Merlin Works October Newsletter: Thiagi and Me

I was ready to quit before I even started. On the drive up to Dallas, I was rehearsing my speech. “I’m sorry, this just isn’t what I’m looking for. I’d like to go home today and get a refund.”You see, even though parenthood has brought out a lot of patience in me, (Yes, I will read No More Monkeys Jumping On The Bed for a seventh time tonight.) it has really decreased my patience in other categories. I’m much less tolerant of having my time wasted. Because it’s not just my time any more: it’s my family’s time. So the empathy I used to show to slow customer service has been diminished. (Just let me buy this refrigerator and give you money, okay!?) And the value of a “Free Session,” when I have arranged childcare and am missing time with my boy, isn’t such a great bargain if it’s lame, boring, or inapplicable.

So when I was driving to Dallas last Monday night, having paid a significant fee for the training and lodging, getting ready to spend four nights away from home–the longest I’ve been gone since my 19-month-old was born, I was having second thoughts. I was heading to Thiagi’s Interactive Techniques for Instructor-Led Training Workshop, a three day seminar held on the SMU campus. Thiagi (aka Sivasailam Thiagarajan, Ph. D.) is an international guru in instructional design, games and simulations. Many of my colleagues in Applied Improvisation are big fans of his and I was ready to get some training coming from a different point of view than the improv world, where I’ve been training for the past twenty years.

Then something happened when I showed up at 8:15am (earlier than I usually start my work day) to begin the training. Sometime after Thiagi blew his train whistle (researched to be the least annoying attention device) and said “Hello!” in his Indian accent, I forgot all about quitting. I was way too busy.
First off, he asked us, “What do you want to know about your audience before you start leading a workshop?” One woman (and it was almost all women in our small group of nine) raised her hand and answered, “Expectations.” Thiagi quickly gave her a one dollar bill. I raised my hand. “Experience.” He handed me a five dollar bill. This guy knows how to get people’s attention right off the bat!

Then we launched into an activity where we had to partner up, plan on how to gather data from the group about expectations, experience, projects, and challenges, then gather data, synthesize it, and present it all in about fifteen minutes. The activities kept rolling and by the time it was lunch and I had a moment to think about whether I wanted to stay, I had already written six pages of notes and learned four new activities for the classroom. I was in for the whole session.

I don’t have room to include all the great activities and nuggets of wisdom in this newsletter, although I’m sure they will be filling up more blog posts to come. We played card games, did magic tricks, board games, improv games, role plays, team projects and more. (See photos here of the tallest tower activity.) Possible future newsletter titles: “Let the Inmates Run the Asylum” and “You Don’t Need to Know Anything to Teach.”


I hope I’m able to replicate my experience for my clients. One of the main differences between a public improv class and a corporate training event is that in a public improv class each individual has agreed to participate. In a corporate training setting, often someone else–HR, management, company cultural leaders–has signed everyone up for it. So participants are often reluctant, skeptical, and overwhelmed with their own work life that they would rather get back to. Basically, a lot like me going in to Thiagi’s workshop. So, hopefully I can use some of his strategies to win them over like he won me over.Have you had great teachers in the past who have turned you around on a subject or experience? What was it about that teacher that helped you get past your skepticism and buy in?

Shana Merlin
Founder, Merlin Works

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About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.
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