The Professor or The Great Danton: What type of L&D Professional are you?

Audiences. Whether to see a magician or take part in a training session, their needs are quite similar: they want to be shown or informed of something new and, ideally, in such a way that entertains them.

Presenters. Whether presenting magic tricks or delivering training content, our needs are relatively similar: we want to make the audience believe in what we are showing them, ideally to the point at which they become an advocate and promoter for it, because they are either compelled by the value of the content you are presenting or the exciting way in which you presented it to them.

So, editing a phrase from The Prestige, how can you make sure next time you ask ‘Are you(r audience) watching closely?’ that the answer is always yes? 

The Prestige (film)
Smoke and mirrors it might be, but is there something L&D could learn from this?

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale manage to get up to making some other films now and again when they are not donning the masks and outfits of their respective superheroes, as I recently discovered with their on-screen turn together in the movie ‘The Prestige’.

The  story is of two rival magicians, Alfred Borden (Bale) and Robert Angier (Jackman), battling over the years in a rivalry which takes hold of their family and professional lives with unexpected and fatal consequences (in case you couldn’t pick up from the tone of my synopsis, I think this is a film worthy of your time).

At one point Michael Caine (stellar cast eh? Did I mention David Bowie is in there too? Yes, THAT David Bowie!) assesses the merits of each magician. He remarks how one is truly a showman, excelling in front of an audience and having them engaged in his every move; whereas the other is the much more gifted magician in the traditional sense of the word – able to design and create ‘real’ magic tricks which are both spectacular and terrifying.

In some ways the members of the L&D fraternity face a similar challenge – we have to make materials which can be considered run of the mill and very humdrum, and turn them in to an exciting,invigorating experience for our audience. Our responsibility is to make sure they go away equipped with the skills and tools to re-create the magic trick we have presented to them. For example, the first time the Covey ‘Importance-Urgency’ Matrix was presented to me in such a way that I felt the need to scream from the rooftops about how my time management worries were over. I believed in the content and was totally engaged by the individual presenting it (if you want to find out and book the L&D magician that had that effect on me, check him out here).

So how can we make sure we do this next time we present? Well, taking the approach of The Prestige, there would seem to be two things you can have up your sleeve: have an amazing trick that captures our audience’s imagination, or present an amazing show.  So lets examine what lessons we can learn from Borden and Angier to make sure that we do and, in the words of Borden, I must have your full attention and ask ‘Are you watching closely?’

The Performance – The Great Danton

English: Actor Hugh Jackman at the 83rd Academ...
Turn up to work looking like this tomorrow and you will guarantee attention: Actor Hugh Jackman at the 83rd Academy Awards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jackman’s character came up with an alias of the ‘Great Danton’, which in some way indicates some of what his character had over Bale’s: the ability to dazzle his audience with charisma, gaining their interest and trust in the performance, whilst at the same time being entertaining enough to be a show in itself. In some ways it was a diversionary tactic for when things would not go to plan but also added to the theatre of his performances.How can you do this during your sessions? The most underrated tool at your disposal is your voice. So often I have seen (or even sometimes been guilty of delivering) sessions which dragged because I had no sense of the person delivering being excited about being there. The words and look on their face said they were motivated but their pitch, tone and pace of their voice said otherwise – it was all middle of the road, monotone delivery. Do not be afraid to mix up your pace and delivery if there is a point you want to emphasis or illustrate more fully. Also do not underestimate the value of silence after delivery of your key questions/suggestions. This allows your audience to analyse what you just told them before commenting or you prompting them to respond. Do you know any magician who would rush through pulling the rabbit out of the hat? Neither should you – but be aware of how powerful mixing up your voice and delivery is.

At the same time try to throw in some movement. Ok, don’t start doing hand stands or anything which would unnecessarily distract from the content but keep in mind that it will keep you and your audience on their toes if you are moving round the room. You might find they suddenly are sitting up in their chair to listen more actively as you pace and work the space you are delivering in. It sounds crazy but there is a sort of physiological value by getting your limbs moving a little bit and the blood pumping. So don’t be afraid to talk with your hands a little here too – again, nothing that would undermine the content, but encouragement that supports it.

So you are putting on one hell of a show to keep these people engaged and entertained but you need them to give them something to use when they go away and work with that will make their life easier. This is when you need your content needs to be up to scratch.

The Practical – The Professor

Bale’s character of Borden gave himself the stage name of ‘The Professor’, hinting at some sort of academic underpinning to his skills and expertise – a contrast to the smoke and mirrors the Great Danton was producing in the theatre across the road.

This was also reflected in the nature of his tricks and being able to make the complicated (such as teleporting a man from one part of a room to another) devastatingly simple it its execution. They were well thought out and well planned even before being well executed.

Why Christian Bale is a Badass
Some ways to get your audience’s attention are less productive than others(‘Why Christian Bale is a Badass’ -Photo credit: kire)

So what can you learn from this and use to your own advantage? Well, like much of good learning delivery, a lot of your work will go unseen by your audience because it will occur before you enter the room. You need to know, understand and enjoy presenting your content in the first instance – if you don’t perhaps you need to think whether or not you are in the right job. No, seriously – don’t you owe it to yourself to be doing something you enjoy?Having had a think about your life and times and decided that yes, you are in love with all things L&D, you need to analyse what you are delivering and how.Top of your agenda when you do so should be the needs of your audience. It is very easy to get sucked in to an exercise in ego management, so always keep in mind whatever you deliver in session is intended to broaden your audience’s horizons, not make you feel good about life.

It is about informing them about how they can improve their performance or learn a new skill. If you manage this effectively you will being to gain their trust and build some rapport – this is when the magic gets blasted back at you and you will most probably be dazzled by them as you learn something new.

But this does not happen by accident. You need to carefully assess what will work for your audience, what they expect from you, what their current understanding of the subject area is, and so on until you feel you have enough information to achieve the learning outcomes of the session. When you think about a training session, one could argue that a successful delivered one actually has very little to do with what happens on the day. Rather it is a consequence of careful planning and revisions that have led to only the most beneficial content and information being provided. The real trick was in planning – which happened backstage before anyone arrived that day.

Making people believe that what was just presented to them was both spontaneous, interesting and exciting, whilst at the same time practical, effective and useful to their professional/personal lives? Now that’s what I call magic.

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