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Training Tip: The Messy Start

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Imagine a world in which the training session begins as soon as each individual learner enters the room.  The learners don’t have to wait for the official start time.  There’s no awkward sitting and waiting and passively watching other learners enter the room, wondering who (if anyone) will sit next to them.

Imagine a world in which a facilitator can break the ice without eating up a single minute of precious classroom time.

This is the world of the “messy start”

The messy start is a strategy I first experienced in grad school.  My professor (Jean Singer) posted a flipchart with the following instructions at the entrance of the room:

“Welcome.  As you enter, please grab a marker and write your response on each of the flipcharts posted around the room.  Then walk around the room and read what your colleagues have written.”

Normally there’d be a series of 4 or 5 questions related to the day’s topic posted on flipchart around the room.

I’ve adapted this strategy to my training sessions – I’ve found it a useful way to get my learners thinking about the topic at hand as soon as they walk into the room.  Participants who show up 10 minutes early now have something to do.  Even before the session begins, I get an idea of how much my participants know about the topic at hand, what their expectations for the session are and I have a host of participant thoughts to reference throughout my session (“When it comes to getting organizational change to stick, several of you wrote that there need to be adequate incentives.  This is true, but even before we think about incentives, there are several other things to keep in mind…”).

How does the messy start work?

flipchart with people
  1. Come up with 3 or 4 or 5 questions related to the topic you’d like to have your audience think about.
  2. Write each question on a separate piece of flipchart paper.
  3. Hang these flipcharts around the room prior to participants entering.
  4. Distribute markers around the room for each participant.
  5. Post instructions for the messy start activity outside the entrance on a flipchart and/or on the projection screen.
  6. Greet participants as they enter the room and encourage them to pick up a marker and begin writing.
  7. Be sure to refer to the comments that participants have written – during your introduction and during the session as each topic arises.

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