Interact Taster Day

I previously mentioned that I recently attended a taster day at Interact’s London office.  Beforehand I did not really know what to expect, having agreed to attend to see if there were some useful tips and tricks for my own leadership and management support.

Overall, it was a good day.  I’ll admit to initially being nervous about an actor-led development organisation but there were a lot of useful points to reflect on.

Some particular takeaway points reflected on below.

A bit on Interact

Undoubtedly some real value in the techniques (such as forum theatre, hot seating, etc) and it is very impressive that they’ve managed to grow to “over 1000 associates”.  That number means they are now likely the largest employer of actors in the country after only the BBC – with most having achieved additional relevant qualifications in areas such as executive coaching.

Value of stories

A number of examples were of the all-important impact through stories to “provide meaning”.  This will resonate with most people who have any kind of instructional design background – but coming at the issue from the world of drama and acting.

First thing the founder did with the company was to ban the use of “role play” – instead want people to be themselves, actors pick up the customer or other perspectives.  I can recognise here the value in seeking realism, however, I’ve also had some success where playing a role (other than your own) can change perspectives.

Value of actors

Undoubtedly there is value in actors providing a real life environment for safe learning environments.

I have had mixed feelings about this in the past, over if there is realism in using actors, for “practice based learning”.  However, I’ve see plenty of good examples over the years and the day included more, including forum theatres for Transport For London.  Interact’s standard practice is starting with the extreme bad situation (to get people engaged) and work backwards.  In TFL’s case this was about not just following process but delivering customer service, part of organisational change from ‘we were running a railway, now we run a service’.  The argument being that drama is 3D and human so will engage, unlike PowerPoint.

Another advantage of actors is undoubtedly the ability to playback ‘scenes’ and there were some good examples where they replicated scenarios perfectly so people could improve their performance.

Role of the facilitator (beyond acting)

Useful to keep in mind that “facilia” of “facilitator” is to “make easy”.

I liked this as it is somewhat ‘meta’ for L&D professionals but it is the balance of educationalist rules and ‘teaching’ versus the more realistic key purpose of the role: engage.

In the examples shown, the facilitator, separate from the actors (at least on the taster day), support the interactions/acting and move into skills via facilitating the audience discussion.

Importance of culture and language

Interesting cultural differences were discussed throughout the day, for example, Americans tend to expect to see good practice first, not bad.  However, Interact find better retention with their approach – 30 writers making use of humour (including a bit of drama shown adapted from the famous John Cleese/Two Ronnies sketch) on and other techniques.

There were some good conversations on the day around language, including a recommendation to avoid asking for volunteers: instead give orders (“show me what you mean”) but not in the tone of an order (so avoid negativity).

Founded by a playwright, they stress the importance of words, for example “as you know” is the beginning of a telling off, not the way to start feedback.  The 93% non-verbal ‘rule’ has been debunked and we do need to think about what we say and how.

Context is king and globalisation has led to “leading by written word” (particularly email), indeed I’ve often thought this is in part why leadership is being viewed so poorly).  Another activity considered “what is leadership?” and an analysis of the words people responded with (nouns vs verbs, etc.) was really good.  Again, cultural differences were considered – in this case due to the nature of the English, French, German, Arabic, Chinese and other dictionaries.  This is a personal topic of interest for me as I think English, or at least my, education failed to look at English in the same way that you would then be expected to know linguistic rules to learn other languages.  Thus I found French and German very difficult.  There is, of course, the argument that learning Latin is a great way to understand such rules but that’s probably not going to be a realistic way forward for most people.

The importance of language was shown in some good examples, for example M&S adverts used noun > adjective > adjective > adjective to turn the brand (M&S) itself into an adjective.

Won me over on Communication Styles

Communication styles [HRDQ style series] was used well in another activity to get people thinking and talking in the room.  Generally I’ve resisted such activities that attempt to put people in/on a limited scale (a spectrum of four categories in this example) but, again, the facilitation was very good in getting the attendees involved and getting key messages across (including the need for balance) and how people go about the work, e.g. as a “systematic” communicator I wrote on the flipchart with arrow bullet points, hinting at the ‘getting on with the task’ mentality.

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