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GET SMART: A CONVERSATION WITH BRIAN REMER (PART 4)

Posted by on August 30th, 2012 with 0 Comments

Interactive Learning Expert Brian Remer of Firefly GroupBrian Remer is creative learning director of The Firefly Group, specialists in the use of interactive learning strategies to help businesses and other organizations achieve their goals. Brian blends information, discussion, games, and participant input to insure involvement and commitment from everyone. He has consulted with organizations affiliated with the state of New Hampshire, and served on the Board of Directors and as chairman and president of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association. 

Brian is the author of “Say It Quick: 99 Word Stories about Leadership, Learning, and Life“, has drawn comparisons to haiku and led to him being called an ‘Aesop’ of management. Over four weeks, Brian and I will discuss when, why, and how you should  ‘Say It Quick’ when you want to create deep, powerful learning.

Read PART ONEPART TWO, or PART THREE

Part Four: Interactive Learning

Glenn: We met at Training 2012, where I saw you facilitate a large group session, using the 99-word story format. When is the most appropriate time to use 99-word stories?

Brian: They really can be used anytime you want to explore people’s opinions.  I like to begin a workshop by asking people to read several 99-Word Stories and to comment on how the stories relate to the topic whether that might be leadership, creativity, time management, customer services, or whatever.  The stories can also be a great way to summarize a workshop if you ask people to choose a story that summarizes the day’s topic.

Glenn: What other tools do you use when you facilitate?

Brian: I like to have people stretch their imagination by using various metaphors.  It’s best when people can create their own so I use pictures, comics from the Sunday paper, fortune cookies, assorted small objects, or construction toys.  I also use several different techniques to mix people so they are meeting and working in both small and large groups.

Glenn: Have you experienced audiences that are more – or less – resistant to 99-word stories or other inactive learning?

Brian: Probably the most resistant people are those who tend to be focused on rules, data, results, and procedures.  This is more of a personal or professional preference than a generational preference.  I think all learners want to be engaged.  Some folks are really engaged watching words projected on a screen – but many are not.  From what I’ve encountered, most people who are worried about using interactive learning just want to make sure that something significant gets done.  They don’t want to waste time, money, and energy doing something silly or pointless.

Glenn: Do you move to a less interactive approach when there’s resistance? Or do you have strategies for drawing resistant audiences into the exercise?

Brian: I probably tone things down a notch or two.  I won’t introduce an activity as a ‘game’.  Instead, it becomes an ‘experiment’ or a ‘practice session’.

Glenn: Interesting. I also find that the language you use during set-up will determine how much resistance you get.

Brian: I also provide a serious or goal-focused introduction so the purpose is clear and people know why I am asking them to do an activity.  Finally, in many cases if you begin the action, people are into it before they know what’s happening.  For example, I can ask people to stand for a moment, turn to a partner, and respond to a question.  Wow, suddenly we’re interactive!  Most people are thrilled because even this minimal level of interactivity is so uncommon.

Glenn: A lot of these ‘real-time’ facilitation decisions are dependent on the client’s goals. How do you go about agreeing on goals with your clients?

Brian: This comes from a long conversation with careful listening.  I ask them to explain why they think training is needed, what business need they are trying to address, and what impact a successful training will have in the long term.

Glenn: Do most of your clients have clear goals in mind?

Brian: No, they just want something to change.  Only through the conversation with an outsider do they begin to see how several issues might be connected for a more comprehensive solution.

Glenn: How do they respond when you try to set clear goals?

Brian: They might be surprised and think that I am pushing something that they’ve already got covered.  Perhaps they feel embarrassed that their goals weren’t really very smart.

Glenn: I see this all the time. For most clients, the training is the goal, so asking them about goals is confusing for them.
For clients who don’t set clear goals, how do you measure success?

Brian: The best thing in this case is probably to set your own standards for the job and challenge yourself to meet them.

Glenn: I agree. I’ll often say, “My goal for this session is… does that work for you?” How else do you measure success?

Brian: After every workshop or meeting I ask, was I attentive to the needs of the group or was I distracted?  Did I provide a service or did I serve my own ego?  Were people energized and engaged or bored and sleepy-eyed?  Do people have a plan for new action and continued learning or are they no better off than when we started?

Glenn: Thanks Brian, I enjoyed learning more about – and writing – 99-Word Stories. I’d love to leave our readers with a homework assignment. Can you give us a title around which we should write our 99-Word Story?

Brian:  Let’s give people a choice.

  1. Write a story with this title:  “Think SMART, Act WISE”
  2. Write a story based on this situation:  One day I saw a woman walk away from a locked office door.  “I knocked but they didn’t hear me,” she said with disgust.  The sign on the office was ‘Cheshire County Audiologists.’
  3. Write a story that combines both for extra credit points!

Glenn: Do you have a forum where people can post or send their stories?

Brian:  Yes, I’ll post them on my 99-Word Stories website (http://www.99-words.com).  On the site, people can find story samples, activities for using short stories for training, as well as tips for writers.  They can also subscribe to my free monthly newsletter.  It’s a ready-made team discussion-starter with a 99-Word Story, discussion questions, and an interpretation.  It can be read on line, downloaded as a PDF, or accessed with an iPhone, iPod, or iPad.

Glenn: Thanks Brian. I really enjoyed the book “Say It Quick” and I appreciate the time you’ve spent showing us how we can use 99-Word Stories in our work and life.

Learn more about Brian’s work and other resources in this interview below:

 

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