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

Changing the Lecture Culture
Managing change—any change—requires time and patience.

Live eLearning
Free Money
A safe bet for bringing out enthusiastic participation.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Chuck Wade
Crisp answers from a facilitator who does not play games.

Spot Quiz by Chuck Wade
A simple—and powerful—activity.

Online Strategy
An Open Question on Conference Participation.
This month's OQ.

Pithy Saying
What Does “GAME” Stand For?
Let me explain the true meaning of “game”.





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: Matt Richter

Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Julie England, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2003 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. 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 © 2003 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

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

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Changing the Lecture Culture

At the end of a recent virtual classroom session, one of the participants asked, “What should I do when people don't want to participate in games and activities? What should I do when they demand to be told what to learn instead of having to actively participate in the learning process?”

I can suggest several logical answers to these questions. They all involve the proven benefits of active, interactive learning. But the complainers are not looking for logic. Strange as it may seem, they are rejecting interactive strategies and yearning to return to passive practices. There are many reasons for this resistance, including an allergic reaction to all hard work. But the major reason is that human beings (that includes you) resist any change, including beneficial ones.

A Change Management Strategy

First, the bad news: Your strategy for persuading participants to accept what is good for them will take a long time. The good news: With patience and emotional detachment, it can be done.

Let's begin with a change model (based on work by Diane Dormant): People go through different stages in accepting any change. They experience different feelings, opinions, needs, and expectations in each of these stages. Our strategy for reducing resistance should take these differences into account. In changing participants from a passive culture to a participatory culture, we must assume different roles at different stages of the change process.

Let's take each stage in the change process and explore what participants think and feel and what we should say and do to reduce resistance and to increase acceptance.

Stage 1. They Are Ignorant.

During the first stage of the change process, participants are not even aware that there are alternatives to traditional training. They are indifferent to the use of games and activities because they are unaware of their existence. They have no specific knowledge or opinions.

As a change agent, your role in this stage is that of an advertiser. Get participants' attention with brief, crisp messages about positive aspects of using games. This is not the time for lengthy lectures. Stick to intriguing slogans, pithy sayings, and short anecdotes. Make sure that your messages are related to the needs of participants.

Stage 2. They Are Anxious.

When you increase the level of awareness of participants in the previous stage, they don't immediately clamor to play a game. Instead, their first reaction is egocentric and anxious. They worry about how the new method is going to affect them personally. Will I make a fool of myself in front of other participants? Will I learn all of the important things? Will I fail because the instructor did not tell me everything that is important about the subject?

Your role in this stage is that of a counselor. Reassure participants by responding to their fears without ridiculing their concerns or hiding the truth. Anticipate participants' anxieties and prepare a list of positive features of training activities. Encourage frank sharing of concerns, prepare answers to frequently-asked questions, and publish them as a handout or at a web site. Conduct an orientation meeting to respond to anonymous questions on cards. Keep track of participants' concerns and misconceptions to be handled during later stages of the change process.

Stage 3. They Are Curious.

As you keep responding to participants' concerns in the previous stage, the questions become less self-centered and more curious. In this stage, participants accept the fact that you are serious about using games. They are now curious about how their learning and teamwork activities are likely to change.

Your role in this stage is that of an explainer. Take this opportunity to present the benefits of participatory methods in some detail. Show a videotape of people (who are similar to your participants) playing a game. Present a panel of people who have successfully used games for team learning, decision-making, and problem-solving. Provide qualitative data about the advantages of using games. Demonstrate how games can be compatible with participants' needs, adaptable, simple, and effective. Invite participants to try out a brief game.

Stage 4. They Are Ready.

At this point, your participants are ready for training games and activities. However, they have a few lingering doubts about the probable reactions of their peers and managers.

Your role in this stage is to be a trainer. Teach people how to participate in different types of activities. Train your participants to function in teams and to learn from each other. Also explain how organizational changes will result in greater acceptance of participatory activities (if it is true) or how to deal with skepticism and snide remarks from others.

Stage 5. They Are Accepting.

Your participants are ready and capable of using games and other participatory activities. They begin to use these techniques and to benefit from them. They ask technical questions such as “How do we let team members anonymously distribute score points to reflect the value of individual contributors?” They make suggestions for improving the activities.

Your role in this stage is to be an implementer. Begin a single, simple game and the move on to different variations of the same framegame. As participants become more and more comfortable, introduce a wider variety of more complex activities. Constantly troubleshoot and modify the activities to suit the characteristics and preferences of participants.

Stage 6. They Are Disillusioned.

As participants become more proficient and comfortable with the use of participatory techniques, they become restless. The honeymoon period is over and participants begin demanding faster, smoother, and more exciting activities.

Your role in this stage is to be an upgrader. Anticipate this type of disillusionment and keep updating and improving the activities. Ask participants for suggestions and implement theses suggestions in a timely fashion. Focus on the workplace goals beyond the game or the activity and design alternative approaches for reaching these goals.

Stage Direction

Participants' complaints about training activities suggest that they are in the anxiety stage (partly because you skipped the awareness stage). In your mission to change the lecture culture, you have to play different roles at different stages: advertiser, counselor, explainer, trainer, implementer and upgrader.

More bad news:

Are you feeling ready to return to the Death-by-PowerPoint® mode of training? I am sorry to disappoint you because there are no magical solutions. You are in this over the long run—unless you want to change your career and take up some less hazardous occupation such as bullfighting or defusing land mines.

Live eLearning

Free Money

A cash game is a special type of simulation game that involves actual cash transactions. Cash games don't deal with accounting procedures or financial management. Instead, they explore interpersonal skills (such as negotiation) and concepts (such as cooperation) and increase self-awareness. Since real cash reflects the real world, cash games bring out natural actions and emotions among participants.

In recent web seminar demonstrations sponsored by Centra (and co-facilitated by my Aussie friend Harvey Feldstein) and by LearningTimes (co-facilitated by my friend and fellow-magician Jonathan Finkelstein) I conducted one of my favorite cash games called Free Money. The game was lots of fun and very effective.

Here are the details of Free Money if you want to run this game during your next live elearning session.


15 minutes (7 minutes for the activity, 8 minutes for the debrief)


At least 10. Larger numbers produce more dramatic results.

Technical Requirement

Your live e-learning product must support polling. All products that I reviewed (including Centra, Communicast, HorizonLive, Interwise, Placeware, and Web Crossing) include a convenient polling function.

Potential Cost

You may have to fork out a total of $10 in prize money. However, your money is safe. Since greed is a universal human value, it is very unlikely that you will ever have to make this payment.


Get participants' attention. Announce that one lucky person will win $10 in the next activity. Ask participants to listen carefully as you explain the rules. (With money involved, they would be doing this anyhow.

Brief participants. Display a slide and give the following information.

Explain the restrictions. Announce that there are some restrictions about winning the prize amounts. Here they are:

Conduct the poll. Display the polling slide that offers a choice between $10 and 10 cents. Be sure to hide the poll results. Keep the poll open for 99 seconds.

Display the results. After 99 seconds, announce that you are closing the poll. Display the results. There is a high probability that more than three people would have chosen $10. Resist the temptation to make any comments. Just leave the results on screen. You don't have to rub it in.

Be prepared for bad news. In the unlikely event that the group succeeds in winning $10, get the participants who chose $10 to identify themselves by typing their names in the text-chat box. Randomly select one of them. Announce that you would send a check for $10 through postal mail. (And be sure to do that.)

Debrief the group. Here are some suggested discussion questions:


The flow described above is based on the assumption that you have a group of 20-30 participants. With larger numbers, increase the minimum participation requirement and for maximum number of people choosing $10. Rule of thumb: 30 percent for minimum participation and 10 percent for the maximum $10 choices.

Field Notes

In each of the three most recent demonstration sessions, we had more than 100 participants. In all three cases, nearly 50 percent of the group chose $10. (So your money is safe. You can boldly offer $100 vs. 1 cent.)

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest gamer is Chuck Wade, who is a product of 25 years of managing in publishing, manufacturing, and computers. He only entered the training and development field 15 years ago when he realized his passion and purpose is to help others succeed in managing and leading. He's published a CD-ROM, Hiring and Keeping the Right People, and a video, Journey to Success. He shuns the term “games” and prefers “activities” for the same reason many of us do—activity sounds more, ahem, serious. He presently is a road warrior for a seminar company teaching leadership, supervising, coaching, managing multiple projects, and whatever other subjects that can get him to the four corners of the country.

An Interview with Chuck Wade

Thiagi: Wade, what is your area of specialty?

Wade: Helping managers hire the right people by using a combination of job profiling and patterned interview strategies. Also, helping work teams design their own Performance Management Process and Mission Statements.

Thiagi: How did you get into designing and using training activities?

Wade: After having been bored—and having bored others—with lectures.

Thiagi: How long have you been designing and using training activities?

Wade: It was in the late seventies that I introduced the activity of managers interviewing each other and then interviewing “live” job seekers.

Thiagi: Where do you use these activities?

Wade: Whenever experiential learning is called for. Also, when I have large groups (20 to 120) in teams and I want adults learn from each other.

Thiagi: How do your participants respond?

Wade: Shyly at first. Once at noon, I tried to reorganize the teams and had a near revolt because team members bonded. Now I simply ask, “Who wants to get a divorce from their team and go to a new team?” and no one has ever taken the bait.

Thiagi: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?

Wade: The revolt.

Thiagi: What advice do you have to newcomers?

Wade: For getting acceptance for the use of games, don't call them “games”. Instead, call them activities, exercises, or hands-on learning.

Thiagi: What are some important requirements in the use of training activities?

Wade: A facilitator should be able to ask another question when answering a question. An effective training activity should help participants get “aha's” in the debriefing. A receptive participant should be capable of doing a 180 degree turn.

Thiagi: What are some things that you hate?

Wade: A facilitator who knows The Answer, a training activity that makes people feel stupid, and a participant who tries to make others feel stupid.

Thiagi: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Wade: Since my name isn't Nostradamus or Toffler, I'll pass.


Spot Quiz
by Chuck Wade

During the introduction to my training session, I make this announcement:

I've introduced another dimension to our seminar this year and I call it Spot Quiz. Remember in school when the teacher announced spot quiz and then put you on the spot? That's not what this is. There are three purposes to my spot quiz:

  1. Help you retain what you're learning
  2. Involve everyone in the learning process
  3. Have fun—we can take our jobs seriously, but we don't have to take ourselves seriously.

I explain the simple rule and the prize:

At different times during the day, I'll announce a spot quiz and ask a question. The first person to raise their hand wins a sweet reward (Hershey kiss) whether the answer is right or wrong.

I give an immediate sample:

First spot quiz: Why would I reward a wrong answer?

I get lots of responses. I pause for a few moments and then say:

The correct answer (which you'll hear again and again today) is: You don't ever, ever punish participants.

I add this additional twist to the activity:

Now to make this even more interesting, the person with the most candy or candy wrappers at the end of the day wins a scratch-off lottery ticket that can be worth as much as (whatever), or a dollar bill if you don't like gambling.

All I have to do is to spring a spot quiz at different times throughout the day.

Online Strategy

An Open Question on Conference Participation.

I had a great time at the Montreal NASAGA 2003 conference that Sonia Ribaux and Charles Dupont organized. I also learned a lot.

I went to my first NASAGA conference in 1969. Since then, I have missed only one conference.

Every time I attend a NASAGA conference, I learn more things in a more efficient way. Must be because I have learned how to learn from the conference.

Here's one of the strategies that I use to increase the amount of learning from professional conferences:

Blend planned activities with the unplanned. Select conference sessions by systematically matching your needs with session objectives. Once a day, however, close your eyes and open to a random page of the conference program. Attend the first session listed on that page—even if it makes no sense to you. Participate with an open mind and the conviction that the new knowledge and skills will significantly improve your professional and personal performance. Go ahead and surprise yourself.

You probably have your own strategies for getting maximum benefit from conference attendance. I have created an OQ page for sharing conference attendance strategies.

Go to this month's OQ page and record your suggestion for improving the cost-effectiveness of conference-participation. After you have done that, click around to read other people's ideas and ideas from experts. Select a personal set of strategies to take with you to your next conference.

Pithy Saying

What Does “GAME” Stand For?

GAME: Genuine Alternatives to Mindless Explanations
—Andy Kimball.

A couple of years ago, we conducted a contest that invited readers to pretend that GAME was an acronym and give its expansion. This is the winning entry from my friend Andy Kimball.

Many people confuse explaining with training. They take a concept, principle, or technical term and give lengthy and precise explanations of what it means. When the passive listeners become confused, they launch additional explanations, definitions, diagrams, and analogies. They ignore the fact that participants have to construct their own meaning.

And I have done it again. I have provided a lengthy explanation of Andy's statement. I have succumbed to the occupational hazard of being a trainer.

Here is what I should have done: I should have invited you and other readers to come up with personal explanations of Andy's statement. Then, I should have collected a set of these explanations and asked you to identify the key elements.

Unfortunately, it's too late now. I have removed potential surprise, discovery, and excitement with my pontificating explanation.