Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Ron Roberts
His game was featured in Newsweek.

Memory Test
Can you recall four important principles about human memory?

What's the Score?
Players focus on what gets scored.

99 Seconds
Draw a Hand
How we ignore reality.

Event Alert
NASAGA 2005: Play Learn Perform
Learn innovative ways to improve performance by making learning fun.

Book Announcement
Thiagi's Interactive Lectures
Use Thiagi's new book to power up your training with interactive games and activities.

Pithy Saying
Words and Pictures
Both statements are true!





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Julie England

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2005 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2005 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( for permission.

Subscription Info

All registered subscribers receive Play For Performance free of charge.

However, to prevent us from becoming bankrupt, we have decided to adopt a Busker Protocol. If you like what you read, if you find it useful, and if you'd like us to continue publishing the newsletter, please feel free to chip in with any financial contribution. Our estimated annual cost for this newsletter is $30,000. So we suggest an annual contribution of $30 (which is less than one-third the subscription cost of Thiagi's earlier paper-based newsletter). We would appreciate any amount that you send us, but make sure it is less than $30,000 (since we don't want to make a profit). You can mail your check to Thiagi, 4423 East Trailridge Road, Bloomington, IN 47408 or call us at (812) 332-1478 to charge the amount to a credit card. Or you can charge your credit card online, through The Thiagi Group, Inc. Please let us know if you need an invoice for financial record keeping.

Feedback Request

Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to . Thanks!

Guest Gamer

An Interview with Ron Roberts

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest gamer, Professor Ron Roberts ( and ) is a FBCG (Full Blown Creative Genius). He is President of Action Centered Training and ACT Games, and has invented over 35 big and small games.

Ron holds 5 patents and uses his games to teach teambuilding, communication, leadership, strategic planning, change management, and process improvement. He has his Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and previously owned a Counseling Center for 12 years where he specialized in family counseling. He teaches Organizational Communication, Leadership, Negotiations, Management Competencies, and Public Speaking at Penn State University.

Ron has been featured in CNN Live and local affiliates of ABC and NBC. He has appeared in Newsweek (The Tips Section) and Games Magazine. He has also recently appeared on QVC Shopping Network where he displayed and sold one of his many games. Ron is currently in the middle of writing a new book on teambuilding as well as a comedy-based manuscript for potential movie production about the same topic.

Ron is married and has four children and two step children, whom he regularly uses as guinea pigs to test his games. He and his wife, Diane, live outside of Philadelphia.

PFP: Ron, what would you say is your specialty area?

Ron: Interactive experiential activities that accelerate learning including (but not limited to) board, card, and teambuilding games in both regular and giant sizes.

PFP: How did you get into designing and using games?

Ron: In my first four years of working as a trainer, I was mostly involved in running paintball and whitewater rafting programs. Then I noticed there was a definite lack of focused games that taught the average middle aged out-of-shape manager teamwork, communication, leadership, and strategic planning. So in 2000, I invented, tested, and implemented giant games which were very successful. All of my friends said that these giant games would make incredible board and card games. In 2001 I initiated my first patent and created, manufactured, and distributed my board games. Since then I have now gone into creating customized games especially for corporations and educational institutions based on specific learning outcomes and content.

PFP: How long have you been designing and using games?

Ron: I actually started designing my first game late in 1999 and have created almost 49 more of them since then.

PFP: Where do you use games?

Ron: I use games in every aspect of education and training. I use games in all of my training in soft skill areas such as communication, teamwork, leadership, change management, strategic planning, and process improvement. I use games in my college courses at Penn State University where I am an Adjunct Professor of Management. My students turn out to be great guinea pigs and they really have a blast learning experientially. I have created a 12 week series of games for my Management 321 course on leadership and motivation called the Leadership Factor. In this contest, eight teams must accomplish difficult, embarrassing, and strange tasks that take them outside of their comfort zone and force them to come face to face with their own leadership styles and motivation factors. The first week they are required to memorize and recite the 600 word soliloquy of Kennedy's inaugural address. They get points off for every error and the whole class is amazed at how difficult this is when conducted in front of the entire group. The second week they must make up a song (with music) about teamwork, communication, and leadership. This is usually the low point of the course for them and the most embarrassing experience of all. But something funny happens afterwards during the remaining 9 weeks: They are all able to perform at levels they never thought possible. Introverts open up and extroverts go completely off the charts. Teams coalesce and creativity soars. What a thrill it is to use experiential exercises and watch young people grow!

PFP: How do your clients respond?

Ron: My corporate clients love the game because it helps them to meet their objectives, learn a great deal, and have fun at the same time. Management is even more excited with this type of training because, from an ROI point of view, they get better returns as there is less need for repetitions and higher retention among learners.

PFP: How do your participants respond?

Ron: Participants use one word to describe this type of training: “energized”. This type of training energizes them because it holds their interest, gets them involved mentally, emotionally, and physically, and allows them to have fun while learning. When people laugh and experience increased bonding during a training program, it has a subtle and powerful impact on their positive sense of well-being.

PFP: What advice do you have to newcomers about designing games?

Ron: I could talk about this topic all day because there are many things that game inventors learn over a period of many years. Let me share some of the most important rules that I have learned:

  1. Always, always, always test your games repeatedly. Test your game on all kinds of people from different cultures and ethnicities, logical, emotional, young, old, brilliant and not so brilliant.
  2. Keep on reworking the game play until every glitch is removed. If you think something is a small problem, another more detail-oriented person may think it is a big problem.
  3. If you are designing a game for commercial distribution, make sure that your game is new and original. Most distributors don't want a newer version of an old game.
  4. Make sure that you have clear parameters for beginning, middle, and end of game play.
  5. Make sure the rules are easy to understand and to follow. Otherwise, you will lose the interest of the players very quickly.

PFP: What do you think is the most important characteristic of an effective facilitator?

Ron: It's the ability to motivate, energize, uplift, and lead the training in a way that seems less direct and more transparent. Obviously this characteristic includes the ability to ask questions rather than tell participants, and the ability to create experiences in which teams solve the problems rather than having the answers laid out in front of them. One of the big differences between a superior facilitator and a good facilitator is the ability to differentiate between the situation for giving extra advice and the situation for letting the group struggle through to success.

PFP: What are some important characteristics of a good participant?

Ron: A good participant has the ability to dive in head first into any experience, demonstrating leadership, and letting others lead. The ability to act as a unified team is another characteristic of a group of good participants. Outstanding communication skill is a gift that few participants possess. The ability to plan strategically and to execute effectively is another valuable trait possessed by good participants.

PFP: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Ron: Whenever I implement games, I try to focus on the power of conflict between big and small teams and the innate issues that come up when teams are trying to compete and cooperate at the same time. By allowing the actual team members to create their own competitive spirit, I am always assured that they will compete at a level that is satisfying and realistic without the challenge being either being insufficient or overpowering. I have also found that if I can get the entire group to experience a process breakdown and perform less than favorably in a training game, the learning becomes much more embedded in their neurological pathways than if the game is just fun.

PFP: What is your favorite game?

Ron: My two favorite games are both home-grown: One is called Pass The Chicken and the other is called What Goes Around, Comes Around. Pass The Chicken is a process improvement game where teams pass dozens of different squawking animals around as quickly as a possible. What Goes Around, Comes Around is a big team, small team integration game where the task is simply to pass a beach ball around a circle as many times as possible.

PFP: Do you have any book recommendations?

Ron: Any book by Thiagi and any book that I should write in the near future.

PFP: What is your prediction about the future of training games?

Ron: Without a doubt, the future of games is very positive. The use of games of all kinds is growing at exponential rates in corporate training. There are many reasons why. First, they help learners absorb and assimilate more information more quickly and with greater retention. Secondly, the younger generation is demanding more experiential and interactive learning formats.

Games and other interactive learning formats are now making their way into every form of learning no matter how abstract or difficult the content. Learners have forever changed dramatically and whether the change appears to be for better or worse, we must also change.


Memory Test

Here's a quick jolt that helps participants discover basic psychological facts about our memory.

You can conduct this jolt with any number of people in about 10-15 minutes. You don't need any special supplies other than paper and pencil.

Brief participants. Tell them that you are going to administer a memory test. You will read a standardized list of words. Participants should listen carefully to these words without writing them down. Later, you will test to see how many words each participant can recall.

Present words. Read the following list of words. Pause briefly between one word and the next. Do not change the sequence. One of the words (night) is repeated three times.

Administer the recall test. Pause for about 10 seconds. Ask each participant to take a piece of paper and write as many of the words as he or she can remember. Pause for about 40 seconds.

Explain your intent. Reassure participants that you are not interested in finding out how each person performed on the test. Instead, you are going to use the test to explore four basic principles about memory.

Debrief. Here are four important principles about memory. Explain each of them, using data from participants' performance on the test:

Encourage action planning. Ask participants how they would use these four principles to help them remember new terms and ideas in the training session. Give examples such as, "To compensate for the primacy and the recency effects, pay particular attention to ideas presented during the middle of the training session. Make use of the repetition effect by repeating these ideas to yourself several times."


What's the Score?

Here is the first law of improving human performance: People do what gets measured.

The scoring system in a game determines what is measured (and rewarded). By modifying the scoring system, you can influence what is learned.

Most people take the rules of a game too seriously. I encourage you to treat them in a playful manner and change them to suit your needs. Remember what James Carse said: “Ordinary people play within the rules of a game. Creative people play with the rules of a game.”

Let me show you how simple it is to change the scoring system in a game. To illustrate this procedure with concrete examples, let me take a simple game for five players. In this game, the players choose a key phrase (example: simulation game). Each player writes down different words by selecting and rearranging letters from the key phrase. (Sample words from the key phrase, “simulation games”: sin, mule, steam, animal, gasoline, magnate, and limousine) At the end of a time limit, the players compare their lists.

Given this bare-bones set of rules, let's see how many different scoring systems we can come up with.

Remember, different scoring systems reward different types of behaviors and encourage different types of learning. You should carefully choose the scoring system to achieve your training objective. For example, if you want the players to think creatively, you should avoid giving them points for generating long lists of common words. Instead, you should use either of the last two scoring systems in the list above.

Follow-Up Activities

  1. How many words can you come up by rearranging the letters in the phrase simulation games?
  2. How many more alternative scoring systems can you come up with?
  3. How can you use more than one scoring system in playing this game?

99 Seconds

Draw a Hand

99 Seconds is a special type of training session in which the presenter makes a brisk, self-contained presentation that lasts for less than 99 seconds. For more information about this efficient training strategy, see the Tool Kit section of the April 2002 issue of PFP.

Although it is difficult to conduct a truly interactive exercise within 99 seconds, the April 2002 article lists some alternative strategies and gives examples. Here is another interesting 99 Seconds interactive exercise.

Place an index card and a pencil on each seat (to avoid wasting time distributing these items).

Ask everyone to draw a hand on the index card within 45 seconds. Pause while participants complete this task.

After 45 seconds (it doesn't matter if some of the artists are still working on their masterpieces), begin debriefing. Instead of conducting a discussion, present the major learning point this way:

How many of you looked at your hand or your neighbor's hand to draw the picture? Most of you did not. That is because we prefer to work with a mental picture even while the real world is staring in our face. We think with these mental pictures and we frequently base our performance on these mental pictures. Psychologists call the act of creating mental pictures generalization, abstraction, or concept acquisition. I call it stereotyping.

It does not matter if you draw a picture of a hand based on your mental picture. However, it does matter if you come up with a company policy based on your mental picture of a female employee. This is because your mental picture could be stereotypical and distorted and, therefore, your policy may not produce the intended effect on the wide range of people it is supposed to affect.

When was the last time you ignored reality and worked with a mental picture? Was your mental picture distorted?

Event Alert

NASAGA 2005: Play Learn Perform

What is NASAGA?

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA; website at is a dynamic network of professionals, educators, military personnel and students exchanging ideas, designing, implementing, and evaluating games, simulations, and other experiential activities to improve individual and organizational performance. NASAGA's primary mission is to facilitate the use of simulations and games and to collect, develop, and spread information about the principles and procedures of interactive, experiential approaches to education, training, and performance improvement.

What is NASAGA 2005?

NASAGA 2005 is the 41st annual NASAGA Conference.

Experience the spectacular colors of a New England autumn during NASAGA's annual conference. “Play Learn Perform” is the theme—a blend of interactive activities and fun designed to help everyone be more productive on the job, in teams, and within their community. Come to Manchester, New Hampshire and experience a pre-conference, interactive concurrent sessions, dynamic keynote presenters, a banquet and dancing, as well as informal networking and professional development!

This year's conference features the NASAGA Training Game Design Certificate and an optional visit to the Browne Center for Innovative Learning.

Pre-Conference: October 5, 2005
Conference: October 6 - 8, 2005
Location: Manchester, New Hampshire.

Why you should attend NASAGA 2005?

Select and attend one of these full-day pre-conference workshops conducted by leading experts in the field (additional fee required):

Participate in Wednesday evening Opening Reception and New England Contra Dance.

Learn from keynote presentations by Clark Quinn, Ron Roberts, and Dennis Meadows.

Choose from twenty concurrent sessions such as

Earn NASAGA's Training Game Design Certificate by attending a pre-group workshop and selected concurrent sessions. Receive a game-design manual and participate in on-line follow up. (Additional fee required.)

Visit the Browne Center for Innovative Learning, an outdoor education facility associated with the University of New Hampshire (includes bag lunch, transportation, and choice of Orienteering, Initiatives, Low Challenge Course, or High Challenge Course). (Additional fee required.)

Attend the closing program (Keynote presentation, benefit auction, dance, and more).

Hotel Information:

Radisson Hotel Manchester
700 Elm Street
Manchester, NH 03101
Phone: 603 625-1000
Conference Rate: $119/night
Reservations Code: NASAGA

Room rate and availability cannot be guaranteed after September 13, 2005.

For more information and registration, visit .

Book Announcement

Thiagi's Interactive Lectures

A New Book by Thiagi


Thiagi's Interactive Lectures offers readers 27 well-tested interactive lecture activities capable of turning any stand-up presentation into true two-way communication.

This book explains how to

From the inside front cover

The juxtaposition of the words “lecture” and “interactive” might at first appear an unlikely pairing, but Thiagi has manage to pull off an intellectual sleight of hand in Interactive Lectures so that the unusual word association makes perfect sense. While admitting that lectures are “probably the most ridiculed training technique,” Thiagi provides a solid argument for taking a second look at the method. He offers the readers seven well-tested interactive lecture frameworks capable of turning any stand-up presentation into true two-way communication by incorporating highly motivating game elements and stimulating activities. The book offers specific guidance on how and when to use the games and activities provided in the book along with step-by-step instructions for their application and blending in the classroom. In addition, icons throughout the book refer the reader to a full set of handouts that are included in the appendix section of the book.

From the outside back cover

Here's what three best-selling authors have to say about Thiagi's new book:

If you ever thought a lecture could never lead to learning, then Interactive Lectures will open your eyes. With easy-to-follow steps, Thiagi helps you discover that there is life beyond the usual death by lecture. You'll use this guide again and again. I know I will. —Mel Silberman, author of 101 Ways to Make Training Active and editor of The ASTD Training and Performance Sourcebooks

Thiagi, the master of interactive teaching-learning has made magic…again! With amazing dexterity, he has pulled a multitude of exciting learning activities out of a very few pages and created new life for otherwise dull lectures. I love his handouts. They alone are worth far more than the cost of this volume. Bravo, maestro…and thanks for tools that liven up our lectures, our learning, and our lives. —Harold D. Stolovitch, co-author of Telling Ain't Training and Training Ain't Performance

Don't just read this book—use it. Use it when you speak in front of audiences of thousands, hundreds, or just two. Use it in staff meetings. Use it when you design e-learning courses. Use it when writing proposals. No matter how you use it, this book will help you double your speaker evaluations and let you uncover the very essence of interactivity. —Clark Aldrich, author of Learning by Doing and Simulations and the Future of Learning

Thiagi's Interactive Lectures is now available from The Thiagi Group's online store.

Pithy Saying

Words and Pictures

A picture is worth 10,000 words. A word is worth 10,000 pictures.

Both of these statements are true.

For example, when you want to describe the horrors of war, you may use a lot of words to capture the reality and evoke appropriate emotions. You can do it much more effectively and efficiently by showing a photograph showing of death and destruction.

How can a word be worth 10,000 pictures? That's because a picture shows just one specific instance of a concept or an idea. For example, the picture of my car is just a picture of a beat-up Honda Odyssey. If I want to communicate the general concept of an automobile, I have to show you pictures of different makes, models, colors, and sizes of cars beginning before the Model T. Instead, I can use the word “car” and invoke the generic concept of automobiles.

Effective training games should include both pictures and words. Our game boards and cards and slides should include text and illustration. Also, we should ask our participants to respond by drawing pictures saying words and writing them.