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Newsletter Article

Who Done It


Thu Jan 07 2021

Who Done It

Last issue, in Look Ma, No Hands, we discussed ideas for beginning a training session. In this article we will consider the flow of the entire presentation. Next month, we’ll look at the closing.

Imagine two different movies. One starts with a foggy night in an ancient castle with a villainous murderer killing the owner. The second starts with the four-word declaration, “The butler did it.” The first grabs and holds attention. The second encourages the mind to drift. There’s no mystery. Nothing left to see. Both movies probably continue for another two hours, even though the second has made its point quickly—kind of like some trainers.


Presentations that reveal too much of themselves too quickly do not ebb and flow properly. The art comes in dribbling out important pieces of information in a manner that sparks curiosity in the trainee. That way, participants stay awake and focused as they look for the next clue.

Your flow can be enhanced when you follow the four-quadrant sequence filmmakers use to lead their attendees through the story. It’s called three-act structure and follows a simple sequence.

Prologue: Capturing Attention (For Trainees, “Why Should I Be Here?”)

Think of your opening as the why. Here, the trainee may think, “Why should I pay attention to you? Why is this subject important? What’s in it for me?”

Many training programs present the program objectives and consider the why section complete. Perfect for the instructional designers (ISDs) in the room. But who cares about the objectives besides the ISD? Objectives have a face only an ISD could love. In the murder mystery, the prologue shows the murder taking place but does not reveal who the murderer is.


Act One: Introducing the Situation (For Trainees, “What Will This Be About?”)

The next section should focus on what as the trainee ponders, “What is this subject? What are the broad, not too specific, details? What do the experts think about this subject? What must I know to define what the subject is?”

This is not the place to teach the nuts and bolts. Rather here, great instruction presents the concepts and underlying theories of the subject—or rather, great instruction sets up experiences that allow the attendees to discover the concepts and underlying theories for themselves. In our movie example, act one introduces all the characters and their general personalities and relationships. This act is also the place where most training programs bog down. They turn act one into a nonstop, nonending lecture.

Act Two: Adding Complications (For Trainees, “How Does It Work?”)

Once the need to know the subject, the concepts, the principles and the underlying theories of the subject have been absorbed, it is time to add the detail. Here is where attendees focus on the how. They may ask, “How correct is the concept? How valid are the ideas? How does it work in practice? How do I add detail?”


In this act, the attendees get to dive in. They may take a test, try an experiment, evaluate concept effectiveness or explore what happens when additional detail is added. Here the trainees learn how to do it.

Act two is the place where the movie mystery shares details about each character: possible motives, alibis, and details that strongly hint at the answers without specifically telling what those answers are. This is the time where the audience and the trainees get to play with it and validate it to, and for, themselves.

Act Three: Delivering Resolution: (For Trainees, “Where Can I Use It?”)

With the relevant detail now laid out, the trainer becomes less relevant in the where. Here’s where trainees ask, “Where can I use it? Where’s the relevance to me? Where should it be applied? Where can it make a difference in my life?”

At this point, the trainees are largely in charge and they are determining their own destinies. The trainer’s job is to coach but not lead, to guide but not teach. This is not the place for new content. In the mystery movie, the bad guy gets caught, the lovers come together, and the situation or problem set up in act two gets resolved to the satisfaction of all.

Mystery Solved

Learning is ideally suited for this storybook approach. Great learning unfolds like a book—one in which the learner cannot wait to turn the page to learn what comes next. By setting up the broad subject, hinting at the mysteries to be solved, giving them time and experiences that reveal pieces of the puzzle, and validating their discoveries, they will solve the mystery. And more importantly, they will get the reward, because, in this Who Done It, they “done” it themselves.

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