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Something every facilitator should have in their back pocket? An anatomy lesson.

A metaphor can be a powerful way to connect people to new information or concepts. And the human body is a very versatile metaphor that every facilitator can use, regardless of topic.


We were at a bar. It was late. We had a lesson plan for the next day’s meeting, but it was missing something.

After my third club soda and lime, inspiration struck. Let’s bring human anatomy into the sales training!

We were heading into a meeting with an advisory group and we needed to analyze the characteristics of the learners who were going to go through a training program we were about to develop. We could simply say: “tell us about the trainees,” but our advisory group had The Curse of Knowledge. They had learned things about the learners over the past 10, 15, 20 years in working with them that they may forget to tell us. We needed to give some structure to the conversation.

I took out a pad of paper and began to sketch out my thoughts. It looked like this:

Anatomy Drawing (Gingerbread Man)

Why not break our advisors into two groups, give each a flipchart with the outline of a human body on it, and ask them to give us specific information pertaining to various body parts:

  1. Brain. We wanted to learn about the trainees’ education level and prior training.
  2. Eyes. We wanted to know how the trainees’ viewed the need to be trained on this topic.
  3. Mouth. In order to figure out how to reinforce the learning, we needed to know to whom the trainees reported and would speak to in order to learn how to do things better.
  4. Hands. We wanted to know the skill level of the learners on the various topics they’d be exposed to in this training program.
  5. Feet. We wanted to know what kinds of experience the learners had in what was being taught and what they’d be able to contribute to the training program.
  6. Heart. At the core of everything goes the learners’ motivation. Would they be motivated by performance bonuses? Should we introduce competition in some for? Do they work in a results-driven culture?

We received responses that we never would have gotten if we had simply asked for a description of the learners. One person in the advisory group commented that this exercise made them think more deeply about the learners, about things they otherwise hadn’t spent too much time thinking about.

A metaphor is a powerful tool that should be in every facilitator’s toolkit – a way to compare something everyone is familiar with to new content or concepts. The human body is a particularly effective metaphor because everyone has one.

What metaphors have you found particularly helpful when trying to anchor new concepts to your learners’ previous experiences?

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