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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

11 Use Action Learning

Remember your high school biology teacher? The one who used lecture notes from when Charles Darwin was a student and showed outdated movies that were so bad that even she fell asleep? Contrast that with action learning. In action learning, the participants are working at solving real-life problems. And you can up the ante and the energy level by having the class compare their solutions with the real-life outcome. A colleague named Dave Buffett gave us the perfect example:

I was in the midst of an Executive MBA program. The class was divided up into competing teams. Our goal was to plan for the acquisition of one company by another. The teams took their task very seriously and planned their strategies. All of the teams were to present their strategies at the beginning of the next class. Imagine our surprise, when in the next class, the instructor introduced a guest lecturer—the vice-president from one of the two companies. The students then had to present their strategies to the vice president and after their presentations, he would tell them how it actually turned out and comment on where their strategies were the same, where the students' strategies were better, and where his strategy was better.

We were geared up to present our strategies and see how well we compared with the other teams in the room, when the instructor announced that the actual vice president who was in charge of his company's negotiation strategy would be in the room to debrief this case with us. It raised the ante 100 percent. We felt that we were actually negotiating a real-life acquisition. The atmosphere in the room was electric. Learning just doesn't get any better than that.

To find out more about action learning, we highly recommend the Harvard Business Review article "Driving Change" by Susy Wetlaufer.


Briefly describe an engaging presentation you attended in which you had to solve a real-life problem.

Did the presenter(s) debrief the case with a real-life outcome?

Next, briefly describe how you can use this technique.

Will you provide a real-life outcome?

Turn Your Failures Into Gold Mines

Brad: I am often amused that people who know that I teach negotiation skills assume that I am a Master_Negotiator and, although I am getting better, I know that I will have at least one spectacular failure every year. One of the things that I have learned is that Mother Nature is a persistent teacher and we will be given the same lessons over and over again

One such lesson was when I was unable to negotiate the release of course handouts from the print shop, which I turned into a case study for my negotiation course. It is reproduced below:

Econo Copy Store

You are asked to give a talk on effective negotiating skills for the Association of Dispensing Opticians. The talk is to take place on Saturday, September 15, at the Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrew's-by-the-Sea. The Association has agreed to pay you your regular half-day fee, transportation expenses, and one night's accommodation at the luxury resort hotel.

You have to leave your home by 8 a.m. on September 15th in order to leave your 2-year-old son with his grandparents and catch the noon ferry, which will save hours of driving. You and your spouses are very much looking forward to this relaxing trip.

As a professional speaker, you have handout materials that you will use to help illustrate your talk. As you have been extremely busy, your spouse took the handout material to the Econo Copy Store on September 11th. The 60 copies of the handouts were to be ready by 2 p.m. on September 14th.

You arrive home at 4 p.m. on September 14. Your spouse walks in the door a few minutes later and states that he/she just returned from the emergency room at the local hospital. He/she explains that as he/she was leaving to get your handouts, he/she experienced an excruciating pain in his/her lower left abdomen. Both your spouse and a colleague thought that it could have been a case of appendicitis. After several hours at the hospital, the blood tests indicated that it was a new version of the 24-hour flu that mimics appendicitis.

It is now 4:15 p.m. You have to pick up your son from daycare and pick up the handouts. You decide to get your son first. You arrive at Econo Copy at 4:45. To your horror, the door is locked, and you notice a sign that says "Office Hours 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m." To your immense relief, the store clerk is still there counting out the day's receipts. You now have to negotiate for the release of the handouts.

Brad: By turning this example into a case study, I have learned a lot from observing my participants' innovative approaches. We can also learn that sometimes things are not negotiable and we have to go with our best alternative.


Have you ever had a failure that you could turn into a teachable moment or exercise? Take a few minutes to describe it.

How could you turn it into a teachable moment or exercise in a future presentation?

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