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  Skill of the Week

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0109 | July 15, 2003 | 8,500 Subscribers

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picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. 

We're thrilled this week to be offering you a wonderful article by Izzy Gesell, MS Ed, CSP, Head Honcho at Wide Angle Humor. Izzy is an expert in the application of improvisational theater techniques to the art of facilitation and training. Read "The Facilitator as Improviser," to learn some of the benefits of adding this skill to your toolbox.

Izzy will also be joining me this Thursday evening at 8PM EDT to cohost another free teleclass in the FacilitatorU.com series on this very subject. Please see details at the bottom of this issue.

If any of you have had interesting experiences with groups as either a participant or as a facilitator, please tell us about it. We may invite you to interview with us to highlight your story as a case study for a future issue.

Thanks for your support!
Steve Davis



The Facilitator as Improviser
Using Improvisational theater techniques to enhance your facilitation.

The Point

This is a fun time to be in our business. Our clients hunger to get themselves involved as we look for new ways to keep them focused and interested. That means we can play and be taken seriously at the same time! As we start to incorporate more playfulness into our work and our lives, we need to know which games to choose and how to use them most effectively.

Why Improv?

Improvisation theater games are wonderful resources because they call for participants to respond to an experience as it happens. This moment of involvement and spontaneity sparks discovery, creative expression, shared laughter and behavior change.

Improv is exciting, scary, challenging, immensely enjoyable and paradoxical for facilitators and participants. In my experience, very few people are indifferent to the idea of participating in an improv structure.
The hazard for us in using these games lies in the fact that no one can know how an improv game is going to turn out. Therefore, when using these games, we can't plan ahead; we can only step into the uncertainty with confidence in ourselves and our ability to make use of whatever comes up. In other words, we have to experience exactly what we ask of our participants - trust, vulnerability, spontaneity, eagerness and openness to being uncomfortable in public.

As an added kicker, we have to endure it at exactly the same time as they do. Why do it then? What's in it for us? There are certainly safer ways to make a point.

Net Results

The greatest fear of "working without a net" is looking foolish, incompetent, or wackier than others. When you experience the games from the same perspective and emotional level as your participants, your words and ideas carry more weight because you've shared their struggles. You have established rapport. You're now in a great position to help your clients overcome the usual obstacles to success: self - doubt, fear of looking foolish, thinking too much about what to do, and being resistant to change.

Joanne Schlosser, of Phoenix, Arizona uses improv because "it puts people in the right frame of mind to achieve breakthroughs in thought." Because improv games are tools, their real value lies in what they create for the people we work with--the ability to balance spontaneity and control.

Another convincing reason to use improv games stems from the effect they have on the people watching the players. Observers of improv games experience a level of intensity and involvement similar to the participants. So you can link to everyone in the room without having to have everyone up there with you! The energy in the room becomes electric.


Play With Your Friends

As powerful as these games are, I caution you to use them in your work only after you've played the games as often as possible outside of your speaking or training sessions. In other words, play the games with your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. Become comfortable with the surprise each game brings. Pay attention to the myriad of results that arise during the games. Let go of the need to know the outcome in advance. Honor the times you feel a discomfort. Explore that area. It will make you a more confident presenter and is the simplest way to bring improv into your repertoire. Remember that you can never know exactly how it will turn out. You must become comfortable with process while staying unconcerned about outcome. You discover magical things about improv. Consultant Maya Buss realized "improv was not about working without a net. It's about working with a net of confidence and creativity."

What You See Is Who They Are

Improv is helpful because people don't often take the time to analyze their interactions and processes. I've found that the way a person behaves during an improv game is an insight into how they will behave in other stressful situations. Their thinking is also indicative of what they believe in those situations. So by asking certain basic questions we illuminate what's going on for the players and enable them to intuitively understand how their own thinking affects their outcomes.

Through improv we're able to see how a specific behavior or thought pattern leads to a result. It's like looking into the workings of the mind!
Trainer Angela Brown uses the "Freeze Frame" game in her sales seminars. Paired participants pretend they're at a networking function. As they advance from initial greeting to a confirmed appointment, audience can yell "Freeze Frame" at any time. Players' body language, gestures, etc. are analyzed to see if the style lends itself to a sale.

During the games, players will inevitably show some emotion. Common examples include saying, "oh, no," stepping back from the action, or apologizing for something they said. This emotion is your signal to stop the action and ask a basic question such as "why did you do that?" or "what were you thinking when you did that." I call these stoppages "instructional moments."

The opportunity in the "instructional moment" for us is always in investigating WHY the game does or doesn't work and what QUALITIES are present or absent. I always try to keep a participant playing a game until they have a successful experience. That gives everyone, audience included, a complete, participatory encounter and illuminates the workings of the interactions.

I've found it most effective to let players continue a game until they've had a "successful" experience. This allows them (and the audience) to truly experience transformational change.

Eureka! We've Got It!

The following questions can be used to debrief almost any improv game:

  • "Did the game work as planned?"
  • Why/Why not"
  • "How were you feeling when it worked and when it didn't work."
  • "What were the differences between the successful tries and the unsuccessful ones?"
  • "What states did you go through to achieve the experience?"
  • "How did what you were thinking (your BELIEF) affect the result (the OUTCOME)"
  • "Where is the opportunity to change in this game?"

Contrary to popular belief, improv is not about thinking quickly, being funny or acting without rules. It is essentially the manifestation of paradox. It teaches there is no freedom without structure, you become spontaneous by practicing spontaneity, and you can feel in control of a situation by giving up control of that situation.

The Beginning

If we begin with ourselves and model being comfortable with surprise, we realize it's not playing the game that makes us successful, it's understanding our experience of playing the game that makes us successful. Hey, we are performing artists. I believe the techniques that enhance artistic creativity will enhance our craft. As we enhance our craft, we cannot but help enhance ourselves. As we enhance ourselves, we strengthen the lives of so many others. And we can do it one game at a time!


What could you do to better allow more spontaneity within the bounds of your facilitation plans? I'd love to hear from you. Please email us your comments.

Reader Survey

How do you improvise as a facilitator?

We'd love to hear how you balance planning with spontaneity.
Please email us your responses. All those who respond will be sent the entire collection.

One Word at a Time, by Izzy Gesell

This is a useful, simple, Improv game adaptable to many situations, including team-building & communication. It shows how everyone on a team contributes something. Click here to view the game.


About the Publisher
Steve Davis is "The Facilitator's Coach," helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight
Free Teleclass by FacilitatorU.com

Using the Art of Improv in Facilitation

Hosted by: Steve Davis and Special Guest, Izzy Gesell, author, trainer and founder of Wide Angle Humor, a humor consulting and education service.

In this Free, one-hour teleclass, Izzy will share his experience with us using humor and improvisational theater techniques as facilitation tools. Our discussion will explore:

  • The nature of Improv and it's value in training and facilitation.
  • Ways you can become a better facilitator by experimenting with improv techniques.
  • Learn new ways to balance spontaneity with structure.
  • Learn to increase your confidence and creativity to make your plan become more flexible and spontaneous.
  • What your participants will gain through this approach.
  • And a demonstration of the use of improv in facilitation.

WHEN: This Thursday, July 17th, at 8PM EDT (NY Time).

REGISTRATION: Click here and Press "Send" to register and you'll receive an email with bridge instructions.


Izzy Gesell delivers entertaining, informative and blatantly practical information through keynote speeches, customized trainings, group facilitation and individual coaching and mentoring.

Clients include NASA, Hewlett-Packard, Chrysler, the Internal Revenue Service, & office staff of the US House of Representatives.

The author of PLAYING ALONG: Group Learning Activities Borrowed From Improvisation Theater, he is among the first to successfully bring the concepts of Improvisation Theater into the business world.

Izzy has a BA in psychology, an MS in education, and a P (that's 1/3 of a PHD) and is the originator of INTERNATIONAL MOMENT OF LAUGHTER DAY, celebrated each April 14.

Contact info, articles and other interesting stuff is at www.izzyg.com. Email is izzy@izzyg.com

Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal. Look for your next issue
on July 22, 2003.


Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved