Senior Strategist

What Does “Saturday Night Live” Have in Common with Creating Great Learning Experiences?

What does Saturday Night Live have in common with creating learning experiences? Surprisingly more than you might think.

For the past four years or so, I’ve entered the NBC Studios lottery to see Saturday Night Live live and in-person. This past April, I received an email out of the blue stating that I had been selected. Needless to say, I was stunned. The show was in just ten days, and I only had 24 hours to respond and decide whether I would accept the tickets. After “careful” deliberation (aka learning that Lizzo was both the host and musical guest), my husband and I decided this was an opportunity we couldn’t miss.

Collaboration (and organized chaos) leads to success

There’s a lot that I could say about the experience of seeing SNL live, but what stood out to me the most was the absolute—albeit organized—chaos of it all.

I was fortunate to be seated on the ground level, which put me especially close to the action. It is truly a live show, so the time in between sketches is very, very busy. What happens behind the scenes to make the magic come to life is a perfect medley of moving parts and people. Love the show or hate it, I will say the atmosphere is completely different in-person than watching it on television from my couch.

I was mesmerized by the stage hands, the makeup artists, cast members, and the techs who were doing things so quickly and efficiently and, in some cases, literally running to get things done. Their collaboration was the kind you see when a team is so synchronized they move as one, helping each other out, and doing so without any hesitation.

I lived for seeing those little moments too: castmates joking with each other before camera rolling, the choreographer giggling off-camera while directing the silliest movements on-camera, and when someone picked up a goat that refused to get out of the way because there just wasn’t time to wait between sketches.

But I promised that this article wouldn’t just be about SNL. This experience was a reminder to me about all of the wonderful things that also happen behind the scenes of creating learning experiences and the way that our team works together to get things done.

The work it takes to create (any) great experience

Similar to what goes on behind the scenes of SNL, there are countless things that go into creating learning experiences that make an impact. Often, it’s the work-behind-the-work that nobody gets to see where the magic actually happens. Let’s look at the four key elements it takes to pull off a great experience—whether it’s an innovative learning program or a live sketch show.

Trust the team

Trust your team to do what’s expected of them. Every role should be clearly defined so everyone knows what is needed from them. The ability to pull something off quickly comes from nobody needing to question who is doing what—everyone knows their role and they stick to their responsibilities. At SNL, solid processes, and people tightly knowing their responsibilities, allow them to produce a show at an incredibly high-level in a ridiculously short amount of time. And everybody’s role matters.

Check your ego at the door

Know your lane, but be flexible and adaptable—or dare I say, improvise—when needed. When you’re working against insane deadlines, new things are going to come up, a new idea may spark, and mistakes are going to happen. When you know what is expected of you, you can focus on your responsibilities while also jumping in when someone needs an extra hand. It’s about knowing your place and knowing whether or not to get involved. That also means putting aside your ego to do what’s necessary just because it needs to get done (and having the humility to step aside when that’s what’s best for the team).

Goal-oriented mindset

Having a shared purpose, goal, or objective is the best way to bring a group together to collaborate. Every single person at SNL wants the same thing and is working toward the same goal. Everyone was committed to what they were doing and you could feel that passion and purpose behind the work. That’s the same secret sauce that makes a great learning experience successfully come together. When you have a goal—a specific behavior change you’re driving toward or a KPI that you’re hoping to achieve—everything you’re creating in that program becomes laser-focused on driving that change forward.

The show must go on

When you’re working with others to pull off something big, there’s really no room for fear of failure. They say perfection is the enemy of success and that couldn’t be more true. Lorne Michaels has been known to say, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready—it goes on because it’s 11:30.”

You can and should keep refining and improving work incrementally over time, but failing to get it in front of people and give your audience, or learners, something is far more powerful than waiting for the perfect course—or the perfect joke.

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