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

The Third Sentence
Faster and cheaper is also better.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Ken Bellemare
Magical moments in interactive training.

Instructional Magic
Linking Paper Clips by Ken Bellemare
A magical connection.

How do you spell "motivation"?

Reducing Stress and Strain by Mark Isabella
Go with the chaotic flow.

Interactive Lectures
Six Summaries
How to conduct six different interactive lectures.

Online Puzzle
Arrange these Items
Are you the compulsive type?

Design Online Games
Let's all play!

Pithy Saying
Lectures vs. Games
Let me explain something to you.





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 Editors: Raja Thiagarajan and Les Lauber

Managing Editor: Brenda Mullin

Editorial Advisory Board: Andrew Kimball, David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Julie England, Kat Koppett, Matt Richter, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2002 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 © 2002 by Workshops by Thiagi, 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 Workshops by Thiagi, 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!


The Third Sentence

In the September issue of PFP, I summarized my decades of experience in training design in three sentences:

In the same issue, I elaborated on the first sentence.

In the October issue, I explored strategies related to the second sentence. I also pointed out that the techniques for faster and cheaper training design actually result in more effective learning.

This month, I would like to elaborate on the third belief.


People usually believe that the quality of a product is directly related to how much time and money it took to produce. When it comes to training design, my experience suggests that the opposite is true. Materials and methods that were developed through a faster and cheaper process outperform those developed with ample budgets and generous timelines.

There Are Reasons

The reason for this apparent discrepancy becomes clear on brief analysis: When we have limited resources to achieve a given goal, we learn to increase our efficiency.

When you pursue this line of logic some more, you realize that this type of enforced efficiency steers us closer to proven principles of instruction.

A shift in the responsibility. With limited resources, we are forced to shift our focus from training to learning. Since we cannot learn for others, this shift makes the learners more accountable. To make the learners more accountable, we spend our resources in clearly demonstrating what is in it for them. This, in turn, reduces irrelevant content and activities.

A focus on active learning. When we reduce the role of expensive outside resources in the development and delivery of training, we require learners to take a more active role in the learning process. Empirical laws of learning from all schools of psychology have clearly proven the effectiveness of active learning strategies.

Socialized learning. With limited resources, we increasingly resort to asking learners to help each other. This results in collaborative learning, which is a technique that has been shown to increase the efficiency of learning.

Learning in context. Lack of resources encourages us to take a no-nonsense approach to training and closes the difference between the learning environment and the job situation. The resulting approach—called situated learning—has been empirically shown to produce more effective learning and better application of the new skills to the workplace.

More engaging processes. Active learning brings out the intrinsic motivation in the learning task. Collaborative learning activates peer pressure to force learners to contribute their attention and effort to the benefit of the team. In the same situation, peer support provides individual attention to each learner.

The Dark Side

I am not suggesting that interactive training strategies will solve all performance problems. Nor are these strategies easy to implement. In a future issue of PFP, we will explore these limitations and shortcomings.

For the present, however, I would like to play with these three beliefs. If you share my beliefs, how can you apply them to your job?

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month is Ken Bellemare who is a speaker, facilitator, and magician who helps “to create magic moments” in learning, in facilitation, and in human performance. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Ken works with business, sport, and recreation organizations and the education community. His passion is working with trainers, facilitators, teachers and coaches to help them to work with experiential, interactive strategies. The motto for his approach is “Let's bore no more”.

The interviewer this month is PFP associate editor Les Lauber.

An Interview with Ken Bellemare

Les: How did you get started in designing and using games?

Ken: Shortly after graduation from university I was hired as a football coach and an instructor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I was thrust into teaching five new courses in the School of Physical Education. The titles of some of these courses sound daunting and boring: History of Sport and Physical Education, Philosophy and Principles of Physical Education, and Curriculum Development. The outlines of these courses focused on a lot of “content”. In contrast, football coaching was very innovative, employing many simulation activities and drills. I started experimenting with “the indirect approach to teaching” — involving simulations, roleplays, case studies, and “field trips”. This was the start of my involvement in the use of games and interactive, experiential activities in learning.

Les: You seem to specialize in the use of magic as a training tool. When did you begin integrating magic with your interactive strategies?

Ken: About 12 years ago while working on a tourism contract with a hotel and indoor amusement park, I came in contact with Kevin Robart, a magician who wanted to teach magic to children. I signed up because I had dabbled in magic as a child and thought it would be fun to learn a few tricks. I was impressed with Kevin's approach to magic. He taught me the difference between “doing a trick” and “creating a magical experience”. One of the first effects I learned was a very simple effect called the Linking Paper Clips (which I shall share with you after this interview). I tried it out with a group of business leaders attending a Customer Awards breakfast. After they learned to link the paper clips I had the whole group linked together in on large chain of paper clips to demonstrate that in a community all businesses have to work together. As a result of this experience, I realized that it is important to clearly establish a key message to be reinforced by the magic.

Les: How do you use magic and games in your work?

Ken: When people ask me what I do I indicate that I help people “create magic moments in learning and in life”. To live up to this billing, I employ many activities, interactive strategies, and magic to help people learn and remember key points. A “tool” to help create a magic moment could involve a magic effect, a magical activity like “the straw through the potato”, an improv activity, or a Thiagi Jolt. So I do not restrict myself to just using magic.

Les: Have you used magic with corporate employees?

Ken: Much of my work in the corporate sector involves coaching. After meeting with a client I determine what form of magic might be most suitable. In many cases it involves teaching the participants some basic magic. In other cases it may involve coaching the CEO or the manager to do a magic effect or two, to incorporate into his or her presentation to employees. I particularly like to work with corporate trainers and facilitators to hone their skills. I don't restrict my work with only magic but also with other strategies for improving facilitation and presentation skills.

Les: How do your clients and participants respond to your approach?

Ken: The response is always positive. I often play a game or two with the client when I am promoting my professional services. I believe the key is to customize what I am going to do to meet the clients' needs and goals.

With the participants I don't announce that we are going to play a game, do an activity, or do some magic. One of the key principles of magic is not to tell audience what is going to happen. The magic then can create surprise, joy, or astonishment and contribute to making the message memorable. I make sure the message or the lesson is clear and that the activity is only the process and not the message.

Les: Who are some of the people who have influenced what you do?

Ken: Aside from my magic mentor Kevin Robart, I was influenced by an educator, Muska Mosston, who introduced me to a range of teaching styles from command to guided discovery. Through my involvement with ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement), I discovered the magical world of Thiagi and I met another creative individual, Stephen Yelon, who connected me to his approach to artful training and creative instruction. I have also been motivated by the writings of two magic scholars, Eugene Burger (a magician and a philosopher) and Robert Neale (a magician and a theologian) through their book Magic and Meaning. Stan Davis (social worker, guidance counselor and magician) from Wayne, Maine has helped me to focus on creating “message-based magic” for the work I do.

Les: What things frustrate you the most about facilitators and trainers?

Ken: I have three frustrating behaviors that are not just restricted to trainers and facilitators but to the entire group of educators (from elementary school to universities) and public speakers:

Les: What advice do you have for newcomers who want to use magic in training?

Ken: It all begins with the desire to want to do magic. Some people do not feel comfortable with “lying to people”. I see it as one of the most effective ways to capture the attention and the imagination of a learner or client.

Initially you need to identify what you would like to accomplish with the magic? Once this is determined seek some advice or read some books in the area. David Arch and Ed Rose have written books about magic and training and facilitation. Select the magic that will suit you and that you will be able to do.

Les: Do you have any book recommendations?

Ken: I have used Thiagi's publications extensively and I recommend them to all facilitators and trainers. I am always looking for books that connect magic with learning. I can recommend three books for those who may wish to pursue the use of magic as an interactive strategy:

Here are two non-magic books that have influenced me:

Les: Ken, thanks for answering our questions today.

Instructional Magic

Linking Paper Clips
by Ken Bellemare

The Linking Paper Clips is a magical effect that can be used as an opener, a closer, as a break, as an analogy, as a coaching technique, as an each-teach activity, as a problem solving game, or as a discussion of learning or communication styles.


To provide a magical analogy for linking ideas through an outside force.


10 to 20 minutes

Supplies (For Each Participant):


Any number

How To Perform The Magic Effect:

  1. Curl the piece of paper into an S shape:
    Paper strip curved           into an S shape
  2. Insert the paperclips as shown:
    Paper strip with S           shape held by paperclips
  3. Holding on to the ends, pull the piece of paper to straighten it out:
    Pulling the paper           strip from the ends
  4. The two paperclips fly off, linked together:
    The linked           paperclips flying above the paper strip

How To Conduct The Activity:

On the strips of paper, write a key word (example: service).

Teach participants how to do the magic effect and ask them to practice it several times to reinforce the learning.

Facilitate a discussion on how this activity provides an analogy for some workplace procedure. Debrief by inviting participants to supply other analogies.

Here are some sample analogies:

Training. The paperclips represent participant and the training content. The piece of paper represents the trainer. (The trainer links the participant with the content and then moves on.)

Mediation. The paperclips represent two people in conflict. The piece of paper represents the counselor

Contract negotiation. The paperclips represent the consultant and the client. The piece of paper represents the negotiated price. (“If the price is right we can work together.”)


Linking the group. Have everyone link two paper clips. Ask them to join in pairs and link their two linked clips with the other person's linked clips to form a link of four. Continue this procedure with 8 paper clips, then 16 paper clips, and so on until everyone is linked.

Closing Tips



At the 2002 Annual Conference of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), we conducted a session on how to make a 99-seconds presentation. During the second half of the session, we invited participants to come up with their own 99-seonds presentations. Excited was one of these presentations. Unfortunately, I have lost the names of the two people who created and demonstrated this activity. I believe their names were Vicki and Phil. My grateful thanks to this dynamic pair. (If you are reading this, please contact me so I can provide a more accurate and appropriate acknowledgement.)


To identify factors related to the excitement of a task.


15 or more.


This was originally presented as a 99-second session. However, 3 to 5 minutes will provide a more appropriate time frame.


Seven large cards with these letters written in bold block letters: CDEEITX.


Ask seven people from the first row to come to the front of the room and stand in a straight line facing the audience.

Distribute the letter cards, one to each participant. Ask each person to hold her letter card above her head, so the audience can read it easily.

Explain that the letters spell a seven-letter English word. Ask members of the audience to call out directions to the letter holders to rearrange them to in the correct order to spell the word. (Examples: One of the people with the letter E, please move to the beginning of the word. The person with the letter D, move to the end.)

Ask the letter holders to follow the directions from the audience. Give some hints to speed up the process, if necessary.

When the word is correctly formed, ask everyone to read it aloud at the count of three.

Thank the letter holders, collect the cards, and send them back to their seats.

Lead a round of applause for the entire group for rapidly solving the anagram.


Debrief by asking the group if they were really excited about the activity. Ask participants to identify reasons that made this an exciting activity. Use appropriate probing questions to elicit these causes:

Ask participants to brainstorm how these ideas can be applied to increase the excitement level of everyday activities.


Reducing Stress and Strain
by Mark Isabella

More and more of us are experiencing lives that feel out of control: too much to do, too little time, too much uncertainty, too little control. Just when we think we have a handle on our affairs, something unexpected occurs, throwing us back into the whirlwind of turbulent change. To cope with all of this turmoil and confusion, we seek guidance from others and attempt to exert control over events and people. The result: more chaos, more confusion, and more pain.

In their book Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change, John Briggs and F. David Peat provide useful strategies for embracing chaos. Employing examples from science, nature, and mythology, the authors offer insights into the nature of chaos. They also provide ideas for flowing with change in ways that enhance joy, creativity, and mindfulness.

The book's recommendations include:

Briggs and Peat take complex concepts and make them accessible to non-scientists. Their clear, engaging style helps the reader grasp the relationships between the chaos that exists in nature and that which occurs in our daily lives.

In reading the book, I benefited most from the renewed recognition that chaos can produce amazing opportunities for growth and creativity. That lesson alone provides me with a sense of optimism when I feel disoriented, fearful, or confused.

I recently used the authors' insights in facilitating the start-up of a project team. I sometimes get frustrated with the messy group process that accompanies the first few meetings of a newly formed team. I'm inclined to rush in and try to fix problems associated with that phase of the team's work. The book encouraged me to trust team members as I created space for self-organization to occur. This approach allowed me to help the team take responsibility for its development, which will lead to a greater sense of competence and self-sufficiency among its members.

I believe trainers, consultants, facilitators, and managers will find many applications for the authors' advice. I hope the book will help you cope with complexity, benefit from change, and find peace amidst chaos.


Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change by John Briggs and F. David Peat, New York: HarperPerennial, 1999. 207 pages. Price $13.00. ISBN: 0-06-093073-X.

Interactive Lectures

Six Summaries

In the October 2002 issue of PFP, we revisited interactive lectures, which incorporate highly motivating game elements yet give you complete control of the instructional session. Because interactive lectures are flexible, you can shift between the traditional lecture and the interactive variety with very little effort. If you know your subject area and have an outline for your presentation, you can easily convert the session into a lecture game.

Here are brief summaries of six different interactive lecture formats.

1. Best Summary

Basic idea. Each participant prepares a summary of the main points at the end of a presentation. Teams of participants switch their summaries and select the best summary from each set.

Application. This lecture game is especially useful for informational or conceptual content.

Sample topics. Introduction to online learning. Types of stories. Fuzzy logic. Conflict-management principles. Surface tension.

Flow. Stop the lecture at appropriate intervals. Ask participants to write a summary of the content presented so far. Organize participants into equal-sized teams. Redistribute summaries from one team to the next one. Ask each team to collaboratively identify the best summary among those given to them—and read it.

2. BINGO Lecture

Basic idea. Presenter hands out BINGO cards to participants. Presenter then delivers parts of a lecture interspersed with short-answer questions. Participants play BINGO by identifying the answers on their cards.

Application. This lecture game is especially useful when the instructional content is primarily factual or conceptual.

Sample topics. Basic computer terminology. Cultural norms in Asian countries. Introduction to symbolic logic. Investing in mutual funds. Management concepts from around the world. New employee orientation.

Flow. Divide the lecture outline into 10 to 15-minute sections. For each section, prepare a set of short-answer questions, and create Bingo cards with the answers. Present the first section of the lecture, then ask the first set of questions. If participants can find an answer on their Bingo card, they make a small checkmark in the square. Read the question and give the answer. Have participants shout “Bingo!” if they have any five-in-a-rows. Repeat the process of lecturing, having participants mark cards, and checking the cards, as needed.


Basic idea. The topic is presented in small chunks. At the end of each chunk, participants select a question to be answered by the presenter.

Application. This lecture game is best suited with participants who have enough entry knowledge and sophistication to control the scope and sequence of the presentation.

Sample topics. Effective use of email. Technology trends. How to plan a vacation. Retirement planning.

Flow. Make a brief introductory presentation about a technique or a topic. Ask each participant to write a question related to what they would like to learn next. Randomly select three participants to read their questions and ask the rest of the participants to vote for the best one. Briefly respond to the question. Repeat the question-and-answer procedure to progress through your presentation.


Basic idea. Presenter conducts a brainstorming session on an open-ended question, contributing his or her ideas when appropriate. After brainstorming, presenter derives some general principles on the topic and corrects any misconceptions.

Application. This lecture game is especially useful when the instructional content is primarily informational or conceptual, or if the content involves analyzing and solving a problem.

Sample topics. Customer service. Gender differences in the workplace. Long-distance networking. Reducing waste in the workplace. Using a video camera.

Flow. Introduce the topic and inform participants that you will conduct a brainstorming session. If necessary, explain the ground rules for brainstorming. Start the brainstorming session, asking a question that is broad enough to elicit varied responses. Paraphrase participant responses and record them on a flip chart or projected transparency. When there is a lull in the responses, comment on the items in the flip chart, challenging them or supporting them. Explain any discrepancies. At the end of the brainstorming session, correct any misconceptions and be sure to present opposing points of view. Summarize the major points.

5. Concept Analysis

Basic idea. Presenter asks a series of questions related to a concept. Building on participants' responses, presenter explores the critical features and types of the concept.

Application. This lecture game is especially useful for exploring concepts with which participants are familiar.

Sample topics. Facilitation. Empowerment. Innovation. Diversity. Leadership.

Flow. Begin by specifying the concept to be explored. Explain that the goal of the activity is to identify the critical features and types of the concept. Distribute a list of concept analysis questions. Ask participants to provide a variety of examples, ranging from clear-cut ones to borderline cases. Analyze the examples to tease out the critical features of the concept. Classify the examples into different types of the concept. Work with participants to discover the superordinate, coordinate, and subordinate concepts related to the main concept. Explore the synonyms, antonyms, and related words associated with the concept. With participants' input, create a comprehensive definition of the concept.

6. Crosswords

Basic idea. Participants receive a crossword puzzle that contains questions to test the mastery of the major learning points in the presentation. During puzzle-soling interludes, participants pair up and solve as much of the puzzle as possible.

Application. This lecture game is suited for any type of content that can be summarized by a series of one-word-answer question (which are converted into crossword puzzle clues).

Sample topics. Digital photography. Customer service. Online marketing. High-Definition Television.

Flow. Pair up participants and give a copy of a test disguised as a crossword puzzle to each pair. Begin your lecture and stop from time to time to provide puzzle-solving interludes. Before continuing the lecture, provide feedback and clarification based on participants' solutions.

Coming Soon

We will publish more summaries of interactive lectures in the coming months.

Online Puzzle

Arrange these Items

Most training topics involve arranging a set of items in some order. It does not matter what type of learning is involved. For example, if you are helping participants learn facts, your training objective may require arranging a list of customer complaints in order of frequency. If you are helping participants master concepts and principles, you may require them to arrange the same list in order of potential impact of solving the problem associated with each complaint. If you are helping participants apply a procedure, you may require them to arrange in chronological order the steps involved in solving customer complaints.

To provide an exercise in arranging, you need a list of items and a specific criterion along which the items are to be arranged. Here are some examples:

Items Criterion
Types of customers Size of average order
Products Profit margin
Training objectives Importance
Ethnic groups Number of employees
Market analysis steps Chronological order
Values Personal importance
Interactive strategies Applicability to your situation

You may arrange the same items along different criteria. For example, you may arrange the list of annual goals for your organization according to these different criteria:

It's A Lot Of Fun

Arranging items appears to be a basic human need. Children have fun arranging dolls, boxes, and seashells in different orders. Grownups feel compelled to arrange (and rearrange) furniture, CD collections, and files.

Web-Based Game Shell

We have designed an online game shell called Sequence. In this game, the screen displays 5-7 items in a random order. Your task is to rearrange the items in the correct order. You do this by dragging each item (holding down the left mouse button) and dropping it in the appropriate location. If you moved the item in the correct direction, you score goes up. If you moved the item in the wrong direction, your score goes down. With this immediate feedback, you can figure out the correct sequence by trial and error. However, you are working against the clock. You earn a perfect score of 100 only if you succeed in arranging all items in the correct order before the timer counts down to zero.

Try It Out

How well do you know the relative status of classes in feudal English society? For example, do vassals have a higher status than stewards and serfs? If you haven't got a clue, here's a chance for you to find out by playing the Feudal England game.

You don't think that you will ever have an opportunity to teach feudal English society to your participants? Then how about change management? Arrange in chronological order the stages that employees go through when your organization implements a large-scale change. Show your expertise by playing Change Stages.

Design Your Own

If you send us a list of 5-7 items arranged in the correct order according to some criterion, we will design a ready-to-use online game. No charge! For more information about this offer, check out the “Co-Design” section below.


Design Online Games

Instead of having a contest this month, we decided to inaugurate a cooperative Co-Design section. Everybody wins, because we jointly create a product and share it. Even the lurkers benefit from this activity, but it is more fun if you actively participate.

Here's The Deal

We will jointly create an online training game based on your content.

Review the article, “Arrange these Items” for a description of the online game shell, Sequence. Get some hands-on experience by playing a couple of online games.

Send us the name of your game and a list of 5-7 items arranged in the correct order. We will design an online game and install it on our website. You can then send your friends and participants to play the game online. (If you want, we will also provide you with game files and instructions for putting a copy of your game on your own website.)

You can send us more than one game.


The deadline for this co-design project is November 30, 2002.

When you participate, you give us the right to make a game out of your content and use it on our websites. We give you the right to use the finished game any way you want to.

If we receive too many entries, we reserve the right to limit the number of games we make. Also, we may not make a game if we consider the content unsuitable or offensive.

So, let's play!

Pithy Saying

Lectures vs. Games

Lectures provide explanations, games provide exclamations.

The problem with explanations is that they take away the excitement of discovery.

Most explanations tend to be boring, dull, repetitive and patronizing. The trainer works hard and the participant receives a dumbed-down version of principles or concepts.

In contrast, training games provide insights and excitement. Participants work hard to discover connections among concepts and principles. They receive an aha that stays with them for a long time.

As my friend Andy Kimball points out, this is why a game is called a game. It's actually an acronym that stands for Genuine Alternatives to Mindless Explanations.