Many trainers use acting skills to get their message across
Growing up in Scotland, I was fascinated by the eponymous heroine of Muriel Spark’s novel ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which is set in an Edinburgh girls’ school. Miss Brodie gets her pupils’ attention by telling stories to bring history to life and – this is where she came undone – her love life. She uses art, music and nature to broaden their minds. Miss Brodie has a strong sense of theatre that makes her teaching memorable, and ends her career. Jean Brodie was a little too dramatic.
‘My Night with Reg’ is one of the most enduring plays from the 1980s about gay men and AIDS.
What makes the play relevant today is that it is as much about friendship, love and loss as it is about AIDS. Jean Brodie probably wouldn’t take her girls to see the show, but she could relate to the characters’ sense of loss. Just as Guy re-tells the story of his love for John, Miss Brodie tells her girls about her love for Hugh who was killed the week before Armistice 1918.
I went to see the Donmar Warehouse revival of ‘My Night with Reg’ by Kevin Elyot more than once. I find the play compelling for many reasons. But it wasn’t until I read the programme notes by Alan Hollinghurst that I was able to connect what I feel about ‘My Night with Reg’, with what I know about designing and delivering training. Of Kevin Elyot, who died just before the play began its run, Hollinghurst writes:
‘He was also a highly sophisticated craftsman, whose plays have beautiful and complex structures – of time, ideas, imagery and feeling.’
When I read these four words – time, ideas, imagery and feeling – I understood how Elyot constructed the play, and why it still has impact. And I made a connection what I believe to be the key ingredients of successful training programmes.
Four key ingredients of a successful training programme
Time, ideas, imagery and feeling are four of the ingredients that I think are essential to create engaging learning experiences:
We need to give learners enough time to learn, do and reflect on every aspect of a training programme. There must be time to ask questions, time to discuss, to network, and time to have fun. Too much time or too little time will detract from the learners’ experience
We need to put innovative, current and tried and tested ideas into the curriculum to make people think. Very importantly, we need to make sure that the people communicating the ideas understand them fully, and believe in what they do.
‘A picture says more than a thousand words’ is one of the golden rules of communication. Words are not enough to communicate ideas, especially if you are working with people whose first language is not English. Ideally we want learners to go away with a clear image of every person, every place and every thing that they encountered. This means we need to think carefully about the location for the training, and how to make the most of indoor and outdoor spaces.
How people feel during a training programme matters as much as what they are think. When designing and delivering training, we need to consider how we going to create learner experiences that touch people’s hearts and minds. For training to be transformational, learners need to form an emotional connection with the topic and with each other.
‘The play’s the thing’
A training programme is a time-bound story involving learners whose needs and expectations drive the plot. Their expectations may not be fully disclosed or understood, even by the learners themselves until the end of the training. A well-designed experiential programme puts learners in situations where they have to deal with a range of challenges and opportunities. As a result the learners come face to face with complexity and uncertainty, confusion, conflict and self-doubt. As the drama unfolds the learners begin to recognise patterns, identify themes and make connections. Explanations and revelations are bound to follow. There will be time for reflection, sense-making and catharses.