Stop slogging through sterile and boring training!

There is a place for humor. There is scientific proof that humor moves information from short term to long term memory - a fact useful in converting training and presentations into engaging, memorable and retainable experiences. With an agile practice, we must constantly learn -- let’s make it fun!

This session won’t turn you into John Stewart or Amy Schumer, nor is it intended to advocate that your presentations should be a stand up routine. This session will introduce accessible techniques you can use to bring any training or presentation to life. These techniques have a basis in cognitive neuroscience and academic research.

This workshop introduces and reviews the The 6 Trumps ® - six learning principles based on scientific prinicples that can be used in any type of training.

It explores how the brain learns and how information converts from short to long term memory.

Finally, it synthesizes these foundations and builds a new common thread: Humor Trumps All!

Participants will acquire a strong understanding of the importance of humor and fun in training, and how, even if they don’t think they are funny, they can introduce these attributes to develop improved content and engagement techniques. Ultimately leading the attendees towards making more memorable and impactful agile learning.

“The Human Race only has 1 truly effective weapon, and that is Laughter” - Mark Twain


Outline/Structure of the Workshop

This will be a highly experiential class, structured with Sharon Bowman’s 4C training strategy: Connections, Concept, Concrete Practice, Conclusions. We will begin the class with an overview of The 6 Trumps ®, add a section on how the brain retains memory and stays focused, and then we will model the 7th Learning Trump - Humor Trumps All, and how this is a common thread to aid class engagement and retention.

Stylistically, the slim deck will be image rich and contain various laughter quotes, such as the Mark Twain one in the abstract. The aim is to trigger the participants' mind out of safe and normal, and show them that novelty makes for an interesting class. The best sessions or lessons are always "teach by doing" -- we will favor exercises over slides.

Timing, exercises (and props) and running order may be honed after further iterations.

Provide a sketch note format for notes to be made on.


  • Connection:"Introduce yourself to a neighbor, and share the best training you've ever been to. What made it so memorable? What stood out?"
  • Connection: Call out - Ask the attendees about typical frustrations with training. How do they measure effectiveness? Engagement of attendees? How do they deal with "prisoners in the room"?
  • Concepts: Humor Isn’t Comedy

    Provide an overview of positive aspects of humor in the workplace. Introduce positive types of humor, story and metaphor and how they relate to agile learning.

    But I'm not funny! I don’t know how!

    humor: noun
    a : that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous
    b : the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous
    c : something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing
    It is not about making training funny, but making it fun.
    Merriam (retrieved February, 27th 2016).

    Examples may include relative estimation via elephant vs jumbo jet, “cake wrecks” for bad user stories, teaching the 5 whys using neither space disasters or car production lines but DC monuments and bird poop.

But what is an effective model for teaching?


  • Connection - Standing Survey - Who is familiar with The 6 Trumps ®?
  • Concepts/Concrete Practice - Introduce the The 6 Trumps ®

    Use more senses: The experiential education motto is that you learn 40% of what you hear, 60% of what you hear and see, and 80% of what you hear, see, and do.

    Using sticky notes, the session will build a visual tool box of the 6 trumps to take with them. I’ll introduce the concept using the trump, and then use a different trump in the concrete practice.

    Moving trumps Sitting - (read slide out loud together) - sit/stretch/think activity. Participants answer a question on the slide and write down the answer. They then stand and find a partner, and share their answers. (Pair/Share). Those are 2 new tools to use.

    Talking trumps Listening - The person doing the most talking is doing the most learning. When people repeat, paraphrase, summarize or make up a question, they are recalling much more information. We’ve already done the Pair/Share, Teach Back is a longer version of this tool. 2 new tools to write down.

    Images trumps Text - Ocean Waves experiment - what do people think of? an image or the text? Our brains have evolved to rely on visual images first, or we’d end up as lunch on the savannah.

    Writing trumps Reading - Showing a slide, ask participants to silently read it, while telling them that the mind cannot wander when writing. A Quick Write is a tool that helps reinforce this. Ask the participants to think of the 4 trumps so far and write a quick summary word or 2 that sprung to mind about them. Another tool

    Shorter trumps Longer - the brain’s short attention span is a mixture of nature and nuture. However, the brain starts to wander after 10 mins of content. If you don’t have a hook after 10 mins, your brain is no longer focused. Tell participants to write “10 minute rule” on their sticky

    Different trumps Same - Ask everyone to read out the slide together - “The human brain is hard-wired to notice differences and to screen out things that remain the same”. How many people drive to work every day? And how many of you from the moment you leave your driveway, to the moment you get to work, haven’t a clue as to how you got there?
    People’s brains pay attention to 4 major differences in the environment. Get participants to write them down:- Novelty, Contrast, Meaning and Emotion

  • Conclusion: Ask participants to look at all their sticky notes from this section, and pick 1 they think they can use in their next training section. Share with the table

How and why do these trumps work? To answer that, we must learn a little about what we know about how the brain works


  • Connection - a show of hands: how many neurologists are in the room?
  • Concept - Introduce the main concepts of how the brain filters information and how to keep it engaged.

    Reticular activating system: The daily commute example is talking about the RAS, or Pinky Brain. Pinky Brain is your auto-pilot and decides what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. You need to make sure training is interesting to make sure your conscious, thinking brain is engaged, and not pinky brain.

    Limbic System: primarily the Amygdala (the emotion gatekeeper) and the Thalamus (converts short term to long term memory, triggered by the Amygdala): how to keep filter from blocking information entering the brain due to stress.

    Dopamine-Reward Theory: Dopamine release (and the pleasure associated with it) has been found highest in school students when they are moving, laughing, interacting, being read to, feel a sense of accomplishment, and when they have choice.

    Downshifting: How anxiety, fear or threat can make participants "downshift" or wig out and it becomes more difficult to process rational thought or form long term memory. In any new learning experience, whenever you feel in danger or are threatened, your brain begins to downshift. When the brain downshifts, learning stops.

  • Concrete Practice - Kinetic exercise to teach the basic theory of how the brain can downshift, blocking rational thought and learning, and go to emotional charge. This is a call and response type physical exercise, using the arm and hand to model the brain and parts of the brain we have learned about. (Pinky brain, limbic system, brain stem, emotional brain, thinking brain)

  • Conclusion - Think/Pair/Share - Write down in graphic organizer 3 things you learned about the basics of how the brain works, and interpret how that could have raised issues in training that you have either facilitated or been in. How does this help you as a trainer?*(emotion / threats / change vs learning / rational thought)*

So now we know a little more about the brain, how can humor help even further?


  • Concept: Humor makes your message more memorable

    A non threatening and quick way to hack the brain, prevent a wig out, is through the emotional connections made by humor. That connection can defuse potentially toxic participants, make dry information interesting and engage the most bored minds.

    Get Past the RAS - Novelty, Contrast, Meaning and Emotion
    Keep the Amygdala in check - Connections, Movement, Breath
    Dish out Dopamine - Humor releases dopamine, and associated with pleasurable experiences, relieving the amygdala

  • Concrete Practice: Drawing exercise with penny drop participant created question and answer session:-

    draw a tube of crazy glue = Bond (to create personal connection),
    a brain = Wig Out (for brain downshifting response),
    a lightning bolt = Jolt (for RAD boredom relief)
    a Hershey’s Kiss = for dopamine release
    As a table group, stand up and place the drawing on the table, and group around it. One person take a coin, and flips it over the drawing, create a question about the topic it lands nearest for the group to answer.

  • Conclusion: Ticket out:  WOW! - How about! - memorable notes to make


Learning Outcome

  • Explain the importance of incorporating fun in training.
  • List 7 specific ways to make training more effective.
  • Understand some applications of basic modern cognitive science in the context of training and learning.
  • Convey how fun can be used to support these learning outcomes.

Target Audience


schedule Submitted 6 years ago

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