Tag Archives: conference

Leigh Anne Jasheway telling jokes

But I Don’t Want to Embarrass Myself! Or I Won’t Play That Game

Pushing People Past
Their Comfort Zone to Play Games
Without Pushing Their Buttons

Excerpted from Are You Playing with Me?
By Leigh Ann Jasheway

Solumn woman sitting

It must be her stays!

In an earlier blog,  we talked about how reluctant some people can be in being playful. It may not be their nature. Or a light heart may be something that is frowned upon in their department or their profession. If someone asked me to sit quietly without cracking a smile for an hour, I’d feel very uncomfortable (actually, I’d probably find it impossible), so every time I ask someone to step outside their usual boundaries, I try to conjure up a picture of myself sitting in a chair silently. And then I try not to laugh at the idea.

When it comes to playful activities, there are four types of people. People who:

1. Are not done being a child and need no encouragement to be silly and childlike;
2. Can be coaxed into playfulness fairly easily if everyone else is doing it;
3. May have forgotten how to play and will need a lot of convincing; and
4. Never feel comfortable showing or even admitting they have a playful side. You may be able to get them to sit at the table, but they’ll probably stare at you or have an “emergency phone call” they have to take.

Adults playing together during an Icebreaker.

You can coax or cajole the first three types into participating, but with the resisters, all you can do is hope they eventually feel compelled to join in due to peer pressure. Here are my favorite ways to get audiences involved in activities that may be outside their usual comfort zone:

  • Make it clear that yours will not be a staid lecture. From the title, to the description, to the handouts, to the nametags, incorporate playfulness and fun so that no one will be shocked when they get there.
  • Create a playful environment by arranging the room for fun – the closer the better, semi-circles instead of straight lines, and tables so they can make eye contact with one another. Also set the mood with props and lighting. I like to use strings of light shaped like flamingos or chili peppers. Seeing fun lights automatically says “Hey, this could be different!”
  • Get a feeling about the group and how supportive or distant they are by arriving early for networking or a meal. Set the tone with your own playful attitude. Joke and laugh with them before the actual presentation. This reduces their inhibitions, puts them in a more jovial mood, and reinforces that your presentation will probably be non-traditional.
  • Write your own introduction and make it funny, highlighting some of the more playful aspects of your own personality. I use things like:

–She has an M.P.H., which either stand for Masters of Public Health or Mistress of Public                humor.
–When she’s not speaking or writing, she wrangles wiener dog at her ranch.
–In a previous lifetime, she’s sure she left the iron on.

Use fun music to start and end your session, or to mark breaks.adult with hula hoop

Near the beginning of your presentation, highlight the productivity, creativity, team building, health, emotional, stress managing, or other benefits of what you’ll be asking them to do. This will address the concern of the more reticent people of the “reason” they should be involved.

Build love and support into the group and activities; discourage meanness disguised as playfulness. I usually tell my groups what things are off-limits, such as making fun of people, using sarcasm instead of humor, saying anything they wouldn’t want their boss or mother to hear, etc. You may also want to use this funny Carmen Miranda Rights statement.Carmen_Mir

Carmen Miranda Rights: You have the right to remain silent. You will probably not have as much fun or learn as much, but it is your right to sit quietly and observe until such time as you are ready to be part of the merriment.

As long as you aren’t a bully and don’t hurt anyone else while playing, nothing you say (or do) can or will be used against you in your workplace.

You have the right to a play coach. That is why I’m here – to encourage and inspire you to get in touch with your less serious side so that you can take a breather from the problems of your day and your life.

You also have the right to wear fruit on your head. (See cartoon above.)

Deal with people’s fears and concerns. One way to do this is to have them name them right up front. Make a list on a flip-chart under the heading, “Why I’m scared to play” or “Reasons my funny bone is broken.” It helps when people hear that they aren’t the only ones concerned about something. And if they can laugh at their fears together, it creates the kind of bonding that helps throughout their experience.

  • Keep a variety of games and fun activities in your toolbox so that you can pick things that are most likely to work for the group you face.
  • Give lots of praise and applause. It is amazing what people will do if you encourage them simply with recognition.

Forming groups

Once you set the stage for playfulness and fun, you will find that many of the games in this book require you to break down a large audience into smaller, manageable groups. This can cause a lot of trainers and speakers problems – how do you get the people from the same departments to spread out and meet new people? It can feel a lot like dealing with junior high school cliques when you’re faced with an audience who is most comfortable staying with the people they know best.

There are many easy and fun ways to form new groups. You can break them into teams by:

  • Color of shoes or socks.Different colored socks
  • Natural hair color.
  • Which of the following cartoons they like the most: Garfield, Charlie Brown, B.C., The Simpsons, South Park, Opus, none of the above.
  • Listing five barnyard animals (cow, sheep, chicken, pig, farm cat). Have them choose one, make that kind of noise, close their eyes and wander about until they find the rest of their herd or flock.
  • Using a quickie questionnaire with questions you can use throughout the day to break into different groups:
    —What’s your favorite color?
    —Paper or plastic?
    —How many children were in your family?
    —What’s your major hobby?
    —If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
    —Name your favorite ice cream.
    —What kind of dog did you grow up with? Or was it a cat?
    —Which type of music do you prefer?
    —Favorite cereal as a child?
    —Etc.
  • Having them play Rock/Paper/Scissors and putting all the rocks, all the papers, all the scissors together in groups.rock paper scissors
  • Players reach out and touch someone. Everyone closes their eyes and walks around until you say stop. Then they reach out hands (eyes still closed) until they find the right number of hands for the group.
  • Using toys. Have as many different types of toys as you want groups and have each person choose one. Their toy represents their group.
  • There is no end to the methods you can use to divide people up into smaller groups, although I don’t recommend sawing them in half. Just make it fun and quick and everything will flow from there.
Are you playing with me

Enjoy this blog? Try the book.

Leigh Anne Jasheway

Author Leigh Anne Jasheway

 

Don't Get Mad Get Funny

Another great book by Leigh Anne Jasheway

 

 

Don’t Play Twister on a Full Stomach

and Other Rules for Choosing the Right Games for the Right Time

From Are You Playing with Me
By Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant

Don't play Twister on a full stomach

Don’t play Twister on a full stomach

If you’re in charge of a presentation, whether you’re a professional speaker, a volunteer coordinator, a trainer, or someone who was bribed with a cookie, a big part of your job is to create a safe and playful atmosphere in which fun things can happen. Your goal is to find ways to help everyone in the audience feel comfortable enough in the space, with you, and with everyone else to take a few steps outside their comfort zone. They won’t do that unless they feel secure doing things that they might otherwise consider too risky.

If your audience consists of people who not only work with another, but also FOR some of the people sitting next to them, your job can be made a little more difficult. After all, maybe John Deere over there doesn’t want his boss Betty Crocker to see him talk like a pirate three days before his performance evaluation. There are positives and negatives to having employees and managers in the same room at the same time, but when it comes to playing games, if you have any say in the matter, you might want to suggest separate sessions for each.

Playing Improv

Doing Improv at a Conference

No matter what the composition of your audiences (mine are mostly carbon-based), you’ll find it easier to help everyone enjoy themselves and play well with others if you keep the following rules in mind.

Rule # 1: Not everyone wants to play.

As young kids, even if we’re shy, we usually want to be part of the game (unless it’s dodge ball and we’re the target). Unfortunately, many adults are much more hesitant to join in the fun. Shyness is one reason. Another is the potential of embarrassing ourselves in front of co-workers, friends, or even strangers. After all, what if we say or do something that gets back to our boss or people we feel we need to impress? Then there’s the issue that the older we get, the more voices we’re likely to have in our heads telling us things like, “Act your age,” “That’s not appropriate,” and “We don’t pay you to have a good time.”

Conference speaker

We don’t behave like that here!

As an educator, speaker, or trainer, one of the worst things you can do is to force someone into a situation he or she really doesn’t want to be in. By scaring them, you shut down their willingness to hear your messages and you may even create tension among the rest of the group. On the other hand, it is your job is the try to encourage everyone to participate at some level and to push a little beyond their comfort zone. After all, things aren’t much fun in the box (or in the cubicle).

The best way to deal with reluctant participants is never to put them in situations where they have to play alone. Don’t “volunteer” them – or let one of their office mates do so – for games in which they have to be the one (or one of a few) in the spotlight. By making sure to have enough games that involve everyone in the group in your bag of tricks, you can encourage the shy and frightened to play along without feeling overly- anxious or, worse, leaving the room.

Rule # 2: Bribes and rewards are effective tools.

Happy meal toys

Bribes can be anything, including Happy Meal toys.

Let’s face it, we’re all more willing to take risks and make fools of ourselves if we get something for our effort. It doesn’t have to be something big or expensive – I’ve found that cheap, fun toys I’ve bought at garage sales or secondhand stores are always the most popular. Once I bought a box of Freud Action Figures (they didn’t do anything and the irony amused people. But they did come in funny packaging.)They were one of my most popular “enticements.” As were yellow smiley balls that stuck their tongues out when you squeezed them (which were discontinued because the tongues could fall off and pose a choking hazard to children and immature adults). I personally like getting most of my rewards at garage sales because I’m recycling instead of producing more waste that the planet has to somehow accommodate. Yesterday’s Happy Meal toy becomes today’s corporate bribe.

Even better, most of the time you don’t even have to give away “stuff.” Simply rewarding volunteers and participants with cheers and applause can encourage other volunteers to step up for the activities following. Most people so rarely get cheered on for anything they do, the feeling they get when hearing clapping and congratulatory hoots and whistles is something they’ll take with them into the rest of their day, if not their week.

Rule # 3: Don’t ask anyone to do things you wouldn’t do. 

Leigh Anne Jasheway

Leigh Anne Jasheway

If you’d be uncomfortable crawling on the floor mooing like a cow, imagine how people whose job doesn’t involve regularly doing crazy things will feel. At no point can the members of the group feel like you’re making fun of them. You should be making fun with them.

It helps if you dress comfortably and playfully, so it appears from the very start that you are there to play with them. It also helps for you to have a choice of activities ranging from those that are only moderately silly and playful to those that are extremely both. You can judge the mood of the group and pick activities that fit in best with their needs and the willingness of their spirit.

Rule #4: The more participants are invested before you start, the more likely they are to take part. 

If you come in, set up, and start right in, there becomes a “You” and “Us” division. You’re in charge and they have to go along for the ride. While this is true in some ways, you can put a little more power in their hands by inviting them to play a more active role before things begin.

Conference setup

Attendees helping with setup

Many of the games in this book involve props and supplies. Ask for help in distributing these and laying them out. If the room isn’t set up the way you want it – and if there have been serious speakers prior to your session, it probably won’t be – engage those members of the group who are willing to help you rearrange things. If you don’t have someone assigned to introduce you, ask two people to read your prepared intro as a duet. All of these activities help set the groundwork for fun and help group members feel more connected to you and to the activities you have planned.

Another way to involve participants is to give them some choice or control over the games. This is one reason certain improv games – the ones that don’t require too much comedic skill and thereby intimidate people – are good to include in your bag of tricks. They encourage the audience to play an active role in deciding how the game goes. You can also let participants help choose which activity to try (I usually offer selection up front and let them pick) or give them options for which rules to follow and which rules to break. Any time you can involve participants in decision-making (a serious and professional task), you will increase their comfort in taking part in the games (a light-hearted and fun task).

Rule # 5: Play along, but don’t save all the good roles for yourself. 

By being part of certain games, you prove that you’re willing to do what you’re asking them to do (see Rule #3).And when you have people who are reluctant to volunteer, joining in yourself may help them get the courage to raise their hands.

But if you take part in every game, you set a bad precedent by not involving the audience as much as you should and not sharing the fun. Be available only as an emergency back-up volunteer.

Rule # 6: Time is important, even when having fun.

If you don’t allow enough time for everyone to feel like they’ve completed an activity, you create dissatisfaction and feelings of a lack of completion in the room. On the other hand, too much time can make even fun games seem to drag on forever and drain the joy out of them.

If you have a large group, you may find that a certain amount of time is too little for some and too much for others. You will have to choose a happy medium. Ask each team how far along they are and when most teams are done or almost done, announce two or three more minutes. Stick to your time limit, even if one last team still has work to do.

Adults playing

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

Rule # 7: The later in the day, the harder it is for most people to think on their feet, be creative, or muster the energy to volunteer for activities.

After six or seven hours sitting, the blood and oxygen in our bodies heads south, towards our hips. If you spend most of your day in the seated position and notice your hips have gotten larger, don’t think of it as middle-age spread, think of it as oxygen surplus.

In order for us to feel and be creative and productive, we need oxygen feeding our brain. That’s hard when it is constantly being pulled in the opposite direction by gravity. Quick solutions to this problem include standing on your head, jogging around room, or deep belly-laughing. But be aware of the natural lethargy that happens around 3:00 p.m., especially if a conference or training began early in the morning and adapt your choice of activities accordingly.

Rule # 8: Make sure you know what purpose your games serve. 

Just like the coordinator or manager you had to talk into allowing you to use a more playful approach to your topic, there will probably be some people in the audience who need rational, logical explanations of why they should behave in a manner that they consider odd and unprofessional. Even if the reasons is simply to have fun, always be prepared to share why you’re asking them to do something with those who feel more comfortable knowing.

Rule #9: Make time for contemplation and learning.

Therapy session

Discussing the games played.

Games are fun and entertaining, but are only good learning tools if there’s time to reflect on what the lessons were. In addition to allowing time for each activity in this book, I recommend building in time between activities so participants can process what they’ve learned and recharge.

Bonus Rule #10: Anything worth saying is worth singing.

It just is.

Old ladies singing

How can I keep from singing?

Getting the Most from a Conference

Turn Conference Chaos into
Conference Command

Duluth conference

Attendees at WPA’s booth.

Monday and Tuesday of this week two of us attended the Minnesota Association for Children and Mental Health Conference held here in Duluth, Minnesota where our offices are located. The weather was nasty, but not atypical for Northern Minnesota in April. Lake Superior waves were up over 10 feet. It was pouring down rain. The temperature was only in the upper 30’s. Spring in the Northland, and no place for folks to go when they were not in a session.

Our booth was right inside the door of the Exhibit Hall. Lots of folks stopped, took advantage of the conference special and chatted about what they couldn’t find but needed for their practice. Our prime spot was also prime for people-watching. Every age group from not yet out of college to those ready-to-retire were there. Some were clearly having a good conference. They walked by with different groups of folks, chatted enthusiastically about a session, networked with the vendors, and looked relaxed and alert. Some looked confused and exhausted…and it wasn’t just the newbies that looked that way.

Here are some tips that I’ve learned over time to give you command over the conference experience.

  • Study the conference materials and see if there isn’t somewhere you can participate as a volunteer, panel member, or presenter. One of the most useful things you will do is to meet influential people in your field. It is easier to do so if you stand out in some positive way.
    Be sure you bring comfy shoes. Just walking from your hotel room to the Keynote venue can be quite a hike. You will take better advantage of the vendors if your feet don’t hurt too much to wander around the exhibit hall.
  • Conference

    Bored session attendee

    If you attend a session and find it is not what you thought, give it 15 minutes. Still unhappy? Quietly leave and find another that looks more interesting or use the time to check out vendors. Chat with those whose materials you like. Tell them what you are looking for and can’t find. Use the extra time to network with other attendees who skipped their session.

  • When you exchange business cards with someone be sure to write a note to yourself to remember who the person is and why you were interested in him or her on the back. Make contact with them as soon as you can upon returning to your office. If I don’t write myself a note, I find the reason I kept their card has disappeared into the miasma of conferences past.

    Conference speaker

    Conference speaker

  • Many experienced conference goers check out local restaurants before leaving home. They make a reservation for eight to ten people before leaving their home town. Once at the conference they invite interesting folks they meet to join them for a meal or coffee and conversation. Be prepared to start the ball rolling by introducing yourself and telling a bit about what you do and why you came to this particular conference. Then pass the ball to the next person. Draw people out. It’s your dinner…make it work for you.
  • Make new friends. Don’t spend all your time with the folks from your office. You don’t know what great ideas are lurking in someone’s mind that will solve a problem whose solution has eluded you. Go to any social events scheduled by the conference. Don’t be afraid to approach a presenter that interests you and introduce yourself. They will, for the most part, but happy to talk with you about their work and pleased you want to meet with them.

    Conference social hour

    Social Hour

Stick with these easy tips and you will be one of the happy conference goers that will go home having learned important things and made new contacts that can develop into lifelong colleagues.

New conference friends

New Friends

Duluth conference

WPA’s Booth at the opening of the conference