"In the event of a water landing…” How One Hands-On Exercise Can Equal 100 Lectures

Imagine yourself on a commercial flight...as enormously unpleasant as that thought is.  You settle into the seat, turn off your phone (or pretend to), and sit back to watch the flight attendant do the life-vest spiel.  "In the event of a water landing… blah, blah."  How many times have you heard this?  30 times?  100 times?   There's not much to it: put the life vest on, wait until you're outside to inflate, and so on. 

Ninety minutes into the flight the captain announces that the crew and passengers should prepare for a water landing.  This is not a drill.

Now, how quickly and easily could you get on that life vest?   After all, you've seen the spiel a hundred times.  It should be a no-brainer.  But, when you look at one of those life vests, you'll see that there's a doubled-over strap hanging on each side.  Are you actually sure where your arms go - exactly?  Do your arms go in between the straps or do you slip both behind you?  And there's one of those annoying little jagged tooth buckles--do you tighten that before or after inflating the vest??   I could see it working either way….  

There's not much to it, so of course you would eventually get the life-vest on.  Considering, however, how many times you've seen that spiel and how many bored moments you spent leafing through that goofy insert, do you really know it as well as you should?  Probably not. 

Now, back up.  Go back to the spiel.  Imagine if this time during the demonstration you had a chance to take out the life-vest.  Look at it.  Actually slip it over your head.  Check out how the flight attendant is doing it.  Mess with the straps for a moment, try it.  How much better would you be now in the "event of a water landing"?  Much better, right?   No doubt about it.   

Obviously, when you try on the life-vest you don't go through an exact re-enactment of a crash scenario.   You're not replicating the adrenaline, the stress, the noise, cabin conditions, and so forth.  But, just the act of going hands-on and trying it out would make a big difference.  You'd realize that the straps would have to go a certain way…  You'd have much higher expectations in your ability to execute once you're actually in the moment.  In short, the learning would be much more effective.

Role playing simulations serve to re-enact professional interactions.  Obviously, these simulations can't perfectly replicate an actual interview or sales call or presentation.  But, giving employees—especially new employees –a chance to try delivering key messages and fielding questions away from the client, means giving them a huge advantage.   It's not enough to tell…or even to show.   Even if you have a chance to show or tell them 100 times.  If possible, let them practice and learn by actually doing it.  Let them figure out which way the straps actually work beforehand.   

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