Tag Archives: make a difference

5 Ways Improv Tools can pump up your meeting or event

The Engaging Event Series, #6

Much as we might like to control our day-to-day existence, the fact is that we live in an unscripted world, where we are constantly called upon to think on our feet–in other words, to improvise.  Most of us usually associate “improv” with comedy and theater.  Some have described it as “organized chaos” (not that different than life in general, when you think about it).  But it turns out that Basic Improv Techniques can provide us with opportunities to encourage bonding, collaboration, brainstorming and creative problem-solving–pretty common objectives whenever you get a group of people together.

This time around, I’m featuring a Guest Post by Jenise Fryatt, who’s one of my favorite bloggers about new ideas in event experience design. Among other things, Jenise creates content at Engage365 , Sound & Sight and EventProv.com.  In this post, Jenise shares a few things she learned about using improv while attending the 2011 Applied Improvisation Network Conference  in Baltimore last June.  In Jenise’s own words:


Here are 5 things I learned about how improv skills, games and concepts can enhance and even transform events and meetings.

1 – Help people connect and have fun
Be it a small group session or a large general session with hundreds of people, there are improv-inspired games that can get people smiling, connecting, bonding and having fun. Sometimes they were as simple as a game called Back to Back that helps people get to know each other in a fun, musical chairs way, or the Diamond Dance, in which participants stand up next to their (theater style) seats and mimic the dancing of the person in front of them.

2 – Teach communication skills for better learning, networking
Improvisors are EXPERT communicators who are trained to use much more than words in connecting with others. They learn these skills through games like Zip,Zap,Zop; Red Ball, One Word Story and much more. Nearly every game that improvisors use is an exercise in effective communication. Practicing such games at a conference is a fun way to teach skills that will not only help attendees get more out of your event, but will help them in the situations they return to at home.

3 – Create your presentation with your attendees
What if you became comfortable with taking your presentation in a different direction than you had planned. What if you actually co-created it with your attendees?

Time after time sessions at the AIN conference followed this non-structure. It wasn’t about the presenter imparting knowledge alone. The attendees played a great role in what direction it took. In fact, I often got the feeling that the presenter learned as much from the attendees as the attendees learned from the presenter.

Improvisors learn to be very PRESENT oriented and because of this, they are much more aware of learning opportunities and are quick to seize the moment. So what if the original plan gets dumped? As long as attendees are finding more value, it’s worth it.

4 – Work together to solve a problem
Crowd-sourcing is a great way to get information and it’s used widely on the internet through surveys and polls. But an event where you have them all in one room presents an opportunity for doing this that won’t take days or weeks. You can do a lot in under a 1/2 hour.

The AIN conference organizers wanted to use the group to help create better branding. During a session of nearly 30 people, they had individuals take turns sharing one word he or she felt defined AIN. The words were written on flip charts.

After each person had shared two words, the group was divided into smaller groups of 4 people each. Each smaller group choose 6 of the previously chosen words. Each group reported what their words were and a dot was placed by each word. Then the words with the most dots were chosen to be used in crafting a branding statement about AIN.

I was impressed by how well this quick process got to the heart of who the AIN attendees are and what they care about.

5 – Practice dealing with difficult situations
One of the general sessions employed a game (invented at the conference) for applied improvisors to address obstacles they face in selling their services. All 100 participants chose stations labeled either AIN or the name of one of our ideal clients, i.e. event planner, business schools, etc.

Each client group invented a persona and identified some of the obstacles they face. Then each person in a client group (of about 3 or 4) took turns facing off with an AIN member who was selling applied improvisation services.

It was very illuminating. Some of the insights gained included; how important it is to understand and use the terminology of potential clients; establishing a relaxed, friendly rapport is extremely helpful and practicing such conversations can really help to address issues ahead of time. The whole exercise took less than 1/2 hour.

Being around people who have in common a love of  “making stuff up”  was energizing and inspiring beyond words.  I hope to give you more of a feel of it in future posts.  But something that I think all of us AIN conference attendees also share, is the conviction that improv isn’t magic.  The tools that make us highly creative are tools that can be used successfully by anyone. AIN is an organization dedicated to spreading the word and I’m very proud to be associated with it.

(To view this post in its native habitat, follow this link to Eventprov.
Thanks, Jenise!
)

How have you used or seen improv techniques applied to your own event experiences?

 

For 10,000 Bonus Points:

  • For improv ideas, check out this laundry list of Improv Games (oddly enough, some of them double as drinking games…)
  • You might also be interested in this TED Talk by Stuart Brown, exploring the serious subject of Play:


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Behold The Power of Events: Occupy Your World

It’s been 35 years now (yikes!), but I still remember being blown away after seeing a new movie called Network, where Howard Beale (an inspired Peter Finch) exhorted us all to go to the window, stick our heads out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  Here’s what he said: “I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street…all I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad!”  In the movie, his unscripted live TV rant inspired millions of viewers across the country to throw open their windows and shout “I’m mad as hell!” out into the street.   It was a commentary on the power of the mass media to mobilize people to action.  Who knew that, a few decades later, social media would help produce the same kind of results?

Fast forward the DVR of your life to 2011. You see similar dramas playing out, no?  Only this time, it’s not fiction. First it was the historic events of the Arab Spring.  Then London got in on the act. Now it’s our turn in the US:  Occupy Wall Street.  Occupy LA.  Occupy Boston.  In case you missed it, last Wednesday it was Occupy Colleges Day.   I got a heads-up that morning from Elaine Young, a faculty colleague who is our resident social media expert, that a walk-out and rally had been scheduled for noon that day on the Champlain College campus here in Burlington, Vermont (as well as at 71 other colleges across the nation). As it happened, I was in class about an hour before that was to take place with a group of Event Management students, so I casually asked if any of them was planning on walking out.  Turns out only one of them had any clue what I was even talking about.  So I used it as an opportunity to talk about Occupy Wall Street and the wide variety of event offspring it was spawning.  There were a lot of unanswered questions.  We wondered about who the event planners were, what their objectives were, how they had managed to attract so many participants, whether anyone was really in charge of the “program”. We speculated about how they might define whether their event was successful—the ROI, to put it in current professional lingo.  What were they hoping to accomplish, exactly?

This reminds me of an editorial I read in the New York Times a couple of days ago about Occupy Wall Street. Here’s part of what it said:

“If you stopped by Zuccotti Park in New York and asked 10 protesters what their goals were for Occupy Wall Street, you might get 10 different answers…One protester said he and others were calling for “more economic justice, social justice — Jesus stuff — as far as feeding the poor, health care for the sick.” Another protester, a former Marine who was elected by Occupy Wall Street participants to speak for them, told NPR that he wanted to overthrow the government and reconstruct it.”  Now we have labor unions and other established interests joining forces with Occupy Wall Street, adding their own demands.  And that’s just New York—look at all of the variations in other cities around the country.   As the editorial points out, “This has led some reports to call the group unfocused, but that may be normal for an emerging movement.”  I’ve heard it suggested that the “We are the 99%” call is simply a way of establishing solidarity, a feeling of sharing a common purpose.  But at this point, the reality is that no one can say.  What we do know is that people are mad as hell.

Back to the classroom: after kicking it around for a bit, I got back to the business of talking about building an event budget, our topic for the day. Then–shortly before noon—all but three of my students stood up and walked out.  At first I felt a little insulted; after all, I’m busting my butt trying to offer them something of value here! Don’t they know this stuff is important to their futures?  But then I realized that they were motivated by honest curiosity, by the desire to find out what this event was all about.  And that’s really at the heart of education, in my opinion.  They were taking advantage of a unique opportunity to be part of something as it unfolded.  I still don’t know who organized that little event on our campus, although I did stop by the gathering in the courtyard about 20 minutes later (and yes, most of my students were still there–listening, absorbing, processing).    What I do know is that whoever initiated the event was successful at engaging a number of students, some of whom were inspired enough to take a turn speaking their minds to the small but intent crowd.  Oh, and the local TV station even showed up (perhaps because of a well-placed tip from our PR guy, Stephen Mease? Or does credit belong to the anonymous event organizers? Or someone monitoring social media channels?) to film the goings-on and help spread the word.

At this point it’s hard to tell what the outcomes of all of these Occupy events will be.  From an event planner’s perspective, they have been highly successful in attracting an audience–both the participants and the media reps who are telling the story as it plays out.  But so far “the stories” (as is the custom in modern-day infotainment) have focused mostly on the camera-friendly human dramas being played out, not about any particular issues or solutions to the problems people are saying they’re mad about.

It remains to be seen whether these events will lead to any lasting changes.  Events can be powerful tools for engaging people, harnessing their energy and ideas, and moving them to constructive action.  And as event planners, we know that it’s a colossal waste of time to go to all of the trouble of pulling an event together if there are no measurable results when it’s all over.   If you were in charge of the “Occupy” movement, what would you do to move these events beyond simply venting frustration?


Meeting Design: It’s all about the experience, not the info.

“If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind,
give it some more thought.”      – Dennis Roch
 

Lately I’ve been writing about something I call Events 2.0, which is a nod to the term Web 2.0.  By that I mean events that go beyond just a passive TV-style experience and build in not only audience participation, but also make it possible for every participant to contribute to the experience and, ultimately, the value everyone takes with them when they leave.  That can take a lot of forms, depending on the type of event.  But if we’re talking about meetings or conferences, here are two fundamental principles for improving the impact of any meeting: 

1)  Minimize The Presentation Time. Get on, get to the point, and get off!
2)  Ramp Up The Interactive Time.  Spend at least half of the time facilitating interaction among participants, rather than just telling them stuff.

If a one-way information dump is needed, that can be accomplished a lot more efficiently through other means besides meetings.  Send out an e-newsletter.  Record a YouTube video. Distribute an old-fashioned memo.  Include background info in the event program.  Get yourself a bullhorn.  Those are all effective and reliable ways to distribute information to lots of people.


The whole point of bringing people together is to give them the opportunity to experience something that wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t shared with others, in the physical (or online) environment you’ve created for them.  And ideally, that will include interactions between the participants, whether it’s just swapping ideas, collaborating on a project or sharing a group physical activity–or even better, all three.  It doesn’t matter what scale of meeting we’re talking about: 6 people around a boardroom table or 3,000 people in a general session at the convention center. Same rules apply.

I get some pushback on this when I’m in a position to determine how much time a presenter will be given to show their stuff.  It might be a professional who is used to doing 45-minute stand-ups and I’m asking them to limit their presentation to 10 minutes.  Their first reaction is that they couldn’t possibly cover their topic with any depth; they would only be able to give it “lip service”.  (I’ve learned that lip service, if done well, can actually be pretty powerful.)   I see the same thing with groups of my students preparing presentations of their semester projects and, when I tell the four of them that they will have 12 minutes to present, they sometimes protest with, “We can’t possibly present our whole project in that much time!”   And you know what?  They’re right.  But there’s always enough time to present what’s most important.

The hard part?  Figuring out what the most important points are and finding a way to get them across in a compelling manner.  You might only be able to impress 1 or 2 or maybe 3 significant takeaways on your audience.  But that’s okay…as long as those few lessons will be lasting and useful.  If they only remember, accomplish, or learn how to do one thing when your time together is over, what do you want it to be?  If you’re not clear on that, you’re probably not designing the experience for maximum impact and ROI, or Return On Involvement

Of course, there are a lot of people working or experimenting with creative approaches to these challenges, and some of them have actually been doing it for a long time.  Next time out, I’ll give you a great list of examples of event techniques that are getting better and better at this.  In the meantime, make sure you’re getting right  to the point!  Your attendees—or better yet, “participants”—will thank you for it.  (And they’ll also get a lot more out of it.)


“Are we making any difference?” Engaging Events Series, Episode 2

What can an event planner learn from a couple of physics professors? 

In his book What the best college teachers do,  Ken Bain tells the story of two physics professors at Arizona State University who wanted to find out if all of the time and effort they put into planning and delivering their courses was really making any difference in the way their students thought about things.  So they set up a very simple experiment: they would choose one fundamental physics concept and measure whether their physics course made a significant impact.  They decided to focus on the principles of “motion” and their students’ understanding of how motion actually works.  They pre-tested their students, did their normal 15-week semester gig and then re-tested everyone at the end.  And guess what? They found that, despite all of the time and effort expended by all, when it was all over their students thought about motion pretty much the same way as they did before they took the course. 

As a professional trainer and college professor myself, that story scared me half to death.  If you’re in the business of planning events, you should be, too.  Because it suggests that much–maybe even most–of the event experiences we create (and a classroom is definitely an event) may not be making much of a lasting impact and, if that’s the case, then we’re wasting a whole lot more of our time than we are aware of–not to mention forfeiting tremendous opportunities to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives while we have them gathered together. 

What can we do to help ensure we’re having an impact? Well, it appears that one key element of effective event experience design is a variation on the “less is more” rule: make sure you’re focusing on just a very few critical points or objectives—or maybe even just one.    Of course, this requires some consideration of what your most important outcomes are.  What do you want to be different once the event has concluded?  Which goals are must-haves, and which are just nice-to-haves?

Now back to that physics class: one lesson learned, according to Ken Bain, is that it’s better to focus on just two or three main concepts or competencies and hammer the hell out of them, and not worry so much about covering everything in detail.  Often the mistake we make is to try to cover too many bases at once, because we’re afraid of leaving out something important.   In the case of a college course, this can take the shape of trying to get to the end of the textbook before the semester is over, even if it means that we don’t fully lock in the most important ideas or skills along the way.  There’s nothing wrong with accomplishing multiple objectives at the same time, but not if it means failing to nail the most important ones.

We live in a world where it feels like there is never enough time to do what we need to do.  But remember that old time management adage: “there’s always enough time for the things that are most important.”  The next time you’re planning an event program or experience, don’t worry too much about doing as many things as you can with the time you’re allowed.  Instead, start by making sure you get the most important outcomes really right.  Because in the end, that’s what will make it worth the time and money you’re investing!


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