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A New Story Element for Training: Chekhov’s Gun

The famous writer Anton Chekhov said

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

The pistol isn’t an object so much as a principle in this quote and represents anything powerful you put in front of your audience. In the late 1800’s, when Chekov was a writer, a gun was an obvious metaphor for a powerful object that would capture the audience’s attention.

Basically, all elements of a story have a function, or they shouldn’t be included. As a trainer, I try to ensure that most training I design builds into a story.  As a writer, it is important that all elements of a story work together to move the story forward. Are we doing that when we write training?

Take a moment to think about the last training you attended or designed/delivered, go ahead. I am being serious, please indulge me, take a moment to reflect. Now that we are all on the same page, is there any elements in that training that just sat there like an unanswered question? If so, is there a way to change that? Let’s take a few minutes to look at what we can do with unfired pistols.

Remove Chekhov’s Gun

If it is not absolutely necessary in moving your participants towards the change you want them to realize, get rid of it. This won’t be easy at first, because you need to review through the right lens to even identify if these pistols exist in your writing. Additionally, you may have stakeholders who really want the pistol, even if it has little or no function.

Fire that Gun – Figuratively, not Literally

If you have something in your training that you introduce, don’t just leave it there, give it a story. I am guilty of assuming everyone in a room is on the same page as me. When I write a training, I may take for granted that people get why I used an analogy or an activity the way I do. We all walk into a training room with our own knowledge and baggage. Because of this, if you have a point of an element that may seem ambiguous on any level, make it known why it is there.

An Example of Checkov’s Gun

Let’s say you start a training by saying that learning styles are junk science, and then go on to talk about various ways to train adult learners that are not based on junk science. This is fantastic! You opened with a jarring statement and pulled your audience in whether or not they agree with you. But wait, you hung a pistol on a wall and just left it there. Instead of leaving it there, you may want to hand everyone a copy of Millennials, Goldfish &Other Training Misconceptions and tie your objectives to your opening statement.

Use Checkov’s Gun Wisely

The best movies have these Checkov’s Guns lying around all over the place. I won’t spoil any endings for our readers, but a simple Google search will demonstrate the power of this tool. It is not to be overused but can be fun when used correctly in training.

Have you ever put a Checkov’s gun in a training? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

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