The Difference Model

Introducing a simple step-by-step model that will help you lead remarkably fun programs that make a difference.

There is one wholly significant element that will help you create an outrageously fun, interactive experience – the sequence, or the progression of steps that you follow to set your group up for success. It’s what I call the Difference Model.

Looking back, I wish this sequence, this series of steps, was shared with me when I first started out.

For the most part, despite or in spite of my green, dewy-eyed approach, I kind of just figured it out mostly by emulating my heroes and heroines in the field. And this was not a bad thing, because I noticed that when I followed a particular sequence, the program worked and my groups left feeling engaged, inspired and successful.

Of course, when I did not follow this framework, the wheels would inevitably fall off somewhere along the way.

Over the years, I have referred to these steps a thousand times in my training workshops, and with each re-telling, refined them just a little to reflect more truthfully how I do what I do.


What Is The Difference Model?


These are the four steps I take:

  1. Plan or Needs Analysis – articulating the difference I am going to make.
  2. Prime or Setting The Tone – creating a fun, safe and supportive environment to invite interaction.
  3. Pump or Doing The Work – developing the level of engagement and skills to promote growth.
  4. Peak or The Difference – leveraging my group’s potential to do work that matters.

The sections which follow describe these steps in detail, together with many useful leadership insights and examples.

These steps are modelled and explored more deeply in my training workshops.

You can read all of the details about the Difference Model and how I do what I do in my book called Serious Fun.

Introductory training workshops by playmeo


1. Needs Analysis


This first, deliberate step is critical. You need a plan to guide your actions.

In much the same way an annual budget means little more than an expression of an organisation’s priorities, this step is the starting point for the preparation and work which must follow. Things change, but without a clearly defined target, you may as well pack up and go home.

This step will help you explore the questions you need to ask to fully understand your group and the task ahead of you, and – importantly – articulate the difference you intend to make in your program or event.

You can expect all of the regular questions – the what, when, where and who – to form an important part of your ‘needs analysis,’ and a couple, too, I suspect, which will challenge your thinking of why.

Intensive multi-day training workshops by playmeo


2. Setting The Tone


Get this step right – it’s not hard, but it is critical – and everything which follows will be so much easier and significantly more successful. It’s the step most program leaders under-estimate.

This step sets the tone and begins the sensitive process of preparing your group and switching on their brains. Ask for too much – by not adding the right amount of water to loosen the washer – and you’ll frighten your group away. But, progress too slowly – neglect to pump when you should – and there’s a potential for boredom.

There are several key elements involved in this step which will help you ‘break the ice’ and, critically, create a platform upon which your group (and program) will thrive.

But, note, this step is not about playing ice-breaker games. It’s about breaking the ice, and yes, there is a difference.

Advanced training workshops by playmeo


3. Doing The Work


Jump to this stage too early (which many program leaders do,) and you can expect trouble, eg unwillingness to participate, put-downs, excuses, asking for too much in too little time, etc.

All of these issues can be avoided or mitigated by adhering to the key elements of the Prime stage, to prepare your group to willingly step outside their ‘Comfort zone’ into their ‘Stretch zone.’

This step will develop your group’s hidden potential, to flex and build their muscles for bigger and better things because you know the more you train and flex your muscles, the stronger you can expect to become.

The Difference Model intentionally builds trust and strengthens relationships, the bedrock of group success, no matter the content or the difference you’re trying to make in your program. Do the work, pump like crazy, and you can expect more fun, more participation, more value. In this order.

4. The Difference


Appropriately primed and pumped up, this final stage is the holy grail of programming – the ticking of boxes, the getting of stuff done, the reaching for stars.

Now is the best time to deliver your content, develop those skills and extract the highest quality water from your group’s well – it’s the reason your group has gathered and is the reason your program exists.

Learning to swim, networking with strangers, constructing a complex sentence, solving interesting problems, delivering a keynote presentation, developing team skills, and so on.

From a classroom filled with students to a corporate training room, or a conference auditorium filled with unfamiliar faces to a weekly youth group meeting. The more effort and time you invest in the development of your group (pumping like crazy), especially early on, the more powerful and rewarding your program (or event or gathering) will be.

You start with articulating the difference you want to make, and you end up with making a difference. In the middle, your strongest allies are the five key programming tools.

So, what difference do you want to make?