I do a lot of professional development training for many groups.  One thing I never leave my office without is a box of toys.  I can hear the laughter across the internet.  As one of my colleagues said, “Why the hell would you hand out toys to a bunch of executives?”  The answer is simple: engagement.  If you have spent time in any type of retreat, workshop, professional development day or conference, you know the significance of swag.  I have seen grown men fighting over light up robot key chains at military defense booths.  I have seen women stealing each other’s novelty lipstick tubes with company logos at women’s conferences.  In the American culture, people like STUFF, especially if it is free and fun.

Now, think about training.  I can already see the eye rolls and yawns in process.  Some trainers mean well, but their material is so dry that it evaporates without retention.  As a seasoned former college professor and paid public speaker, the rule I embrace for every audience is “You have eighteen minutes.”  That’s right. Eighteen tiny minutes to hold the average adult attention span between the ages of 18 and 80.  If you don’t believe me, take a look around your next company training.  At about the twenty minute mark, people get very distracted.  Cell phones emerge; people slyly check email.  The bottom line is, you have lost their attention and most likely, their retention of your material.

Now, bring the toys into this scenario. I will give you an example.  I was explaining John Kotter’s wonderful Change Management model to a group of harried executives.  It is an eight step process of starting and implementing social change. As brilliant as this theory is, it can be a lot for people to absorb in one day.  Toys provide an elegant solution to this problem.  Kotter’s model is based on his charming book, “Our Iceberg is Melting.(c) ”  It is a story about the need for penguins to change their iceberg home to another location in the Arctic. When the group enters the room, each person has a different plastic penguin at their seat. There are five different types of penguins total.  This is my way of assigning them into groups. Participants quickly become engrossed with these groups, even giving them names such as the “Emperors of Excellence”.  People become very engaged and the theory begins to come alive in the training session.  I ask them to bring their penguins to their offices and put them on their desks to remember the change models we have discussed and how important they are to do every day at work.

This month, I will be training a team of human service professionals on teamwork.  What toy did I choose?  Dinosaurs, because they roamed in packs.  Those who did not work together found themselves extinct,. The work groups will be divided by T-Rex’s, Stegosauruses and others.  With another  Jurassic World movie premiering this summer, the options are endless..  This might seem silly and trite, but I have used toys with groups ranging from PhD level researchers to administrative clerks, and everyone loves them. Even people without kids at home seem to enjoy being given a toy.  I believe we all learn through play, and that toys provide a nice alternative to typical flip charts and group activities. Just as humor is a great equalizer, toys are an excellent catalyst for workshop productivity. For a very small cost, you give people a constant reminder of the important points you made for the day.  As a bonus, you can all have fun doing it, too. For more information on workshops please email us at: [email protected].