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To free potential, capture attention

Not long ago, Maestro unveiled this site and its accompanying brand promise—potential set free. We think it’s a good summary of how we help people grow through the various ways we organize, translate and deliver knowledge and information. But none of this happens unless we engage the learner.

It’s no coincidence that the first of Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction is—you guessed it—gain attention. Gagné, as in Robert Mills Gagné (1916-2002), was an American educational psychologist best known for “Conditions of Learning” published in 1965.

Gagné did pioneering work with the science of instruction for the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and he had a major influence on pilot training. Eventually, he helped explain and demonstrate what he and others believed constituted “good instruction.” He also played a part in applying instructional theory to computer-based training and multimedia learning.

Among Gagné’s most enduring contributions is his list, “Nine Events of Instruction.” 1. Gain attention 2. Inform learner of objectives 3. Stimulate recall of prior learning 4. Present stimulus material 5. Provide learner guidance 6. Elicit performance 7. Provide feedback 8. Assess performance 9. Enhance retention transfer

Too often we assume that learners are ready, willing and able to partake of our instruction du jour. But availability is not acceptance. There’s an avalanche of competition for learners’ time and attention. And let’s be real here: Many of these distractions are a lot more intriguing than what we have to offer. What’s an ID to do?

For starters, exactly what Gagné counseled—spend some time pondering what you can do to capture attention, that essential soil-conditioning first step in planting any message. The sky is virtually the limit here, and it’s a rare opportunity to push relevance to the max. Be outrageous. Be funny. Be shocking. Be a clown, a doomsayer or clairvoyant. Make a prediction. Levy a directive. Take their attention captive. Get in their heads . . . because that’s where instruction has to do its thing.

Demonstrate something or pose a problem or dilemma. Present a case study. Use arresting images or graphics. Press irresistible bits of audio or video into service. Conscript unsuspecting but provocative quotations. Tell a story. . . . I say again: Tell a story.

While stories have to be handled with care when they are woven into learning presentations (Have to be relevant, you see.), you almost can’t miss with a story as the intro to a learning presentation. In fact, in some quarters, storytelling has assumed a life of its own—traveling far beyond the familiar turf of instructional technique into the uncharted territories of corporate culture and management styles.

The late David Armstrong, CEO of Armstrong International, a manufacturer of steam specialty equipment, was one of the pioneers of corporate storytelling. The idea for making storytelling the hallmark of his management style came while he was sitting in church listening to the umpteenth retelling of the parable of the talents. He describes it this way.

“As I was nodding in agreement, I noticed an amazing by-product of that familiar story—interest. People who had been nodding off or daydreaming were suddenly attentive. Even though they knew the story and its ending, still they listened. “In a flash, I understood that people like stories and will listen to them. I realized right then and there that ‘Let me tell you a story . . . .’ could be an irresistible invitation.”

Nuff said.

Bill Truesdell

But not far. And not much. Because Bill would rather stay put, adding value by doing what we think he does best—assembling words into s…

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