Many people are fascinated by the unknown. When confronted with new ideas or information, many participants often revert to a childlike stage of wonderment and awe. You can capitalize on this phenomenon by using demonstrations of magic, science, basic physics, or other little known areas to grab attention and leave them wondering, "How did they do that?"
Two of my favorite techniques for accomplishing amazement follow; however, a visit to a magic, teacher supply, book, Nature, or Discovery store can result in materials on all types of elementary tips and scientific experiments that can be adapted to virtually any environment and topic.
Stepping Through the Paper
This is an activity I saw used years ago by a trainer whose name I unfortunately cannot recall.
To do this demonstration, you will need two 8V2 x 11 inch sheets of blank paper (folded either lengthwise or sidewise) and a pair of scissors.
Start your demonstration by holding up one sheet of the paper and asking, "How many of you believe that I can physically pass my body through a piece of paper?" For those who say that they believe, ask them why. Generally it is either because they have seen similar demonstrations or they believe you would not say you can unless you are
Step #1 - Fold paper in half
Step #3 - Make cuts as indicated on lines (from the fold and the edge of the paper)
Step #2 - Cut out this section
FIGURE 4-5. Folded paper able to. Next, ask those who said they do not think you can why they believe that. Often, they are either linear thinkers and have difficulty thinking outside the box, or believe that certain things are not possible, in this case, putting one object through another.
Once you have discussed their reasoning, proceed to cut one piece of the paper based on the illustrations in Figure 4-5. Once you have made the cuts, open the paper until it forms a large circle, then carefully step into the circle and move it up and over your entire body until you have stepped entirely "through the paper." Discuss how thinking outside the box and looking at things from different perspectives are important skills in today's changing workplace and world. Tie these concepts to your session topic.
Another amazing demonstration involves inserting a sharp knitting needle through an inflated balloon. To accomplish this, you will need a sharpened 18-inch metal knitting needle, on which the tip has been filed to a sharp point, and several balloons (in case you accidentally pop one). You will also need a small amount of petroleum jelly or baby oil for coating the tip of the knitting needle.
Just as with the Stepping Through the Paper activity, this one involves thinking outside the box and doing what most people believe is not possible.
To get ready for the demonstration, blow up two rubber latex balloons (the less expensive thin ones work best if you do not fill them to maximum capacity). When you are ready to begin, start with an animated and exaggerated explanation of the laws of physics that make some things impossible. Emphasize how sharp objects typically cause a balloon to burst. You can poke a balloon to make it explode to emphasize the point and also show that these are not trick balloons. Ask for a show of hands of those who believe that you can pass the point of the knitting needle entirely through a balloon. Stress that like many things in the workplace, all sorts of possibilities exist if you have the right knowledge and tools. Proceed to gently insert the point of the needle into the balloon (there is typically a strong point at the end in the area where the rubber has not been stretched). A very slow rotating motion between your fingers as you work the point through the rubber and talk to the group about various elements of creativity and thinking outside the box works best. The key is not to rush or the balloon will pop. Once the point is through the end, guide the needle to the other side and out the opposite side of the balloon, next to where you have blown it up and tied it (again, the rubber is stronger at this point). This feat is possible because the petroleum jelly eases the entrance through the latex. Once completely through the balloon, withdraw the needle to show that it was not a trick balloon. For emphasis prick the balloon with the needle so that it too explodes.
This is a great attention gainer and can be used to lead into a discussion of the value of the session topic for gaining new knowledge and skills.
Through a variety of techniques, you can startle or shock your audience while gaining attention and making a key point. Such approaches can often be used to answer, "So what?" for your participants and to give them a reason to listen further.
Some common techniques include the use of quotes, statistics, role-play, graphic images, or facts. For example, did you know that the most used letter in written English is "e" and that "the" is the most commonly used word?10 What has this got to with this chapter? you ask. Everything. Just as such information can jump start a presentation, by providing startling information that many readers did not likely know, I have possibly informed, piqued interest, and challenged your thinking by using such information. All
this was done with a couple of simple facts that you could phrase as a question to introduce a training program.
Graphic images can also be powerful. For example, when I used to teach courses on firearms safety, I would often use graphic photographs of body parts that had been injured through careless handling of weapons. This immediately gave the AVARFM to each participant, who now were focused on the fact that if they failed to listen effectively, they or someone else could be seriously injured or killed.
A third effective technique that I have used in the past is role-play. I used to teach identification techniques to law enforcement officers in a classroom that had a door to the left and right at the front. As I was beginning my introductory remarks, the door to my right would burst open and two people would come running and screaming through the room, then out the opposite door. One person was chasing the other with a large plastic knife raised above his or her head as if trying to catch and cut the other person. As soon as they were gone, I'd say something such as, "Did you see that? What was that all about? Well, let's take advantage of the opportunity. Everyone take out a piece of paper and write down everything you remember about both people." I then had them form small groups and compare descriptions. Typically, their views varied significantly. The learning point was that if they had trouble accurately describing an event, how could they expect less of untrained witnesses at crime and accident scenes to do better? I had them. In that quick activity they experienced a need to be more humble and empathetic when dealing with witnesses. We then proceeded with the class.
You can build similar scenarios involving customer service, employer, employee, peer, or other situations into your own training.
To have a variety of handy facts, figures, and other material available for use in training, start collecting trivia, information books, and articles. A great resource is the Internet, as it contains virtually any topic you could want to reference. When designing your training programs, build in this value-added information as opening remarks, team-based trivia competitions, energizers, or as additional information related to the topic.
PUTTING YOUR BRAIN TO WORK: ACTIVITY
What startling strategy do you think works best to capture participant attention? Why?
What are some startling techniques that you have used or experienced in the past?_
Were the strategies you experienced successful or not? Explain?
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