Speed Dating as a Training Strategy

I was working with my team on finishing the agenda for an intense, 2-day meeting.  There was only one 90-minute block of time left to fill.  And nobody wanted to take it on.

It was the 90 minutes immediately after lunch on the second day. Perfect timing for food coma and exhaustion to be setting in.  Terrible timing for a facilitator.

We wanted to use this 90 minutes of time to introduce a series of new initiatives we were unveiling.  But giving each project manager 15 minutes of airtime to offer a traditional PowerPoint-based set of talking points just wouldn’t work.  That was a format that would lull even the most enthusiastic participant to sleep after three or four presentations.  So we decided to try something we’d never tried before in a professional meeting: speed dating.

How it Worked

We set up six stations around the room, one for each initiative.  The stations featured visual aids and handouts about individual initiatives and the project manager anchored each station, waiting for new “dates” to come by.  We divided our meeting attendees into six groups and assigned each group to a project where they would begin their “dating process”.  Each “date” lasted for 8 minutes (loosely structured, project managers were supposed to provide 5 minutes of information and allow for 3 minutes of questions from their audience).  After 8 minutes, groups were asked to rotate to the next new initiative.  This process repeated itself six times and concluded with a large group de-brief.

In the End

I have never seen a room full of people more abuzz and alive immediately after lunch.  The short “dating periods” forced the project managers to identify and share the absolute most important aspects of their projects.  The short Q&A period forced participants to come right out and ask their questions if there was something they really wanted to learn more about.  Attendees were not only engaged and physically active throughout the session, the small group nature of the activity allowed those who left wanting to know more with personal connections to the project managers.

In the interest of full disclosure, this was not an activity I came up with on my own.  It was something I had seen several months earlier during a meeting with an amazing organization called LINGOs.  I make this point for two reasons:

  1. To give credit where credit is due, and
  2. To remind you that when it comes to instructional design, there are very few truly original ideas out there, so don’t be afraid to borrow and adapt others’ ideas to your own context.

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9 thoughts on “Speed Dating as a Training Strategy

  1. Brian – speed dating – another great idea you’ve shared based on work you’ve seen. I was trying to think of ways to use speed dating for orientation and you’ve answered my question. How to sell this concept to management for whom liability and due diligence are critical is my next challenge. I love this and am going to pursue it.

    • Thanks Jane. When we did this, we actually re-named it “Hot Topics Round Robin” instead of speed dating (for some reason, Hot Topics Round Robin sounded more professional). Good luck (and if you’re able to sell it to your management team and you’re able to implement it, let me know how it goes)!

  2. Hi Brian – I have led a “speed dating” session in the past with a similiar training initiative. It worked beautifully for us; it sounds like it worked well for you, too! It’s been quite awhile since I did that…I need to re-introduce this method into my toolkit! Thanks for the reminder!

    • Thanks Michelle. When we used this activity back in March, it completely exceeded expectations. It’s funny how favorite activities can kind of fade away for a while. When I’m reminded of something I used to do and which worked well, it’s a bit like finding an old present.

  3. Pingback: The Proper Role of Training: Increasing Knowledge or Building Confidence? | Train Like A Champion

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