I’m often asked, ‘What makes a good activity in applied improvisation?’. Well, more truthfully I was asked this once in an interview. Here’s what I said…
First it depends what the session is about. It’s usually about a recognised business skill. So let’s suppose I’m training people to be better public speakers and presenters.
We’ve all agreed it would be good for them to feel comfortable to improvise and go beyond the script, when they are presenting. In one favourite activity, I ask them to make up a story on the spot, woven from three random words suggested upfront by the other workshop participants. The exercise is called ‘Fish, cable, catapult’, because those might be the three words proposed.
We hear the speaker tell their story – perhaps it’s about a fish that’s launched far out to sea from a catapult, and the only way to get it back is to be rescued by an angler with a long cable.
What makes it a good activity is:
- Its obvious relevance to the end goal (being a better presenter)
- It’s accessible – meaning participants can complete it without needing any out-of-the-ordinary skills.
- And it demonstrably tests and builds competence: with each attempt, participants demonstrate their level of skill, ranging from barely completing the task coherently to telling a gripping, compelling story.
Most players do well in front of their peers, even first time. The skills levels rapidly rise as they spontaneously weave a tale from the available ingredients – their own sense of story improvisationally accommodating the three words their peers have suggested.
For more good Applied Improvisation activities, check out my classic book, 58½ Ways to Improvise in Training. It organises the activities by the outcomes desired – including teamwork, influencing and creativity. There’s a handy table indicating how long each activity takes and how many people can play. And user-friendly notes to help the facilitator brief, side-coach and debrief.