016 : Gotchas

There’s a lovely scene in the first Harry Potter Film where Professor Snape

(played by the late, great Alan Rickman) starts his class like so:

“Mr. Potter. Our new celebrity. Tell me, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood? You don’t know? Well, let’s try again. Where, Mr. Potter, would you look if I asked you to find me a bezoar?… And what is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

Harry sits dumfounded, exposed and rather crestfallen as Professor Snape sneers down at him.

It’s a great scene.

And a good example of ‘gotchas’. Questions to which your audience can’t know the answer. If they don’t know the answer to the question, then why ask it? It’s not fair. It’s the same as setting extra homework as a punishment to the child who didn’t understand or complete the first batch. Posing a gotcha creates distance between you and your audience. Awkward silence anyone?

Please don’t do that; bad for you and worse for them.

Questions change the dynamic of a class or session, of course. They fire off different parts of the brain. Recall is triggered, giving other parts of the mind a rest – so great for learning. But get creative on how you ask the questions to change pace, shift direction and make change between one phase of delivery and the next.

You can hide a question in the theatre of delivery. If you’re keen to share knowledge, facts, figures, trivia and put a few myths to bed, set your questions as a quiz, a multi-choice, a peel-and-reveal, a team game, answers out of a hat. Get participants to write the quiz… there is always a better alternative than a cold gotcha.

We’ve a Scoping product here at the Box. It teaches project teams 8 tools that can be used to understand and/or write better creative briefs for business. As a warm up to one of the tools, we hand out some props. These are physical objects that accompany a little story around which we pose a few questions to set the context of problem solving and scoping a brief.

By doing so, we stimulate the senses and raise curiosity – the exact great state for problem solving. Our participants always come back with an answer that helps their learning and everyone else – an engineered positive experience for all. A pleasure to teach. A pleasure to learn.

Really neat.

Go for the Oscar. Not the gotcha.