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

Tool Kit
Interactive Storytelling
Once upon a time…

An Activity from Mark
Superhero (Opener / Assessment) by Mark Isabella
A free activity and a special discount on 53 more.

A Cheeky Jolt
Using a portable prop.

Instructional Puzzle
Types of Puzzles
A puzzle about puzzles.

Pieces of Advice
Follow @thiagi on Twitter.

Meet LOLA To Increase Interactivity in Your Virtual Classroom
Announcing a new series.

Photo Quiz
Who Are These People?
Recognize anyone?

From Brian's Brain
It's All About You by Brian Remer
A link to the latest issue of Brian's newsletter.

Online Survey
Are You Learning?
Continuing learning for trainers.

Survey Results
Complaints from Participants
A summary of your responses.

Check It Out
Thiagi's Keynote from ISAGA 2014 ( )
It's in the cards.





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

Editorial Roster

Author and Editor : Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor : Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editors: Tracy Tagliati and Jean Reese

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Matthew Richter

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2014 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 THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2014 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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

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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!

Tool Kit

Interactive Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful persuasive tool for trainers. However, this technique results in one-way communication often lulling the participants into passive listening. To avoid this outcome we have designed several interactive storytelling techniques in which the facilitator encourages the participants to create their own stories, share them, analyze them, modify them, adapt them, and debrief the listeners.

In this tool kit section, we will explore different types of interactive storytelling techniques.

Co-Created Stories

Here's how you conduct this type of activity: Ask two or more participants to take turns to supply equal elements (a word, a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter) of a story, gradually building up the narrative. When the story is completed, conduct a debriefing discussion of either the process used to create the story or the outcome.

An Example: The Longest Sentence

We use this activity to explore the requirements for (and the outcomes of) a collaborative dialogue. We divide the group into pairs of participants and challenge each pair to come up with a lengthy sentence that features intriguing twists and turns. Each participant takes turns to supply one, two, or three words to create a meaningful and lengthy sentence. We announce a time limit of 5 minutes and let the participants take off.

At the end of 5 minutes, we conduct a debriefing discussion to relate the activity to a true dialogue. We point out that an open dialogue has the following features that are spontaneously incorporated in the activity:


In the example above, we used a few words during each turn. Instead, you can ask the participants to use sentences or longer units during a specific period of time. For example, the participants may exchange their roles at the end of each minute. (This requires you to use a timer and blow a whistle at appropriate intervals).

The focus in the example was on the process of collaboration. You can also use this type of activity to work with some specific content:

At the beginning of the training session, you can ask the participants to take turns to supply a sentence to a story that predicts what is going to happen during the session. Encourage the participants to incorporate their wishes and anxieties.

At the end of a training session, you can ask the participants to create a story about what will happen when they attempt to apply their new skills and knowledge back at their workplace.

At the beginning of a session and again at the end, you can ask the participants to define a key term related to the training topic, one word at a time.

In the examples, we had the participants pair up and take turns. Instead, you can organize a group of three to five people and have them co-create a story or make a presentation. During the activity, you can point to different people randomly. This person will continue the story (or the narrative presentation) from where the previous speaker left off. You can keep the participants on their toes by unexpectedly shifting the speaker in the middle of a sentence or even in the middle of a word.

Play Samples

In case you are curious about the outcomes of co-created stories, here's one:

She abruptly braked her car and jumped out through the sun roof to escape from the SUV that was tailgating her with the latest dental equipment because she had panic attacks due to her being hurt by a dental hygienist while she was in the Kindergarten even though her reading ability was at the college level as demonstrated by her critique of Chaucer's use of dramatic irony that foreshadowed Harry Potter's unexpected acrophobia…

And here's a co-created story reflecting the participants' paranoid thoughts about a training workshop:

Death by PowerPoint was the technique used by the instructor who wasted our time with autobiographic anecdotes that had nothing to do with the training objectives that were useless for confronting the realities of the workplace where more tasks were piling up while we went through frivolous icebreakers that made everyone look foolish and tired with too many activities and zero content that made the stale donut for the coffee break looking exciting…

Online Versions

It is easy to facilitate the co-creation of stories online.

For example, you can use Twitter to co-create a story. Invite the participants to reveal an exciting adventure one tweet at a time. Each tweet should build upon the previous tweets to continue the narrative.

A possible problem: Your authors may forget what happened in the early parts of the story since the latest tweet may be buried inside other irrelevant tweets. You may mitigate this problem by using a hash tag with the name of your yarn. Alternatively, you can archive the earlier episodes on a web page, continuously updating it. This will remind the new authors of the story so far.

Another possible problem: You may receive several tweets from enthusiastic authors in response to the latest tweet. Unless you want to explore the concept of parallel universes and alternative histories, your plot may become unwieldy and confusing.

Here are two ways to prevent this possible confusion:

  1. Ask people to submit the possible next piece of narration as a direct message to you so it is not visible to the others. Select one of these tweets (a random selection is as good as any) and add it to the narrative string. (Unfortunately, this wastes the other tweets but the authors may hopefully recover and contribute the next one.)
  2. Enroll a panel of authors to help you create the story. Five to ten is an optimum size for this panel. Give each author a number. Reserve number 1 for yourself. Kick off with the first piece of the story. Author 2 adds the next tweet. Other authors take turns to add their tweets in the sequential order. Each author can add his or her tweet as soon as the previous tweet appears online or take some time to work out an intriguing twist or a logical consequence. However, if an author delays for more than 24 hours, then the next author in the queue jumps in to add his or her tweet. After the last author in your panel has contributed a tweet, the cycle continues with Author 1 (that's you) adding the next tweet.

You can continue the story for a long time until it comes to a natural ending or the readers die of boredom.

Example of Online Co-Creation: Chandra, CPT

Here's a real example of a fictional story that was co-created on the Internet.

About 15 years ago, long before Twitter was around, we came up with a couple of interesting insights:

  1. Most simulation games involve the co-creation of a story.
  2. The people who learn the most from a simulation game are the designers of the game.

So, instead of preparing a simulation game and asking the participants to play it, we got everyone involved in co-creating a story related to a specific procedure.

For our experiment, we selected the systematic process related to human performance technology (HPT). We created a website with four different sections:

  1. A brief introduction to the steps in the human performance technology process
  2. Instructions to the participants
  3. The continuing co-created story
  4. The concurrent debriefing section

These are the initial instructions given to the participants:

In this activity, you and your teammates will take turns to add short segments to a continuously growing story.

First, read the current version of the story. Pay particular attention to the last segment.

Use the text box at the end of the story to add a short segment (50-75 words). Make sure that the segment follows what has happened in the story so far, and smoothly continues from the latest segment.

You may contribute more than one segment, but with this important constraint: You should wait for at least one other participant to contribute his or her segment before you add another segment.

Check back often to see what happens in the story and how your contribution has affected the flow.

The co-created story section began with these three segments:

Chandra worked for a governmental agency in Sri Lanka. She was surprised—and delighted—when the minister she worked for nominated her to the post of Performance Improvement Consultant at the International Space Station. She will be the first Sri Lankan woman to be given such a major responsibility. She had no clue what exactly she was supposed to be doing with the international team at the space station.

“Neither do I,” said the commander of the space station. “It's the Americans who created this position. Your job description says that you should continuously and systematically improve the performance of the international team through the systematic application of appropriate analyses and interventions. You have 3 months to show some results.”

On her first day on the job, Chandra recalled everything that she learned about performance improvement strategies. She also reviewed the profiles of 12 professionals working at the space station along with the reports on different projects. One common problem that immediately attracted Chandra's attention was the number of intercultural clashes among the team members.

People who saw the instructions and the beginning of the story ecclesiastically responded to our invitation and began cranking out additional segments using the HPT process as the plotline. Some of the authors stuck to the ideal HPT approach beginning with a systematic analysis. Others preferred to create chaos and confront Chandra with unexpected twists and turns.

The concurrent debriefing section was a combination of readers' comments and administrative instructions. We encouraged the readers to discuss Chandra's behaviors and to coach her through appropriate strategies.

The story was obviously engaging and addictive because it grew rapidly, took various twists and turns, and continued for a long period of time with contributors from around the world.

I personally got tired of the way that the co-created story was transforming itself into an epic and suggested to the participating authors that the narrative should end within five more segments. The participants ignored my advice and kept going on and on.

As a drastic measure, I added this concluding segment:

Knock, knock.

Chandra groggily got up and stumbled to the front door. When she opened it, she was surprised to find a figure in a black mask, holding a gun.

Bang, Bang.

As Chandra fell dead, her last thoughts revolved around her mentor's comment early in her career:

“Remember the job of a performance consultant is a thankless one. As many people hate you as the people that admire your efforts.”

I felt smug about bringing to the story to an end. However, within 20 minutes, someone from Manila posted the next segment:

As the alarm rudely woke up Chandra, she realized that she was having the recurrent nightmare again. She shook her head, dashed some cold water on her face, fired up her computer, and proceeded to re-analyze the 360-degree data she had collected the previous day.

I should have known better: It is tough to kill a co-created story. We ended up unplugging the web pages to abruptly terminate the story.

Your Turn

Co-created stories are highly engaging both in the face-to-face classroom and online. Add this approach to your interactive toolkit and send us a story about your success.

An Activity from Mark

Mark Isabella has created a card deck called Engagement Emergency that contains 54 activities for instant interaction. The activities take 2-10 minutes to run and require little setup or preparation. These a la carte activities come in a variety formats including action planning, feedback, group formation, openers, pair work, and reflection. If you are in the midst of rapid instructional design and need an opener, you can consult the deck and find one quickly. If you are in the middle of a presentation and need a shot of engagement and interaction, you can thumb through the deck right before you begin your session or during a break.

Superhero (Opener / Assessment)
by Mark Isabella

Divide participants into subgroups of three or four. Ask them to identify a superpower that would help them be more successful in the area of training they are about to receive. Give participants three or four minutes to share their desired superpowers within their subgroups. Once everyone has done so, ask a few volunteers to share their choices with the larger group. Tell participants that while you can't grant them the superpowers they've identified, you can provide them with tools and strategies that can help them succeed in the real world.

A Special Offer

Engagement Emergency decks usually sell for $59.95 (plus $10.95 for shipping within the USA). If you order now, you will receive a $10 discount. You can purchase each Engagement Emergency deck in our online store for $49.95. No need to enter a coupon code—as long as you order before September 31, you'll get the discount automatically.


A Cheeky Jolt

This is one of a series of jolts related to facial anatomy. I enjoy using parts of my body as props because they are so portable. This jolt is a modification of a popular activity that has been around for a long time.


The facilitator gives instructions to touch different parts of the face, demonstrating each action. The last instruction is contradicted by the demonstration. Most participants follow what they see rather than what they are asked to do.


To explore whether people do what you do or what you ask them to do.

Training Topic

Following instructions


Minimum: 1
Maximum: Any number
Best: 5 to 30


3 minutes for the activity
3 minutes for debriefing


Brief the participants. Explain that this activity is designed to test if the participants can follow simple instructions.

Touch your hair. Extend your right index finger and touch your hair. At the same time, say “Touch your hair.” Pause to make sure all participants follow your instructions. Congratulate them for doing what they are supposed to do.

Touch different parts of the body. Give instructions to touch each of these parts of the face while touching them with your index finger: eye, nose, ear, and mouth. With the eye and the ear, it does not matter which eye or ear you touch.

Say, “Touch your cheek”. Touch your chin with your index finger instead. Most participants will also touch their chins instead of following your verbal instructions. Congratulate any participants who have touched their cheek.


Ask the participants why they touched their chin instead of the cheek as you told them to. Elicit that the learning point that people do what you do rather than what you ask them do.

Ask the participants for examples of discrepancies between verbal instructions or policies and people's behaviors. Elicit the importance of walking the talk to prevent contradictory messages.

Learning Point

  1. People do what you do rather than what you ask them to do.
  2. Visual cues are stronger than auditory cues.

Instructional Puzzle

Types of Puzzles

A cryptic cluster puzzle is a combination of a word association test and a cryptogram. The puzzle displays a list of items that belong to the same category. The items are coded with a substitution code in which every letter of the alphabet is consistently replaced by another letter.

Here is a cryptic cluster puzzle that lists 11 different types of puzzles. Try your hand at decoding it online:

A hint for this puzzle

The solution


Pieces of Advice

Every day, Thiagi tweets ready-to-use pieces of practical advice on HR topics such as coaching, creativity, customer service, feedback, leadership, listening skills, and management.

Here are some pieces of advice tweeted during August that were retweeted frequently:

Learn about controversial issues and contradictory theories in your field of expertise. Know both sides of these issues.

Take time for social interactions with your colleagues.

Admit your mistakes as soon as you become aware of them.

Be the best that you can be. Do everything to the best of your ability. Keep track of the results you achieve.

Genuinely care for others. Listen to their grievances, problems, hardships, and complaints. Do something to help and support them.

Join the thousands of people who follow @thiagi on Twitter.


Meet LOLA To Increase Interactivity in Your Virtual Classroom

Bad news: Webinars have replaced Death by PowerPoint™ as the most soporific strategy to put your participants to sleep. Good news: A Live Online Learning Activity (LOLA) can increase—and improve—interaction in a virtual classroom situation. Over the past 12 years, we have field-tested a variety of LOLAs, including interactive lectures, participatory storytelling, jolts, structured sharing activities, and magic on the Internet.

We are planning to launch a webinar series to help you explore different LOLAs to keep your participants engaged in your webinar, learn more, and apply what they have learned. At the end of each session, you will be able to use my templates to rapidly design your own LOLA to immerse and impress your participants in interactive learning.

The first webinar is scheduled for September 10, 2014 at noon Eastern Time. None of the webinars in the series will last more than 60 minutes.

Our data indicates that most inhouse webinars for corporate training have about 20 participants. So the September 10 webinar will be limited to the first 20 people.

Hope to interact with you in my virtual classroom.

NOTE: The Webinar has filled up.

We plan to do another webinar shortly (and hope to increase the number of participants we can accomodate). Please watch for our announcement in the next issue of TGL.

Photo Quiz

Who Are These People?

Photo of 23 people

Do you recognize anyone in this group photo? If you do, type the name of the person in the comment area.

For bonus points, can you identify the occasion when these people got together?


Hint for the Cryptic Cluster

The word PUZZLE appears in the list several times.

Back to the puzzle

From Brian's Brain

It's All About You
by Brian Remer

Uniformity may make the job of being a manager simpler but it doesn't necessarily allow people to use their best skills to the greatest advantage. Learn about a new personality assessment which helps you identify what others appreciate most in your work. Read a review of How the World Sees You by Sally Hogshead, take the assessment on line, and find out about a related activity to use with your team.

Power Tip: Knowing your highest and best value allows you to be a strategic influence.

Read more in the August 2014 issue of Firefly News Flash: .

Online Survey

Are You Learning?

Many people, including me, suggest that a trainer should be a life-long learner.

Poll Question

How would you rate yourself as a learner?


(The poll opens in a new window.)

Open Question

What types of topics do you spend your time learning? Or what types of things would you like to learn if you had the time?


(The survey opens in a new window.)

You may include your name along with your response, or if you prefer, keep it anonymous.

Survey Results

Complaints from Participants

Poll Question

In the August 2014 issue of TGL we talked about participants' complaints:

Do your participants complain about your use of training activities and games?

As of August 22, 2014, thirty-three readers responded. Twenty-three of them (70%) said “No”. The other ten (30%) said “Yes”.

Open Question

As a follow up to the poll, we asked this open question:

What types of complaints do your participants frequently make about training activities and games?

Here are some of your responses, as of August 22, 2014:

Thanks to everyone who responded.

You Can Still Participate

This survey is still open. Feel free to add your comments by visiting the survey page.


Cryptic Cluster Solution

Back to the puzzle

Check It Out

Thiagi's Keynote from ISAGA 2014 ( )

If you missed the 2014 conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA), here's the next best thing. You can watch Thiagi's keynote activity as a video on YouTube:

It lasts for more than an hour, but you can always fast forward to skip the parts that you don't like.

You can also watch the other ISAGA 2014 keynotes on YouTube by viewing this playlist:

Post your comments about this issue

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