Improv as a Facilitation Tool: I'm All Thumbs

Improv as a Facilitation Tool: I'm All Thumbs
Improv as a Facilitation Tool: I'm All Thumbs
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"In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."

~Charles Darwin

Linda Williams here, with a little more “Hot Air from the Spare.” I have been having an absolute blast presenting “Improv as a Facilitation Tool” at a number of recent conferences and thought I would share a few thoughts on why I think improvisation is such a great tool for facilitators, as well as a couple of really terrific activities that were created with our new Thumballs™.

Improvisation cultivates interpersonal skills, as it requires everyone to listen to and respect each other in order for scenes to work. It also allows participants to really step out of their comfort zones in a fun, non-threatening atmosphere. As teachers, trainers, and facilitators, how often are we required to think on our feet, to rapidly make decisions, and to “be in the moment?” Practicing improvisation helps build all of those skills; plus it is really fun! Improvisational exercises are also a great addition to any experiential program, as they are generally short in length, and they encourage participants to build on existing skills, take risks, and try new techniques in a variety of situations.

The two Thumballs™ we used during my Improv workshop at the ACCT conference in Houston last week were so popular with participants that I had to literally attach them to myself with a carabiner so they wouldn’t “mysteriously” disappear. One of those thumballs was the Move Your Body Thumball™.

The Move Your Body Thumball™ offers a fun, somewhat silly, way to warm up your groups physically and mentally while stimulating the creative juices. Instead of putting participants on the spot to come up with a stretch or warm-up for the entire group to do, toss this ball around the circle. Each participant who catches the ball simply reads what it says under his or her thumb and then the group does it together. Isn't "Dribble the ball and make a basket" more fun than "Touch your toes"? How about "Flap your wings and soar" or "Applaud and take a bow" (one of my favoritesJ)? As an improvisation tool, this ball could also be used to inspire collaborative scene building.

Based on my experiences in Houston , the Emotion Mania Thumball™ seems to be limitless with opportunities! Toss the ball around the group and have participants share a time when they experienced the emotion listed under their thumb. Or invite participants to play a version of charades (individually or in small groups) and have the rest of the group guess the emotion being displayed. As a debriefing tool, use it to inspire sharing about emotions, rather than behaviors, that were displayed during an activity or program. A fantastic tool for building trust within teams!

In a recent Improv as a Facilitation Tool workshop, the participants and I came up with at least 5 different ideas on how to use the Emotion Mania Thumball to practice active listening and other communication skills. Many improv exercises that are designed to build communication, creativity, and trust skills among groups challenge 2 players to "act out" scenes inspired by a suggestion from the audience. After a minute or two, one of the 2 players is replaced by a new player and a new scene begins. In this particular workshop, we played a version of "Freeze Tag" which generally starts with 2 people "playing a scene" inspired by a suggestion from the audience. After 30 seconds to a minute of the scene, a third participant yells "freeze" which the 2 players do, and the participant 3 takes one of their places and starts a brand new scene.

We used the Emotion Mania Thumball in our Freeze Tag and we couldn’t put a lid on the creative ideas that it inspired. After establishing a "location" for the two participants in which to begin their scene, the thumball was tossed. Player 1 caught the ball and looked under one of her thumbs at the emotion stated on the ball (she didn't tell anyone else what it said). She then had to "play" the scene with Player 2 as though she was experiencing the emotion. Player 2's challenge was to figure out the emotion while having a "real" conversation and then work it into the scene (as opposed to simply guessing the emotion). When Player 2 correctly identified the emotion (as in "That seems to have made you really JEALOUS, Mary"), Player 1 tossed the thumball to Player 2 and a new participant joined in the game. And so on. You can probably already a number of variations along those lines.

Another improvisation exercise that would work well with the Emotion Mania Thumball is often called Machine. In general, one person at a time from the group becomes part of the larger machine, by adding a movement and a sound (this is probably very familiar to many of you). As individuals "add" themselves to the machine, they make a connection with another individual who is already part of the machine. Everyone continues their own sounds and motions until all participants have the "well-oiled machine" completed and running. One variation using the Emotion Mania Thumball is to toss the ball to each person and have them incorporate the emotion under their thumb into their own sound and motion. Or, have smaller groups create one machine that reflects one emotion from the ball, and have the rest of the participants guess.

I'm looking forward to my next adventure with improv and Thumballs in a few weeks at the NCCPS conference, February 26 - 28, in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. Hope to see you there.

I’m all thumbs (for Thumballs™)!

Ride on!

Linda Williams Trainer, Facilitator, & Spare Tire