Blog > Great insights from improv activities

June 10, 2008

Wedged in-between a re-entry conversation for a group of people learning to be confident facilitators and some design activities for facilitated workshops were some improv activities. Sure, it provided a change of pace, some physical activity AND some important insights relating specifically to designing facilitated events.

And like most great Ah-ha! moments, was preceded by the Huh? moment. This I learnt from Les Posen writing about presentation skills.

In each talk I give, I take people out of their comfort zones (“Huh? Why is he talking about THIS?”) and then bring them back onto a central idea or theme, where the audience goes “Aha!” when they get it.


Here’s what we did. A physical warm-up, walking around the room, different paces, freezing and un-freezing. Then in pairs, A – Z, a conversation where each new sentence starts with the next letter of the alphabet. Then in a circle, imaginary Ball Toss. Then tag-team Questions Only. Two people on the ‘stage’ sitting in chairs asking only questions of each other. When someone hesitates or makes a statement, another person takes their place. Then Freeze Tag, two people acting a scene on stage and when freeze is called an new player comes and takes the place of one of the frozen players. Finally we ended with Change That – two people acting out a scene with me ringing the bell which required them to take back what they had just said and say something different. It was fast-paced, fun and a bit challenging for the group that had never done improv before.

Then the debrief. I asked them to put aside thoughts about the actual activities and whether or not they would ever use them, and focus on the experience they had and my INTENTIONS in choosing these particular activities, in this order. After talking about the fun they had, the scary moments and how it was just a bit challenging, I could see the ah-ha’s emerge. We talked about the warm-up to the final activity – acting out an improv scene in pairs on the stage; the importance of not scaring people off by declaring too early what they would end up doing; and providing a safe sequence of activities to get them to the end point. When I reminded them that I’d incorporated freezing into the initial physical warm-up they identified the intention was to prepare them for the later activity where freezing would be an important part of the activity. A classic ‘Huh?’ to ‘Ah-ha!’

And the message for facilitators? Know where you need to end up. Be intentional in selecting activities that prime people for the real work they need to do. Take them on a journey. Don’t allow over-thinking, get people moving and doing, rather than sitting and analysing. 

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