Play to Teach and Coach: Draw it!

I went to a seminar a couple of years ago which had a huge effect on me. The material presented wasn’t new, but up until I took that course most of it had seemed very lofty and academic to me. Even though I agreed with the course content, I hadn’t applied most of it to my everyday work.

However after that seminar I did.

We arrived to find we were grouped around round tables that at first glance looked like they belonged in a preschool. In the center of each table was

  • an assortment of colored markers, highlighters, charcoal pencils and crayons
  • sheets of various sized Avery labels and stars
  • three different sizes of Post-its
  • and three stacks of paper: blank for mind-mapping, graph paper, and large-grid storyboard sheets


I was among a group who were very corporate business serious, and there were quite a few eyes rolled to the ceiling as we took our seats, with people mumbling, “Oh great, what silliness will this be? How long are we trapped in here?”

The presenter was better than average, but she wasn’t particularly memorable in how she spoke. What she was absolutely great at, was teaching us how to learn by playing with the content. To “play with it,” we had to turn it into visual form.

We had only one assignment, but it was a consistent one marking the end of each content module she presented: We were to either story-board the lesson, or turn it into a whiteboard lesson we could teach to someone else.

I walked out of that session with the most colorful — and the most useful — set of notes I had ever taken in a management class up to that point. I am not shy about copying fabulous ideas, and today there are certain MWA classes you can arrive at with a similar set up. I’ve tailored it somewhat, for in that class she had taken it to such an extreme that we got a bit carried away; I kept drawing and playing to the point of tuning out a lot of what she continued to talk about.

My biggest take-away though was this connection between how visual characterization enhances the learning experience and helps us both remember it and duplicate it. It has also given me an aversion to using PowerPoint unless I am forced to for overly large audiences: I much prefer using flipcharts and paper over electronic razzle dazzle as much as is feasible, because paper is cheaper, more elementary and less intimidating, and thus easy to duplicate and re-teach with.

Most of what I do is giving managers a teachable lesson they can share with those they manage and mentor, and I want to make that easy for them to do. When play introduces color, vibrancy, and visual impact, it makes the learning experience way more enjoyable.

Add some “office toys” to your next class or meeting and try it.

Related post from the archives:

Draw yourself a picture, Doodle your way to learning.

Our value of the month is Le‘ale‘a; the Hawaiian value of playfulness.

And on today;
Easy to duplicate = Easy to learn.


  1. says

    Easy to duplicate = Easy to learn.

    There is a call I’ll occasionally get from my host or hostess just prior to my presentations which goes something like this:
    “Hi Rosa, I’m doing a last minute check on the set-up requirements for your session, and I noticed that you only asked fo…

  2. says

    This reminds me of something I learned a while back. Breaking up your thought process by unconventional aspects into your life can be very effective in helping stop ineffective patterns. Such as introducing crayons for corporate types to communicate with.
    Yesterday I shaved my head, which for a 40 year old man could be considered a little nutty, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do all my life and why not now? I wont be doing it again, but what a boost, to be able to do something like that and live with the result.
    Shaving your head is a cheaper and safer version of Bungee jumping. :)

  3. says

    Wow Lyndon, good for you :-)
    First you start a blog, then you shave your head… way to get comfortable with the abundance that a few steps into greater vulnerability can bring you!
    Cheaper and safer yes, however I’m sure there are many who would feel that shaving their head is much braver than the bungee jumping.