat and Tears (if you're Gen X or Y, google the band). Then he would appear as Mr. B - dressed completely in red (black leather pants are okay as long as he wears red shoes, and red turtle neck or red long, sleeve shirt and tie). The universal symbol for bio hazards is way cool.

It had to be on the turtle neck, or tie, or, even better, a cape or BIG belt buckle.

Got geek?

A couple of months ago, I had an IT guy lament about having to train every cop in the department on some new software. He said their eyes glazed over at the mere mention. We brainstormed. I learned they had some dispensable, obsolete computers.

I suggested he tap into everyone's stereotype of a geek (which he fit) and our universal feeling at times that we'd like to kill our computer.

Hidden underneath a snap button long sleeve shirt he'd wear the "Got Geek" t-shirt shown above.

Set up in the training room would be one of the department's obsolete computers with a sheet underneath the computer table. With no introduction, he'd walk up to the computer, stand, and look out until everyone quieted. Then he'd say,

Before we begin, I'd like to give expression to something we've all felt.

Then he'd rip off the snap-buttoned shirt, flex his scrawny arms and proceed to smash the computer to smithereens with a heretofore hidden sledge hammer. (Now you know why the sheet is there.)

When he was done, still panting, he'd quietly explain that he was going to give them the tools to reduce those feelings of computicide. And he could hand out stickers through out the training that said I've got geek.

Be brave.

How many 4-year-olds do you know that need to read stuff like I'm OK, You're OK, even if they could read? Humor is healthy (it reduces stress, amongst other things) and came naturally to us when we were kids. Then we grow up, take ourselves way too seriously and the notion of embarrassing ourselves paralyzes us.

You guys will risk your lives to protect others. Don't be afraid to try having a little fun. It's unpredictable. You'll sometimes bomb - which gives you another opportunity to make fun of yourself. But the pay off in training results is tremendous. And that's what it's about - our learners, not us.

Try this one

How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans. (Attributed on the internet to "a wise man.")