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If L&D is Gonna be the Bad Guy, then be “Rowdy” Roddy Piper

When a hero of mine passes away, I try to figure out a way to immortalize him or her in writing through my blog (here are posts about Casey Kasem and Maya Angelou).

It was with sadness I learned of the passing of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper this weekend. He made for the best bad guy the World Wrestling Federation ever saw.


With survey data suggesting only 7% of people turn to the learning and development department for their learning needs, sometimes L&D turns into the organization’s bad guy. If that’s a role we need to play, then we really should play it like Rowdy Roddy Piper. Here are a few ways we can do that:

Be entertaining. Rowdy Piper knew how to capture his audience’s attention, through spouting witticisms into the microphone before a match, through his talk show-like Piper’s Pit segments during wrestling broadcasts and through his flamboyance in the ring as he took on an opponent. I know there are a lot of people who gag at the idea of professional training as “edutainment”. I’m one of them. But it doesn’t mean that professional development needs to be boring. If you have a sense of humor, let it show from time to time. Give a dramatic pause before revealing a key concept or important fact. Create some amazing visual aids to supplement your presentation. Maybe even use Powtoon or Storyline to generate some enthusiasm about your session before it even begins.

Taunt them. I spent most of my childhood loving Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and hating Roddy Piper. He was such a good bad guy, and he was a master of taunting not only his opponents, but also the crowd. If you’ve been able to develop rapport with your learners, perhaps you can even get away with taunting them from time to time as you check for their understanding of the content. Playfully and in good humor, of course. You may be able to get away with something such as: “Is there anyone in this room (or attending this webinar)… anyone at all… who dares think they can answer these three review questions correctly?”

Hit them over the head with a coconut. During one famous episode of Piper’s Pit, Roddy smacked Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka over the head with a coconut. I’m not suggesting that you take this advice literally. You can, however, take your audience by surprise by offering a well-timed, surprising fact or statistic that supports the reason you want your audience to do something new or differently or better. If you want to make your case even stronger, keep hitting them with another fact and yet another stat. Three or four eye opening pieces of data can really start your learners re-thinking whether they want to keep doing things like they’ve always done them.

Do all this with a good heart. Rowdy Roddy was such a good bad guy because he put his whole heart into it. Similarly, even if L&D professionals are cast in the light of “bad guy” because we’re designing compliance training or requiring people to be away from their desks for a day while we train them on some important topic, we can’t just go through the motions. We need to put our whole heart into our role, finding new, original, creative, surprising, entertaining and impactful ways to dazzle our learners and give them their money’s worth.

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