Though I’m not a magician by trade, I am often asked to pull a rabbit out of a hat. This often means creating and delivering an educational gathering (i.e. a training class) in a limited amount of time that will solve a particular problem, and fast.
Let’s call it, ‘The 60-minute magic trick’.
Be it, helping a group of managers to delegate more, solve an interpersonal conflict, or enhance strategic thinking skills, the task is essentially to put a group of people in a room and create an experience that helps them think, be, or do differently.
The question is, how do we achieve the biggest magic trick of all: extending that initial 60 minutes into much more. The answer rarely is to keep people in a room longer. The answer and the impact lie in creating an experience that lasts, sticks, and extends far beyond the initial gathering. Rather than extending the time in the room, here’s how to do more with what you have:
Shift your audience from passive consumers to active co-creators:
Though a magician may practice their tricks alone, they need an audience to survive and thrive. Their tricks are only as strong and captivating as the audience believes them to be. In an educational setting, your content is only as helpful and beneficial as the audience’s connection to it. Our job is not simply to share content – it is to help close the gap between the utility of the information and the participant’s ability to do something with it. Help them become co-creators instead by giving them agency, ownership (a role), and when appropriate, choice. This shift doesn’t relinquish control completely, it simply increases a sense of skin in the game which can lead to more accountability.
Provide certainty through language:
Your time in room is precious. One of the ways to shift the brain out of fight or flight mode and prepare it for concentrated learning is to provide certainty. Make sure attendees know not just the learning objectives, but where things are, what to expect, how to use what they’re being taught, etc. Even more basic – name the class something clear and concrete. No jargon here. This relaxes the brain into being ready to digest information because it knows how to orient what’s about to come. Don’t waste students precious cognitive resources on asking them to map the course on their own.
At comedian Hannah Gadsby’s most recent show, attendees entered the theater to see a picture of a dog on a screen and the name, “Douglass” underneath it. This small choice helps the audience immediately understand how the name of the show (Douglass) connected to the content that would follow. Uncertainty decreased, focus increased.
Tell us how to feel about something:
Just like naming something gives us certainty, it can also provide a common language and shortcut. This shorthand serves us well in organizational life – it can cut down on misunderstanding, help us get on the same page faster, or in some cases, take the emotion or charge out of a potentially challenging situation.
Take, the word ‘puckerfish’. In Gadsby’s same show, she offered this phrase to highlight her disdain for something. Over the course of her hour, she repeated this phrase each time that same emotion aroused. After the second use of that phrase, she no longer needed to explain what she meant. We understood it immediately. By the end of the show, she didn’t use the phrase at all. She simply moved her mouth like a puckerfish would. She taught us how she felt about something so that we as an audience knew how to feel too.
This common language also helps these experiences scale. One message, multiple messengers. Puckerfish. We can teach people more than content – we can teach people how to feel about something. Furthermore, it bonds a group of people together with more than a common language. It gives the group a common emotion.
In each of these tips, the content is not the main attraction. Why? Though our desire to pack in more content in our 60-minutes usually comes from a good place and a desire to share more information, people can often find content on their own. The solution then is not to give more, but to give what exists more meaning, more personal attachment, and a roadmap for its utility.
Let your gatherings be the start, not the only singular solve. Lasting change is gradual. It’s not magic.
The value of these experiences rarely come from checking all the boxes in 60 minutes. The true value is in handing off ownership of the experience to someone else.
If we do these three things well, we can more realistically view these one-off experiences as what they really are, a launching point for important people challenges, and thus teach people how to carry them forward with momentum and staying power.