Posted on: March 4, 2016
Author: Ken Brown
Here's How to Know Your Training Audience in 99 Seconds image

What if I told you that there was a way to easily identify a participant's individual teaching style, and that it only takes 99 seconds?

It can be done, and I have successfully used this technique for the last 7 years. Better yet, it has proven to be fun for the participants and is actually one of the most remembered aspects of my Facilitating Engagement Workshop. And depending on the number of participants in your course, you can typically complete this activity in 15-30 minutes.

Why 99 Seconds?

The technique that I use is one that I adapted from the 99-sec presentations contest made famous (and fun) by Thiagi ( at various national Training conferences. But for my purposes in training facilitation skills, I didn't necessarily want or need the participants to deliver a presentation. What I was trying to get at was my participants’ natural teaching style.

Since an aspect of facilitation is improvisation - the facilitator’s ability to adapt and adjust the direction of the content as needed by the participants - I wanted to put my participants in a situation where they had to think on their feet.

My theory was this: when put in such a situation, each participant would rely on the teaching technique they were most comfortable with.

How Does 99 Seconds Work?

But what would I have my participants talk about? What if I gave them a topic they should be familiar with? That would be one less distraction, right? And it should not cause a disruption in their displayed teaching style. So I created a list of common everyday objects, such as highlighters, q-tips, coffee filters and light switches, along with a few not-so-common objects (i.e., wooden nickels, tap shoes, suspenders, pistachios) and wrote each of these objects on a separate index card.

When 99 Seconds begins, each participant comes to the front of the room, takes a card, flips it over and reads it - sometimes with a groan (tap shoes or pistachios usually does the trick) - then immediately begins teaching the audience how to use that object. This is about sharing the just the features and benefits of that object. It’s all about how to use the object.

Behind each participant on the projector screen, the timer (in a gloriously large 125 pt. font) counts down from 99 seconds. When the buzzer sounds, time is up - not a second before. The primary rule of 99 Seconds is this: Each participant has to use the entire 99 seconds. Many participants will deliver their content quickly, then turn around to see how much time is left (70 seconds is the current record). Sometimes, the audience will throw the participant a lifeline, in the form of a question, when he or she is stuck and doesn't know what to say. But even among internal colleagues, such support is not guaranteed!

So why should you use the 99-Seconds activity?

  • Do you need to get a “read” on your participants' current teaching approach?
  • Are you training current instructors to facilitate more and present less?
  • Are you training brand-new instructors?
  • Are you looking for a creative way to break the ice and shake out the nerves?
  • Are you creating an improvisational, yet real-world situation to see how instructors react, while doing it in a safe environment?

What You (As the Facilitator) Learn from this Activity

What do you see from your participants during the 99-Seconds activity? A lot.

Styles of teaching that can be called good, bad, and everything in between. From the 700+ participants that I've taken through this exercise, what I have seen without fail is this: over 90% of the participants talk the entire 99-seconds. Which means no questions, no dialogue, no audience engagement. Just each “instructor” dominating the conversation. Sound familiar?

For a workshop designed to train instructors how to properly facilitate (purposefully engage their participants), instead of present (show up and throw up), that 99 seconds is a gold mine of information that helps me effectively guide the participants through the workshop – because now I have a glimpse into how they typically deliver their training. And I’ve gained that insight in only 99 seconds.

About the Author


As Chief EMU Wrangler at The EMU Experience, LLC, Ken helps learning professionals deliver engaging, memorable and unexpected learning experiences. By teaching practical techniques to purposefully increase student engagement, along with methods that incorporate creativity into the design and delivery process, Ken will help you create a learning experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected.

Want to learn more? Subscribe to Ken’s blog  or email Ken

Tell your network about this post


Social Media