Think of your favourite films, or your favourite books, what is it that sticks in your mind the most? Plot? Characters? The quality of the cinematography or writing? All of these tend to draw us in and make reading / watching a pleasurable experience, but what’s most often cited as making the experience stick in the mind are the opening scenes and, more importantly, the closing scenes. We tend to retain lasting impressions if those closing scenes are wholly engaging, if they touch us emotionally, if they cause us to leave the cinema or close the book with a sense of stimulation or purpose. It’s not hard to believe that these thoughts can easily be translated across to our learning initiatives… but how many programmes simply fizzle out? And how do we stop that happening?
I often see designers starting with a blank sheet of paper that they intend to turn into a programme, and often their process will go something like this:
(then move to the end of the programme and add in)
That makes sense doesn’t it? Well it does if you’re thinking about what needs to be covered in order to achieve your learning objectives. But what about the emotional engagement of the participants? More specifically how are they going to be feeling as they leave the room after this programme?
Let me develop that a little further. An Action Planning session needs to achieve some clear outcomes i.e. participants go away with SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed) which, importantly, give them a degree of individual challenge/stretch. Action Planning has failed to do what it needs to do if the challenge/stretch isn’t there.
So what is the emotional state of your participants as they leave? Hopefully they will have enjoyed the programme, they feel inspired, they are looking forward to trying something new and different, but they will also have some less positive emotions. The collective nature of the programme is now over and each participant moves to implementing the learning as an individual, the action planning goals look stretching and may involve some personal risk, there’s no doubt that the hard work starts now. In short there may well be a sense of anticlimax.
How might you choose to pre-empt that in designing your initiative?
Think about how we started this, talking about favourite books and films, what we may be looking for is the big memorable ending. We started by recognising the importance of a relevant and energising icebreaker, perhaps what we need is a relevant and energising closure?
It may be something physical that gets people moving and laughing - but still learning. In particular still learning about what enables people to achieve seemingly daunting tasks. What springs to mind here is a group task like Helium Stick where early attempts to lower the stick are often failures as the stick seems to take on a mind of its own, but persistence and communication prove to be the keys to success. Or handcuffs (one of a number of short activities in our Breakthrough Thinking Workshop) - what better metaphor for overcoming an organisational challenge than by escaping when the handcuffs you’re wearing are threaded through the handcuffs of a corporate colleague? These are 5 - 10 minute closures that have participants leaving on a high, but continue the learning right up to the point at which they leave.
Alternatively you might want something a little less energising and a bit more thoughtful, something that will really generate a sense of “I’ve got this”.
If this is what you think appropriate then it’s often best to extend the Action Planning session to make people feel supported as they move towards implementation.
In self-selected pairs or triads ask individuals to share the key deliverables from their action plan. Then allow them access to a set of image cards such as expresspack or Dialoogle or Chiji cards; Ask each person in the small group to choose a card for each other person as
‘A card that represents a quality that the recipient possesses that you think will help them to achieve their action planning goals’
‘A card that represents a gift you would give to the recipient that would build their confidence to achieve their action planning goals’
The key to choosing a closure activity is to anticipate the emotional state that you would want people to leave the programme, then pick a short, simple activity that you could deliver in a way that hits that state. We have plenty activities that meet these needs, so please do get in touch to see how we can help you.