I was fortunate to be part of the innovation process that led to YawnBuster, and in this post I'll try to capture some of it.
When one person speaks and others listen in a moderate size group, one thing that often breaks down is two-way communication.
Suppose you are in the audience. If you let this person go on rambling, you get one-way monologue. If you interrupt too many times, the speaker may lose the thread and everyone ends up in a mess.
Now let's see this from the speaker's perspective. If I talk non-stop, I may end up getting bored of my own voice. If I encourage people to talk, someone could easily go off on a tangent.
Clearly, what is needed is a way to present, where four conditions are satisfied.
- The speaker can control the amount of interaction
- The interaction serves a specific purpose: energizes the audience, creates fun, provides a breather and so on
- Everyone has a way to participate
- The interaction is organized and guided by some kind of a structure. (Sometimes, stating it negatively is more emphatic. So let's just say: No chaos.)
A Group Activity is initiated by the speaker: "Okay, let's play a game of Bingo!" The design of the activity is based on its purpose: "We're going to get you thinking with this brainstorming session", or "We will cool off a bit with this trivia game". Everyone can participate - directly, or indirectly : "Let's have a show of hands". The Group Activity's structure guides what happens next: "Now, it's Group B's turn." A certain order prevails, even as people participate: "Your time is up", or "Let's put together all the key takeaways now".
With the idea of Group Activity at the center, a framework for group activity facilitation evolved. The facilitation framework minimizes the speaker's workload, by doing many of the things that involve keeping the audience on track.
How do you classify myriads of Group Activities that are possible? A taxonomy of group activities fell in place: participation enhancer activities, collaboration activities, breather activities. Trainers could choose from icebreakers, activators, group exercises, energizer games and closers.
Research by eLearning Guild shows PowerPoint to be the tool most commonly used by trainers. This should surpise nobody, we all do it. It became clear then, that the best way to provide this technology was as Flash templates for PowerPoint.
In short, we had created a way to easily build and also to professionally facilitate group activities with minimal effort.
The last act was to pick a name for this software. What's in a name? A lot, one would think, especially when you stumble upon a name like YawnBuster. So we chose it, and YawnBuster was born.