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Make It Stick with Experiential Training

Chalk-talk has its place, certainly. But make no mistake, any coach who preps his or her team solely with speeches and diagrams is in for a drubbing come game time. At a certain point, the team has got to take to the practice field and start throwing the ball around. Muscle memory, split-second reactions, real-time decision making: these things can’t be learned in a class room.

In recent years, applied improvisation coaching has exploded internationally as an effective form of professional development in businesses and organizations. Business owners and managers are looking to improvisation for a variety of reasons, ranging from collaboration to public speaking to leadership language. While every applied improv firm may have their own style, one universal characteristic is that they almost all offer experiential events, with attendees actively participating in sessions.

The metaphoric practice field. This is where the experiential learning takes place, gets ingrained in the behavior and more easily retained.

When we founded Improv Effects three years ago, one of our guiding principles was don’t get preachy. We wanted the exercises to speak for themselves through the ah-hah moments experienced by the participants. Instead of telling people why what we’re covering is useful. We say, “Try this, and you tell us if it can be useful to you.”

This approach has not let us down. Not only are people more open to behavioral change when they experience the effects of it themselves, but we’ve been shocked by some of the very personal conclusions that different individuals have pulled out of their experiences.

In 1975, David Kolb, Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, developed the “Experiential Learning Cycle.”

The irreplaceable element in this diagram is Testing. We’ve long maintained that improv rehearsal rooms are a laboratory for interpersonal communication. In an applied improv workshop, we introduce a communication technique and then test it in simulation. When it goes well, the technique is reinforced by experiencing the success of the exercise. If it doesn’t go well, we suggest the participants try a tweak or adjustment and test it again. When success is experienced, that is when they achieve concrete experience.

Is your organization introducing enough experiential training? No matter what type of training you’re looking to impart, seek out ways to make it experiential for increased retention. There’ll be plenty of opportunities later on for chalk-talk.

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