The Teacher Showman — An Otto Kroeger Remembrance

When I was a kid, I could not decide if I wanted to be a teacher or an actor. Teachers seemed to have a great and important gig, but then I saw Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno, and acting seemed like the better way to go. In high school and college I did some acting and taught and tutored as well–trying both activities on for size, but I was thrust into the post-college, “get to work” world still not knowing which path I wanted to take—the classroom or the stage. It was not until I met and experienced Otto Kroeger a few years later that I discovered that this was a false choice. If you teach and train correctly, the classroom and stage converge, and you become a teacher showman.

Ott presentation

An accomplished and enthusiastic actor/performer himself (Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and the King in the The King and I were his two favorite roles), Otto taught me plenty about the wisdom of the stage and how it contributes to effective training. These seven lessons have become standard practice at OKA—a critical part of the OKA experience, central both to how we teach and how we craft and mold new trainers. The following insights I learned and developed from working with Otto Kroeger, the master teacher showman:

  1. Know Your Lines

I saw Otto smoothly step in many times when he was co-training to redirect the answer to a question, inject some energy, to press re-set on the mood or in some other way steer the audience’s focus. He was able to do this by knowing the content and the goals of the design in such great detail. Training is not about merely transferring facts—it is about facilitating an experience.

Know your part—backwards and forwards. You never hit the boards and face an audience before you learn the lines—and not just your lines but those of everyone who takes the stage. Even if you improvise, facilitate and let your performance stay in the moment, the freedom of such performances is only workable when you first have totally immersed yourself in the part as written. The same applies to effective training. Know your subject matter, your design, your transitions, where it gets challenging and where it gets fun. Know the laugh lines and the parts of the presentation that punch and jab a bit. Know the arc and flow – the music – of your training event.

  1. Fill the Space

Otto towers in my memory, but in reality he was not a big man. While he always carried some weight, he was only about 5’9’’.  But he knew how to fill a stage. No one could play Tevye or the King of Siam who did not know how to use his body and voice to fill not just the stage, but our imaginations. Great trainers and great actors have this in common.

Otto taught me to use the whole room—visit each corner in setting up and processing exercises, answering questions, and telling stories. Make the whole room part of the action space. Break that fourth wall, and make the audience/participants part of the performance. Take your storytelling up a notch with gesture and animation, and fill up your training space.

  1. Play to the Back Row

Otto once lamented with a mix of regret and irritation that a participant in the back of the room seemed to be dozing off in one of his presentations. That the presentation had been a keynote to over 800 people who had eagerly awarded him a standing ovation made little difference. Otto always played to the back row, which means he paid attention to the person least connected, least engaged or furthest away from the action.

I always give focused attention to the sight lines and room atmosphere for those in the worst seats in the room. Do they have obstructed views; can they hear everything; can I and the rest of the group see and hear them, and do they get as much of my energy as the folks at the front table? Every seat in the house deserves the same great show.

  1. Move with Purpose

Otto understood that his words and voice were only part of what he was communicating. Over twenty years in the pulpit as a Lutheran minister taught him this as well. Gestures, walking, and movement were powerful tools to harness.

OKA teaches the trainers it trains to move (fill the space) but to do so with intention and direction. Taking a few steps in one direction or another could reinforce a content point, personally connect to a participant, grab or re-direct attention, offer visual variety, or any number of things. A good trainer—like a good performer—gives thought to movement and intentionally selects the physical presentation that best serves the lesson.

  1. stage craft 2Control the Stage

As a student of good acting and performing, Otto knew Anton Chekov’s urging for effective stage dressing. If there is a candlestick on the mantle when the curtain goes up, that candlestick should be used in some way before the curtain comes down.

OKA’s translation of this theater principle is keeping the training room focused, neat and clean. Use plenty of visuals and training support tools, but as soon as the point is made or the topic changes, clean up, organize, pare down and focus your visuals. The only visuals participants should see are those that are still needed for support or reference. Good trainers, like good performers, control and organize their performance space.

  1. Commit to the Part

Otto believed in Type, and he was equally committed to the human interaction lessons at the heart of the NTL training he designed and delivered, but he declined to train on a number of topics and tools over the years because he knew that to be believable, the performer must commit to his part. An actor should never take a part to which he/she cannot authentically commit.

If you don’t believe what you are saying, and if you have not integrated the material you are offering, you will not be seen as a trusted trainer/presenter. When you are watching a great performer, you never wonder if he or she believes what is being said or done—authenticity is core to a powerful performance or training.

  1. Comedy Beats Tragedy

Otto died in 2013. That year’s Best Picture Academy Award winner was 12 Years a Slave. That same year, Despicable Me 2 (the Steve Carell comedy) was one of the biggest money makers—earning more than 7 times what the gritty Oscar winner brought in. While there are many provocative and thought-provoking conclusions that can be drawn from this, the important one here is simple and powerful- people are generally more drawn to comedy than tragedy. Hamlet is amazing, but Much Ado About Nothing is more fun.

Otto was always interested in making people laugh. Facts need to be conveyed, but when they come clothed in a funny story, they are both enjoyed and remembered. Having fun and laughing are common experiences at an OKA event. Keep them laughing to keep them learning.


OKA has recently revised its Type Trainer Skillshop—a two-day, interactive training experience that teaches participants how to design and deliver top shelf, experiential Type-focused training. With dozens of exercise write ups, tips and techniques to make your training current, accurate, fun and tailored to your specific groups’ needs, OKA’s Type Trainer Skillshop is cutting edge while still having its roots firmly in the Otto Kroeger tradition. Whether you are a long-time Type trainer or just getting started with the MBTI or some other Type tool, come to OKA’s premier trainer skills event.

To learn more or to register for this class, click the image below.

TTSKIL small banner 250x180

Click image to learn more or the register


OKA can also come to you! If you are interested in a closed training session for your team please e-mail Aaron at asanders@oka-online.com.

Tags: , , , , , ,

17 Responses

  1. Becky Choi says:

    Otto and Janet led my week-long training session in 2001. It’s what influenced me to put MBTI in my toolkit and keep it there. They were a great pair of teachers and there are “Otto-isms” in every validation session I hold. He embodied these seven things and I took the lessons away with me even though they were not expressly stated. Thank you for the reminder!

  2. Jennifer Crow says:

    This is marvelous, Hile! A great remembrance but a wonderful teaching moment. Thank you!

  3. Donna Dennis says:

    Nicely done Hile; there is another theater tradition that is powerful. Actors get “notes” from the director suggesting improvement ideas. Organizations call it feedback. I noticed that actors appear to welcome notes. No one in my experience, gets defensive or upset. Feedback on the other hand is often seen as potentially difficult to give and get. We create “rules” to make it more effective, and meanwhile the theater world reads a list of suggestions and moves on. I am curious what makes “notes” welcomed? Any thoughts?

    • Hile Rutledge says:

      Hey Donna,
      Actually, as someone with a fair amount of experience in both theater and professional settings, I think most people–the average person–is resistant to feedback (and notes). Someone needs to be really motivated to improve while also liking/trusting the source of the feedback (or notes). While many fit that description, just as many (or more) would just as soon NOT get corrective feedback.

      I do like the link of notes to feedback–it is yet another way that stage work gets you ready for the world of work off the stage. I had not thought of that. Thanks for taking the time both to read this blog and give such a thoughtful reply.

  4. Gary Adams says:

    Well done, Hile! What a great way to remember Otto and the skills he brought to the training world.

  5. Reg Crane says:

    Hile, what a nice message and insight into Otto and you not known to a lot of us who had the pleasure of meeting him, and the pleasure of still working with you. Interesting, I have been a musician all my life, and at one time also thought, believed, and did choose the work of helping people over entertaining them. Just within the past year or so I too realized it was a false choice and have actually felt a great deal more freedom because I felt as though I was reconnecting with not only something (the musician in me) I was passionate about, but also something that was at the core of my being. Thanks for sharing…Reg

  6. Rick Albee says:

    This is simply fantastic. Thank you! I give many MBTI workshops and I often catch myself channeling Otto (or at least hoping to). I remember my Type qualifying workshops like they were yesterday (even though they were more than 20 years ago)… Otto made them memorable. He is missed and I hope he looks down on my workshops with approval.

  7. 7 great messages about the essentials of training trade craft. Glad to see Otto continued to be remembered and referred to for his mastery. Thanks Hile for keeping this flame alive.

  8. Steve Smith says:

    Outstanding insight. Absolutely loved it. Best “read” I’ve found this year. Thank you.

  9. Lynn Elliott says:

    Lovely tribute to Otto and so true – great lessons learned from a master.

  10. Barbara McGrew says:

    He was a great teacher and a great friend.
    I miss him very much. Thanks for this apt and useful remembrance!

  11. These are lovely tips for facilitation and training. And, they’re truly inspiring and connectional at so many levels.

  12. Colin says:

    So much yes to this and thank you for writing it. As a former actor myself (I did a ton of Shakespeare), I use many of these techniques in my coaching with executives. The body is the instrument of leadership.

    Thank you so much!

  13. Mary Lippitt says:

    A wonderful reminder of the many ways Otto was a model for us all.

  14. Kristi Dooley says:

    Hile, thanks for this wonderful remembrance of Otto — and great reminders to all of us about ways of really engaging our “audience” — many seem intuitive and yet it makes sense to be absolutely intentional about them. I especially like the reminder to “fill up the space” — something I notice you do exceptionally well in your workshops. I think the body is so important for us as trainers, consultants, and coaches; yet it’s an aspect of our communication few people pay attention to that much. We can convey so much energy, vitality, interest, gravity/seriousness, and playfulness just by how we use the space and how we use our own energy and bodies to support that. Thanks for bringing back memories of Otto’s impact — and your finesse — at “owning the room!”

  15. Eric says:

    Hello Hile,
    Always good to read your articles

    I, too, have had some acting experience. I find it very helpful in creating a good learning atmosphere and keeping the class engaged. A friend of mine calls it, “Edu-tainment;” Education and entertainment. As such, I couldn’t agree more with the showman analogy.

    Another instructor friend talks about playing a role when you teach, “Today, I shall play the role of excellent instructor.”

    While the pay is not as good as a big-time actor I do have the ability to engage others and help them learn and grow, which I might not have had if I had stayed with acting.

    Thanks HIle

  16. Martha Young says:

    Otto was instrumental in rebuilding the Detroit Association for Psychological Type by coming to our yearly kickoff in the early 2000s. I was the president of the group at the time, and he only charged us his costs to help us get back on our feet. I took an advanced course at OKA with Otto and he invited the entire class out to his home. I will never forget him, or his generosity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *